We have all been there, staring at the walls in disbelief after a breakup, wondering where to find solace and when the feelings of dejection will start to abate. You have expended so much time, energy, and emotion into another human being only to watch from the sideline as it abruptly comes to an end.
There are many articles that talk about different coping mechanisms for the distinct, and frequently overlapping, phases of processing a breakup – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. The articles differ in the weight they give to each phase and offer various suggestions that may or may not be suitable to each individual. Some focus on forgiveness and mourning, other articles highlight the importance of taking care of yourself. Even though the methods vary, there is one thing that is universally true in all of the advice columns out there: Do not contact your ex after a breakup.
Of course, there is one problem with this truism: It’s not realistic.
What I think is wrong with many of these expert advice columns is that they give suggestions that are idealistic and not realistic. These articles downplay the relevance of the relationship, and the ex, and assume that we are all strong willed and in complete control of our id. First, just because the relationship is over does not mean the ex becomes instantly insignificant. Even though the relationship just ended, the ex is still a prominent factor in your life, sometimes even more than when you were together.
Secondly, a breakup is heartbreaking and difficult, and your natural instinct is to turn to the person you are closest to at that moment for support — most likely your ex. Even short-lived relationships have some amount of emotional intimacy that cannot be ignored. Completely avoiding an ex also means shutting off a vital emotional lifeline; which is frequently the most difficult part of a breakup.
In my opinion, I think we need a new approach toward dealing with the ex during a break; one that is more nuanced and grounded in the reality of managing a fractured and raw relationship. It is OK to contact the ex, but only under three strict conditions.
- No Sex. We all know how sex can muddle feelings.
- Keep it short and to the point. You want to check in; you want to purge your emotions; whatever. All this is acceptable and understandable, so keep your interaction with your ex focused on this goal. You don’t want to slide back into something that you weren’t happy with to begin with.
- Be mindful. Most importantly, always keep in mind that you are officially over, at least for the time being. Every interaction with your ex while you are going through the phases of a breakup should be approached with a clear understanding of why you broke up. Seeing your ex to get clarity, or in the hope of closure, does not nullify this fact, nor does it correct previous bad behavior (from either partner). More than that, it in no way guarantees any change in behavior or attitude for the future. You want to get a coffee with your ex, go for it, but in no way expect that this one coffee will be the wakeup call you were hoping for, no matter how much he/she says “I will change, I promise”.
Going “cold turkey” with your ex after a break up is great in theory, and is probably the correct course of action, but it is not realistic. Most of us reach out to the ex in one way or another. It is important to realize that this is perfectly normal and understandable, especially for emotionally significant relationships. What is important is to constantly be mindful of why you are reaching out, what you hope to gain from it, and what caused you to break up in the first place.