Is This the Assist You Need to Get Over Your Ex?

New features that could limit contact by helping you give yourself tough love.

Posted Nov 23, 2015

Facebook may soon help you manage your relationships with your exes. According to recent reports, the social media giant is testing new tools that will allow those who have recently broken up with someone to control how much they see of that person's Facebook activity—without actually having to unfriend the former partner. These features include not having your ex’s updates appear in your feed, and the option to un-tag yourself from posts with your ex.

Unfriending or blocking someone, even an ex, can seem hurtful to that person, so you may be reluctant to do so, even if you feel it would be in your best interests to see less of your ex as you scroll through your feed. So these new features could allow people to avoid reminders of their exes without the awkwardness of blocking or unfriending. And the research on coping with breakups suggests that Facebook has the right idea. Here's why:

Constant reminders of an ex can be painful—sometimes literally. In one study, researchers found that those who looked at photographs of their exes while thinking about their breakups showed greater brain activation in the regions associated with their experience of physical pain.1 

If you’re still attached to an ex, but want to let go of the past, constant reminders will only make that harder, because contact with an ex (direct or indirect) is related to sadness and love for that person.2 Keeping tabs on an ex via Facebook is also related to that combination of negative feelings and longing.3 While feelings of attachment to an ex may motivate the contact in the first place, it is likely part of a cycle where the contact itself increases those feelings. In fact, brain-imaging studies suggest that such reminders keep us in that conflicted post-break-up state in which we know the relationship caused us pain, but still long for the ex-partner.4 And even if you do harbor hopes of getting back together with your ex, on-again/off-again relationships tend to be plagued with more problems than their stable counterparts.5

Still, we know that it can be hard to resist reading your ex’s updates or looking at their photos. These proposed features make it a little easier to exercise self-control, since once you’ve enabled them, you’d then need to make deliberate effort to seek out reminders of your ex.

It's also a good thing because contact with exes can have negative consequences for our relationships with new partners. In one study examining feelings about ex-partners and current partners over time, participants who longed for recent (but not distant) exes were less satisfied with their new relationships three and six months later.6 This suggests that hanging onto feelings for a recent ex can hold back new relationships. If constant reminders on social media make it harder for you to get over an ex, then those reminders will also make it harder for you to thrive in a new relationship. Adding to those challenges, research has also shown that continuing contact with exes on Facebook can, not surprisingly, make current partners jealous.7

Often, the most destructive outcomes of Facebook contact with exes involve online stalking behaviors and even harassment.8 But people inclined to harass their exes on Facebook clearly would not seek to use these new features to see less of their exes. (If an ex is using Facebook to monitor or harass you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, blocking or unfriending them is likely the best option for you.)

If you’re still attached to an ex, you might find it hard to resist the urge to see what they’re up to online. But these new tools could help you give yourself the tough love that you need to move on.

Gwendolyn Seidman, Ph.D. is an associate professor of psychology at Albright College who studies relationships and cyberpsychology. Follow her on Twitter for updates about social psychology, relationships, and online behavior. Read more articles by Seidman on Close Encounters.


1 Kross, E., Berman, M. G., Mischel, W., Smith, E. E., & Wager, T. D. (2011). Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain. PNAS, 108, 6270–6275. 

2 Sbarra, D. A., &  Emery R. E. (2005). The emotional sequelae of nonmarital relationship dissolution: Analysis of change and intraindividual variability over time. Personal Relationships, 12, 213–232.

3 Marshall, T. C. (2012).Facebook Surveillance of Former Romantic Partners: Associations with Post Breakup Recovery and Personal Growth. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15(10), 521–526.

4 Fisher, H. E., Brown, L. L., Aron, A., Strong, G., & Mashek, D. (2010). Reward, addiction, and emotion regulation systems associated with rejection in love. Journal of Neurophysiology, 104(1), 51-60.

5 Dailey, R. M., Pfiester, A., Jin, B., Beck, G., & Clark, G. (2009). On-again/off-again dating relationships: How are they different from other dating relationships?. Personal Relationships, 16, 23–47.

6 Spielmann, S. S., Joel, S., MacDonald, G.,  & Kogan, A. (2012). Ex appeal: Current relationship quality and emotional attachment to ex-partners. Social Psychological and Personality Science 4(2), 175-180.

7 Bowe G. (2010). Reading romance: The impact Facebook rituals can have on a romantic relationshipJournal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology, 1, 61–77.

8 Lydon, A., Bonds-Raacke, J.,  & Cratty, A. D. (2011). College students' Facebook stalking of ex-partners.Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14(12), 711-6.