Dear Dr. Grace,
Do you think it is possible for two people to stay friends after a romantic relationship has ended between them? If so, what does a healthy friendship look like?
I think that it all depends on how intimate you were in this relationship. Romantic couples who shared deep emotional or physical intimacy, such as sleeping together (or getting close to that boundary), will have a harder time just being friends. And usually a good deal of time will need to elapse before reestablishing a friendship, if ever. There are simply too many emotional connections and bonds that get in the way.
However, couples who were less intimately connected or involved can navigate the friendship waters, but it is always good to have a "define the relationship" talk to avoid possible hurt feelings or misunderstandings. Healthy friendships are marked by two people who enjoy being in each other's company, have a healthy trust in each other, show kindness toward each other, and show care for each other. They also establish appropriate boundaries.
It is important to remember that friendships can and do fade, and we are to enjoy and invest in them for a season, knowing (and being ok with the fact) that some will end. Although it feels sad, God does provide new relationships. In fact, I have made close friends in my later years that have both replaced and exceeded the ones I had in college - by many degrees!
Christopher Grace serves as the director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and teaches psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology. He and his wife, Alisa, speak regularly to married couples, churches, singles and college students on the topic of relationships, dating and marriage. Grace earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Colorado State University.