The heartbreak of having feelings for someone out of your reach only becomes more complicated when you realize that you're in love with a friend. You have to decide whether your romantic feelings should be sacrificed to save the friendship or whether to cut off all ties to spare yourself pain. There is no one answer to this age-old question, but some recent research sheds light on how you can find the solution that works for you.

Understand Your Attraction

"Friendship attraction," or just wanting to hang out with someone, is the most common type of attraction between friends, according to a 2000 study in the "Journal of Social and Personal Relationships" by associate professor of communication Heidi Reeder. Just 14 percent of people in her study were currently experiencing romantic attraction, or the desire for a friend to become something more. Don't confuse friendship or physical attraction for romantic attraction. Determine whether your romantic attraction outweighs your friendship attraction before you decide what to do about it.

Respect Differing Relationship Goals

Men and women often have different goals in cross-sex friendships, asserts a 2012 study published in the "Journal of Social and Personal Relationships" by researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire. The college-age men in the study consistently reported higher romantic and physical attraction to female friends, including a desire to date, than the women felt for them. Social and personality psychologist Jeremy Nicholson suggests in his online "Psychology Today" article that you have honest conversations about what you each hope to get out of the friendship. If you're not getting what you need and don't see the situation changing, it may be time to end the friendship.

Evaluate the Cost

Maintaining a friendship with someone when romantic attraction is on the line has both costs and benefits, depending on who you ask. In the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire study, 47 percent of women aged 18 to 23 said that romantic feelings toward a friend were a cost of the friendship, while only 22 percent of men in that age group said the same. While 12 percent of men in this age group saw the possibility of romance as a benefit, only 3 percent of the women did. Be sure you know which side of this divide you and your friend fall on.

Decreasing Romantic Attraction

There is one piece of good news in Reeder's research: Romantic attraction to friends decreases with time. Reeder found that 39 percent of participants felt more romantically attracted to their friends at an earlier stage in the friendship, but the romantic feelings decreased as the friendship deepened. Only 8.7 percent of participants reported increasing romantic attraction. Most likely, you'll just need to wait out your feelings. But waiting for your love to wither is not a fun prospect -- and only you can decide whether the friendship you have is worth putting in the time.