Are You Still Friends With Your Ex? Researchers Explain 5 Reasons People Do It

Are You Still Friends With Your Ex? Researchers Explain 5 Reasons People Do It

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“Our findings are consistent with previous research and suggest that (post-relationship friendship) may provide opportunity for ex partners to exchange desirable resources (e.g., love, status, information, money, sex) after romantic relationship dissolution.” – Justin Mogilski and Lisa Welling: “Staying friends with an ex: Sex and dark personality traits predict motivations for post-relationship friendship”

As this article is based on a scientific study, this writer wanted to clarify some jargon that you’ll come across.

‘PRF’ = Post-relationship friendship: Maintaining a (real or apparent) friendship with an ex.


‘CSF’ = Cross-sexual friendship: Plutonic sex, or “friends with benefits”

(NOTE: When you read the word “rated” or “rate” this means a weighted average. This is important, as some info [e.g. the male findings in the “Results” section] may seem contradictory.)


Okay, let’s get going!

Justin Mogilski and Lisa Welling, both psychology professors at Oakland University in Michigan, wanted to study the specific reasons for maintaining a friendship with ex-partners. Some research had already been done, but much more on CSFs than PRFs (remember the key.) Further, Mogilski and Welling wanted to focus also on the post-relationship behaviors of people with “dark traits” – a bit more on this later.


To accomplish their ends, the researchers had the participants brainstorm 5 reasons why someone would remain friends with their partner. Afterward, the participants were given two personality tests.

Using this data, researchers analyzed each of the person’s “5 reasons,” ultimately grouping the 2000-plus responses into seven categories. We will focus on six: reliability/sentimentality, pragmatism, continued romantic attraction, children and shared resources, social relationship maintenance, and sexual access. The researchers also took gender into account.


The two-part study revealed some really interesting stuff. To avoid overwhelm, here is a bulleted list of the interesting (if not predictable) findings:

– Men value pragmatism (money, gifts, etc.) and sexual access as reasons for remaining friends more so than women.

– Both sexes cited reliability and sentimental reasons (good listening, supportive behaviors, similar personalities, trust, etc.) for a PRF at about the same rate.

–  Ex-partners who were friends before romantic involvement are more likely to maintain a PRF.

– PRF outcomes are similar to CSFs in nearly every measure.

– People with “honesty-humility” personality traits are much less likely to continue a friendship for practical or sexual reasons. They’re also the least likely to have a PRF at all.


Extraversion (“outgoing, aggressive”) and agreeableness (“kind, warm, considerate”) personality traits are more likely to maintain a PRF for reliability/sentimentality reasons.

Extraversion “predicted” pragmatic motivations and sexual access – a trend also observed among those with dark personalities.

This last observation leads us to the root of the study (and this article): 5 “secret” reasons that some people remain friends with their exes.

Inspiration to your Inbox


“Someone flip the light on!”

Because it’s about to get dark … (Sorry. Bad joke.)

Okay, so before we get to the list, here’s the study’s definition: “Dark personality features are a collection of antagonistic behaviors and interpersonal styles that are associated with disagreeableness, manipulativeness and callousness, and exploitativeness.”


In short, dark characters are aggressive, abrasive, untruthful, shallow, and calculating. With these flattering descriptors in mind, here’s what they mean for a post-relational friendship.

5 Secret Reasons People Remain Friends With Their Exes

1. They want perks

“This (research) suggests that some individuals may maintain friendship after a break-up for reasons that depart from what some might typically expect from a friendly ex,” says Mogilski. Whether it’s money, sex, or something else, these characters may be looking at some angle to exploit.

2. They want control

Here’s where the narcissistic factor comes into play. Predictably, people who scored high on the narcissism part of the “pathological personality features” test are likely to coax their way into a PRF to seize control over someone. This is particularly true if they feel some sense of control was lost upon the relationship’s end.

3. They want to sabotage your relationships

Maintaining a friendship with a shady ex places any future relationship at risk. It doesn’t matter if the person is just a friend or something more. If they catch wind of any “potential” romantic interest of yours, they may attempt to disrupt severely – if not outright destroy – that relationship. Their actions may adversely impact other relationships, from plutonic to professional.

4. They want to take advantage of your kindness

If their selfish nature didn’t rear its ugly head during your relationship (or if you didn’t notice it), you can almost be certain that it will during “friendship.” Notice the quotation marks around friendship. Aside from not sharing anything tangible, you can forget about them sharing real, mutual companionship. Anything perceived as otherwise is probably feigned.

5. They want revenge

“Revenge is a dish best served cold” is a long-standing maxim – and it may explain why your ex is bothering to hang around. If you clearly fell for the wrong person, only to realize it later and soon break it off, remain cautious about saying the “F” word (the other one.) Though rare, this study (and many others) have found a strong link between both borderline and real sociopathic/narcissistic traits and exacting retribution.

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