Many people avoid getting romantic with friends because they do not want to ruin the friendship when things don't work out. The 'friend zone' is often a safe place for individuals, helping them get closer than they might otherwise. When friendships do evolve to something more, it can be devastating when it is over, and you want your old friendship back. While it is not possible to rewind the past, it may be possible to salvage your friendship.
Share your desire to return to your previous friendship. Having an emotional affair, rather than a physical-only relationship, makes the adjustment more difficult. It is important that you tell the truth as soon as you realize it to avoid creating additional emotional challenges such as a sense of mistrust.
Listen to your ex and try to understand his feelings. It is important that you allow your friend to air his concerns and that you empathize with how he feels. Be there for your partner during your break-up process, just like you would've been there before the emotional affair. If your ex is absolutely devastated and is worried that seeing you will make the break-up even more difficult, you may need to accept that the relationship is over.
Explain objectively why you do not want to continue the emotional affair. Let her down easily, but be clear about why you feel the way you do. If you disclose your real reasons, chances are that your partner may share some of the same concerns. Perhaps you will both be relieved by returning to just being friends.
Tell your partner why you value him as a friend and how important he is to you as a friend. Apologize for your role in threatening your friendship with the emotional affair. Do not apologize for having feelings, but focus on how you want to protect your friendship. Share with your partner why you make better friends than anything else. Your partner might feel hurt or take a hit to his self-esteem, so it is important that you make him feel better about himself and about your future friendship.
Give your partner time to cope with the change in your relationship. She may need some time to process the change or to cool off. Respect your friend by giving her time to decide if she wants to continue the friendship and honor her opinion. If she initially does not think she can return to being friends, she may change her mind later.
Talk to your mutual friends about ending the emotional affair only after you have told your partner. Avoid any gossip and getting mutual friends involved. Ask your mutual friends for support in returning your relationship to its original friendship. Expect the few months following the end of the emotional affair to be awkward for everyone.
Set boundaries. Do not allow any backsliding or temporary emotional flare-ups. If you want to return to your old friendship, it is important that you do not agree to anything that would be inappropriate within rules of friendship. Help your partner be strong in the aftermath and do not take advantage of any weaknesses. Respecting your partner and friend by setting boundaries in the relationship will help the relationship move in the direction you want.
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Sara Mahuron specializes in adult/higher education, parenting, budget travel and personal finance. She earned an M.S. in adult/organizational learning and leadership, as well as an Ed.S. in educational leadership, both from the University of Idaho. Mahuron also holds a B.S. in psychology and a B.A. in international studies-business and economics.