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To Friend or Unfriend Your Ex

Navigating social media interaction after a breakup.

Source: jgolby/Shutterstock

According to 2016 Nielsen data, adult Americans spend an average of 25 hours a week using some form of media. On these platforms, we are inundated with celebrity updates, breaking news, and personal messages—including information about our exes.

When going through a breakup, navigating social media interaction with an ex can be very challenging. Why is it so hard? There are at least three main reasons:

1. Continued access to information about your ex.

If your ex was a large part of your life, you will probably be bombarded by information about him or her on some of your social media sites whether you want it or not. You may still be friends with them online. Or you may have unfriended them, but they may be friends of friends — so their social life is still in your face.

The problem with this continuous flow of information is that, for most people, breaking up requires some space. We need time away from our ex to start creating a “new normal” that does not include them. In doing so, most of us benefit greatly by not having contact. Social media connections make this challenging.

2. Your reaction to information about your ex.

When you learn about your ex through social media, it is likely that you will react. How? You may want to check up on him or her; try to get back together; become fixated on what they are doing or who they are dating; or feel extreme anger and irritation about the situation.

The problem with reacting to information about your ex is that it is generally unpleasant—and who wants to feel upset about a person from whom you are trying to detach? It is not only uncomfortable, but it can leave you feeling powerless and challenged because you are at the mercy of outside information.

3. Engaging with your ex.

Social media platforms allow you to continue engaging with your ex, but this may not be in your best interest. Everything from angry interchanges to desperate attempts at reconciliation can occur on public (or semi-public) platforms. It goes without saying, but it is far healthier to have meaningful exchanges in a private, more confidential way.

The Right Social Steps

Given these realities, should you try to stay friends with your ex? Is it smart to use social media after a breakup? Should you unfriend your ex?

The answer depends on you, your specific circumstances, and the makeup of your online social network. That said, if you are struggling through a breakup and fixated on your ex, staying actively engaged in the relationship through social media will make it harder to move forward.

A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, Does having information about your ex influence your quality of life? If hearing about him or her is painful or traumatic, it is probably in your best interest to unfriend the individual. This does not need to be done disrespectfully — this is about taking care of yourself. If you need to limit contact, do so. If you need to stay off a given site for a while, do so. The goal is to help yourself move forward in healthy ways, while still having interaction with the world at large.

How long should you limit contact? Until you find yourself not so reactive.

This is also a great time to join social media outlets that can offer you support. For example, is an anonymous recovery program for anyone going through a breakup. Through such support networks, you will find a community of people in similar situations trying to do the same things you are doing. That can really help through the tough times.

The Naked Truth: If you browse your social media after a breakup, stay connected to people and groups that support you. Don’t allow yourself to engage with an ex if it makes you feel badly. If you sense yourself becoming obsessive or hyper-fixated, try limiting the amount of time you spend thinking about your ex, and focus on yourself instead. Every breakup — even the ugliest — offers you the opportunity to understand yourself more deeply. And that may require that you unfriend your ex.

Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D.

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