Written By: Rebecca Hirsch, AMFT
Not too long ago, when a relationship ended, it was relatively easy to cut them out of your life. Sure, you may remember their phone number, their address, and may have run into them from time to time if you are both living in the same city or neighborhood. However, once you broke up, you weren’t bombarded with pictures of them with their friends and family, on vacation, or with their new partner. Thanks to social media, it is easier than ever to keep in touch with old friends, family who lives far away, and even to reconnect with people of the past. Social media has helped us maintain friendships that may have fizzled out due to moving or changing jobs. On the flip side, social media has made break-ups more complicated and has required people to take an extra step to cut exes out of their lives.
I often see clients for individual therapy who are going through a breakup and are having a difficult time navigating moving forward and setting appropriate boundaries. Social media can often make it much harder for someone to move forward after a breakup. At any point during the day, you can look up what your ex is up to, who they are talking to and spending time with, and can make a snap judgment on whether or not they have “moved on” or not. I even hear people discussing how they are posting more pictures with new friends to make their ex partner jealous. It is not healthy to be able to see what your ex is doing and track their every move through social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.
One of the first steps and best ways to move forward after a breakup is to “unfollow”, “defriend”, or remove your ex from your social media accounts. While this may be very difficult for most people, it is an important step, especially if you are having a particularly tough time moving forward. Many of my clients worry about hurting their ex partner’s feelings by defriend-ing them on social media. If you are finding that it is becoming impossible to move forward or if you are ruminating on your ex, it is more important to take care of your own mental health than worrying about hurting your ex’s feelings. This can also be an important move in setting up a healthy boundary regarding appropriate communication once the relationship has ended as well.
Being friends with an ex on social media can also be tricky if you’ve been broken up for a while, and then you are contacted by your ex again. You could be totally happy and content being single or in another relationship, and one private message on Facebook could send you into a tailspin. Small talk and checking-in can be healthy and acceptable, but as soon as you feel that boundaries are being crossed, such as reminiscing about your relationship or asking personal questions, it is important to maintain your boundaries and remember that you broke up for a reason.
Opening the doors of communication with an ex is a slippery slope, and can quickly become disrespectful and boundary crossing if you are in another relationship. I would ask yourself if you would feel comfortable if your current partner was contacting their ex on social media while in a relationship with you before you decide to write or respond to an ex. It is very easy to cross boundaries with exes due to social media and the access we have to other people’s lives. It is natural and healthy to lose contact with a past partner over time, which is something to keep in mind if you are debating whether or not to accept an ex’s friend request. I would ask what good would come from maintaining contact with this person, or having full access to what their new life is like without you. If nothing good can come from it, then you have your answer.
If you are having trouble setting healthy boundaries with exes, especially due to social media, set up an appointment with a therapist at Symmetry Counseling to learn healthier boundaries and how to maintain them.