02/11/2014 05:30 pm ET Updated Apr 13, 2014

3 Top Tips for Turning a Former Flame Into a Friend

By Jennifer Oikle, Ph.D., Dating Expert for

It's often tempting to remain friends with an ex, especially right after a breakup when you are still used to relying on their emotional support. But is it a smart move?

The answer, as with most things, is: it depends.

Personally, I think that if you've shared an intimate and supportive connection with someone over time, it's a shame not to stay on at least friendly terms with an ex. After all -- you offered each other some important gifts along the way. And there are lots of success stories of people remaining great friends after they ended their romantic connection -- so obviously it is possible.

But many people struggle to stay connected on a friendly level because they still desire something more from their ex. That's when you can get into trouble.

Bottom line: friendships are mutual. So if you are going to stay friends, you and your ex have to have to be in agreement about the vision for your friendship.

If you both agree you'd like to try to remain friends, here's how to make the transition from relationship to friendship as smoothly as possible.

1. Agree to a No-Contact Period

If you're just breaking up, it's best to agree to a period of no contact -- maybe two weeks, maybe three months. During this time, you begin to separate your lives and wean yourself from each other's emotional support. Without this breathing space that creates final closure, you can wind up using your previous partner as a crutch and not really be moving on at all -- something that will hold you both back. Agree to check in at the end of your decided upon time frame.

At that time, see if you are both past the "reactive stage." Can you talk to and think about each other without getting all emotional -- either teary or angry? If so, it might be time to resume a friendship. If not, more time may be needed.

2. Create a Mutual Definition of Friendship

A friendship needs to start from a clean and clear space that is defined in a fresh way. So once you've created that space, confirm that you both still want to be friends. If the answer remains yes for you both -- and it might not be after your grace period -- then it's time to decide what you want your friendship to look like.

Without this step, people tend to hurt each other because they have differing ideas of what it means to be "friends" with an ex. So be honest with each other. What is your ideal? Coffee once a year to catch up? Friendly email updates once a quarter? Grabbing lunch once a month?

The goal here is to find something that feels good to both of you. If you can't, chances are, it's not the right time to maintain a friendly connection because someone is still emotionally attached and is going to get hurt.

3. Set Boundaries

You also need to talk about what kinds of things you still want to share. As partners, you likely turned to each other for support on everything, but that's probably no longer appropriate. So, maybe you want to hear updates about work and fun, but you aren't ready to hear about how excited your ex is about dating a new hottie. Maybe it's still cool to ask him to pick you up at the airport or fix your sink, but maybe not.

Boundaries are especially important once a new romance is in your life. Your current partners may not be so thrilled that you remain connected to your old flame. So talk to your new partner and renegotiate your friendship levels dependent on what feels good to everyone involved.

When both partners are over the romance, have moved on emotionally, and both want the same things from each other, friendships with an ex can be a rewarding part of your life. After all, your ex's were likely your best friends during periods of your life and staying connected can offer a unique, supportive connection that you value for a long time to come.

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