The Emotional Costs of Maintaining Contact With Exes

Are you stuck in an endless breakup? Having a heart in limbo is the price many of us pay when we decide to maintain contact with an ex. While we may think that keeping in touch will help us to avoid the stinging pain of a breakup, the truth is that the slow, painful goodbye can leave us stuck, stunted, and miserable.

How Technology Is Keeping Dead Relationships Alive

Researchers have made it clear that social media has made breakups more painful. One specific study found that people who monitored their previous partners on social media following a breakup had a harder time moving on. Social media makes it easy for exes to keep their tendrils in our lives. We may also like knowing we can wedge our way back in with a cheeky comment or playful emoji.

We can rationalize it by saying that we’re just being friendly by staying linked online. However, making the choice to maintain contact with an ex is really a way to keep the doorway unlocked for entry back into our hearts. In fact, many people are resurrecting dead relationships via text messages or online encounters as part of a relationship trend called “zombing.” Like actual zombies, these relationships eat away at our ability to move on to be among the living in the dating pool.

Why We Find “Goodbye” So Difficult After a Breakup

Slow breakups that involve a long, drawn-out process of staying in communication are actually defense mechanisms against feelings of grief or loss. We do mental bargaining with ourselves that makes it seem like we can “hack” the system to avoid the empty, barren post-breakup feeling that often creeps in. Knowing that we can always potentially bring the spark back to life with a quick text message makes us feel less vulnerable. Of course, maintaining contact or friendship with an ex comes with a huge emotional price tag. While we may avoid the gut-wrenching feeling of loss that often follows a split, we trade in that part of the grief cycle for these risks:

  • The added heartbreak of seeing an ex with a new love on social media.
  • Getting back together for brief periods when one person feels lonely.
  • Wasting time tracking the activities and whereabouts of an ex.
  • Comparing how we’ve moved on to how they’ve moved on.
  • Alienating new love interests by actively engaging with exes online.
  • Holding on to hope of a reconciliation when the other person has moved on.
  • Falling into the trap of staging social media to get the attention of an ex. You can miss out on living an authentic post-breakup life this way!

The biggest risk of all is not properly going through the stages of grief following a breakup. It’s hard to grieve a relationship when you’re still constantly checking its pulse every five minutes by seeing what your former sweetheart is up to. What’s more, the breakup grief cycle restarts every time a text message leads to any level of emotional or physical reconciliation.

Ambiguity Leaves an Entryway

If you’re the one who ended the relationship, remaining friends with an ex online can send the signal that you may not be as done as you think. In an age of ambiguous relationship titles, some people assume that an unbroken online connection means that they are free to contact you in the future to see if you’re interested in trying things again. Cutting those digital ties can give both of you the finality needed to move on.

Related: “Single” Isn’t A Bad Word

The Beauty of Ending Things

While there are rare cases where people can remain friends after dating, this shouldn’t necessarily be the expectation. Deleting a partner’s number from your phone can be a very healthy part of the grieving process even if you don’t necessarily have animosity toward this person. Ultimately, every breakup can be an incredible opportunity for growth if we’re willing to fully feel the pain that comes from the other person’s absence.