When you break up with someone, there are plenty of routes you can take to forget about them. Download every dating app. Try on an 鈥ex-boyfriend blazer.鈥 Throw Taylor Swift-style shade. Or, you can keep your ex in your life and try being friends. But should you?

Cheerful woman using digital tablet with a friend at cafe

According to a study published in the journal Personal Relationships, a lot of people stay friends with their ex to keep them around as a 鈥渂ackup plan鈥 鈥 even when they meet someone new. The study took a close look at how communication between former partners affects a person鈥檚 current relationship, and the results might be jarring enough to make you quit swapping emoji with your ex cold-turkey. Especially if all the digital hearts and flowers he鈥檚 sending have you mixing up whether it鈥檚 your BFF or wannabe-BF who鈥檚 texting you back.

In their first study, researchers surveyed 260 undergraduate students who鈥檇 been in relationships for at least a month, and who had dated someone else previously for at least three months (the amount of time research has shown it takes the average relationship to be 鈥渃ommitted鈥). Around 40 percent of participants still kept in touch with their ex, and were more likely to report that they still had some romantic feelings for them. They also reported lower commitment to their current partner.

In a second study, the researchers also looked at frequency and motives for communication between former partners. For example, if you keep in touch by default because you still have a lot of shared friends, that鈥檚 very different than stringing someone along because you鈥檙e still harboring feelings for them or keeping them around 鈥渏ust in case.鈥 And in the research data, the latter correlated directly with satisfaction level in a new romantic relationship. High frequency of communication between exes was also an indicator of trouble in new-couple paradise.

two couples at a cafe

The research isn鈥檛 saying that staying in touch with your ex is universally good or bad, but it does highlight that there are undeniable risks and issues with it and how important it is to be honest with yourself about your intentions. So to find out more about how to pull off a healthy friendship with an ex, we asked relationships and dating coach Lindsay Chrisler for her take on the viability of being friends post-breakup, and how to pull it off without anyone getting hurt (or at least how to do your best to prevent that).

鈥淚 think it鈥檚 tricky, but it鈥檚 totally possible,鈥 she says. 鈥淚t takes a lot of trust, and a lot of self-awareness, and a lot of honesty.鈥 She鈥檚 actually successfully made the transition herself, but she stresses that it takes a lot of hard work, and there are no guarantees. The hard truth: 鈥淔or most people, it鈥檚 probably not that worth it.鈥

1. Are they actually friend material? 鈥淚s the relationship still supportive and healthy and loving? If it is, then maybe they鈥檇 be a good friend for you,鈥 Lindsay says. 鈥淏ut when you take away the romantic fantasy, or you鈥檙e growing and changing and they don鈥檛 grow and change with you, then it鈥檚 more helpful to let them go.鈥

Couple riding bicycles in the city

2. Be honest about those weird feelings. The romantic feelings you have for each other aren鈥檛 going to just completely wash away overnight, and sometimes they鈥檙e hard to ever let go of. 鈥淵ou have to be able to talk about this uncomfortable friendship that you鈥檙e both in,鈥 says Lindsay. If you鈥檙e not being honest with each other about how you鈥檙e really feeling, things are going to get complicated, and someone鈥檚 going to get hurt. And it needs to be 100 percent clear that a romantic or sexual relationship is entirely off the table, especially if you鈥檙e in another relationship now.

3. Know your boundaries and stick with them. If things are going just fine in your new relationship but then an ex pops back up in your life and you feel confused, that doesn鈥檛 mean you鈥檙e doing anything wrong. 鈥淪ometimes even though you鈥檙e in love, you can still have feelings for somebody else,鈥 says Lindsay. 鈥淏ut you do have to at some point let it go, and say no, we鈥檙e not doing that, we have boundaries, and we are keeping those boundaries.鈥

And if your ex can鈥檛 respect your boundaries and your new relationship? That might be a sign not only that you two shouldn鈥檛 be hanging around each other, but that they鈥檙e not actually all that great a friend. 鈥淎 true friend wants you to be happy in love and get what you want regardless of them and what they鈥檙e getting,鈥 Lindsay explains. 鈥淭hey may be disappointed, or heartbroken, or sad 鈥 but if they鈥檙e a true friend, they鈥檒l not only get over it, they鈥檒l be able to support you in your happiness.鈥

Have you ever tried staying friends with an ex? Tweet us your tips @BritandCo.

(Photos via Getty)