Want to Contact Your Ex? Here Are 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t

Reminiscing could make it appealing, but resist the urge to reconnect.

Posted Mar 24, 2020

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Reminiscing is an appealing venture. It helps us connect our past to our present and gain insight into how we became who we are. And reflecting on old times, especially the positive ones, is beneficial to people of all ages. In fact, researchers have shown that when people use cognitive imagery to conjure up rich and detailed images of past positive events in their minds, it increases their feelings of happiness (Bryant, Smart, & King, 2005).

So if the mind is indeed a rich resource for positive past events, is there any harm in reminiscing about an ex? And while you’re in that positive headspace, should you take a few moments to reach out?

No, there’s not much harm in reminiscing.

But also … No, you shouldn’t reach out to an ex-partner.

Here are five scientifically-supported reasons why:

1. Your memory is tricking you into making you believe the past was better than it really was. One of the most oft-cited biases of memory is something called the positivity bias. This refers to our tendency to recall positive events more easily than negative ones. So when reflecting on times with your ex, you might remember that time he sent you those perfect song lyrics or when she brought you those delicious cupcakes from the vegan bakery you love. You’re probably forgetting about the fights you had, or how he ghosted you during your breakup.

2. Your memory is affecting your emotions, too. Coupled with the positivity bias, the fading affect bias (Skowronski, Walker, Henderson, & Bond, 2013) makes it more difficult for you to recall negative feelings about past events. Positive feelings about past experiences last longer than negative ones, which translates into you feeling more warm and fuzzy than rejected and angry when thinking about your past partner.

3. Connecting with an ex is associated with anxiety and depression. In a 2015 study, Tsai, Shen, and Chiang found that people who accepted a friend request from an ex on Facebook had higher levels of trait anxiety and more severe depression than those who did not. Although correlation does not equal causation, the authors of this study suggested that seeing an ex-partner in happy posts and possibly in a new relationship could have a negative effect on your psychological health.

4. It might signal that you’re still obsessed with the relationship. If you just send a text with a simple, “Hey—hope you’re well,” it’s probably fine. However, if you’re scrolling through their social media, poring over every picture or comment, it may be a sign that you’re not over your ex. And unfortunately, stalking a past partner’s social media might not be healthy—it’s associated with additional breakup distress, especially among people who didn’t initiate the breakup (Fox & Tokunaga, 2015).

5. If you’re in a relationship, reaching out to a past partner could spell trouble. This may be obvious, but there are scientific studies that drive this message home.

First, ex-partners are likely to be back burners (i.e., people with whom we communicate with the prospect that they might one day be a romantic or sexual partner). And research has shown that thinking about back burners, even for a few minutes, can lower investment in a current partner (Drouin, Miller, & Dibble, 2015). Second, communicating with an ex has been associated with lower levels of satisfaction with a current partner and higher satisfaction with the past partner among those who derive self-worth from their relationships (Rodriguez et al., 2015). Combined, these studies suggest that reaching out to an ex may not be the best way to maintain a current partnership.

And here is a bonus reason: If you reach out, you may not get what you are looking for. Do you think your ex is suddenly going to give you everything you want? That relationship failed for a reason—try hard to remember why.

Try to find someone new who wasn't the cause of (or a participant in) your failed relationship, or if you have already found someone new, try reminiscing about your good times with them. The positivity bias works for a current partner, too. Think about what made you fall for them, and relish in those happy thoughts.

Facebook image: G-Stock Studio/Shutterstock

References

Bazzini, D. G., Stack, E. R., Martincin, P. D., & Davis, C. P. (2007). The effect of reminiscing about laughter on relationship satisfaction. Motivation & Emotion, 31, 25–34. doi:10.1007/s11031-006-9045-6

Bryant, F. B., Smart, C. M., & King, S. P. (2005). Using the past to enhance the present: Boosting happiness through positive reminiscence. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6, 227–260.

Drouin, M., Miller, D., & Dibble, J. (2015). Facebook or memory—Which is the real threat to your relationship? Cyberpsychology, Behavior, & Social Networking, 18, 561–566.

Fox, J., & Tokunaga, R. S. (2015). Romantic partner monitoring after breakups: Attachment, dependence, distress, and post-dissolution online surveillance via social networking sites. CyberPsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, 18(9), 491–498. https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2015.0123

Rodriguez, L. M., Wickham, R. E., Øverup, C. S., & Amspoker, A. B. (2016). Past and present, day by day: Communication with former romantic partners, relationship-contingent self-esteem, and current relationship outcomes. Journal of Research in Personality, 65, 62–67. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2016.09.005

Salmon, K., & Reese, E. (2016). The benefits of reminiscing with young children. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 25(4), 233–238. doi:10.1177/0963721416655100

Skowronski, J. J. (2011). The positivity bias and the fading affect bias in autobiographical memory: A self-motives perspective. In M. D. Alicke & C. Sedikides (Eds.), Handbook of self-enhancement and self-protection (p. 211–231). The Guilford Press.

Skowronski, J. J., Walker, W. R., Henderson, D. X., & Bond, G. D. (2013). The fading affect bias: Its history, its implications, and its future. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 49, 163–218. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-800052-6.00003-2.

Thornton, S., & Brotchie, J. (1987). Reminiscence: A critical review of the empirical literature. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 26, 93–111.

Tsai, C.-W., Shen, P.-D., & Chiang, Y.-C. (2015). Meeting ex-partners on Facebook: users’ anxiety and severity of depression. Behaviour & Information Technology, 34, 668–677. doi:10.1080/0144929X.2014.981585