If you’re anything like me, you have no problem quitting things cold turkey. I stopped drinking coffee two months ago just because. I once gave up bread for Lent and didn’t even flinch in the face of the breadsticks at the Olive Garden. I wear this skill with a badge of honor.
Although ripping off the Band-Aid is a great solution for ridding yourself of bad habits that no longer serve you, it may not be the best strategy when it comes to disconnecting yourself from another human, especially if said human is your S.O. The day my ex and I broke up, after we’d said our goodbyes, he asked, “So I’ll talk to you soon?” I was taken aback, almost offended at this suggestion. We were no longer together. What was there to talk about? Because I was emotional and confused, I answered with a definitive “no.” I wasn’t in the mood nor the market for a blurred, messy disaster of a breakup.
I got through the post-breakup heartbreak within two weeks (the cold-turkey method really helped here) but carried around a residual sense of resentment for him until we decided to catch up over drinks six months later. It was at that point that I had an aha moment: Might I have released those feelings sooner if we talked in the days and weeks following our breakup? Could this have facilitated a more peaceful transition into the next phase of our lives? Perhaps we would have sorted through the (entirely valid) reasons we split — that he was emotionally careless and I was a codependent ball of emotions that I couldn’t untangle.
We are taught that once we end things, we shouldn’t talk, text, sleep with, or even think about our exes. The idea that it is best to cut off all communication with and exile them to the depths of our memories always prevails. Perhaps that’s bad or, at the very least, oversimplified advice, says Alsyha Jeney, MFT-C, relationship therapist and founder of Modern Love Counseling. Communication with an ex exists on a spectrum, and there are many reasons why you should and shouldn’t keep in contact with one.
“[It] can be beneficial if both parties are on the same page about why their relationship ended,” she says. “This is rarely the case, but if there are minimum unresolved or hurt feelings, it can allow a healthy, platonic friendship to emerge.”
This is great news, but I’ve both experienced and witnessed breakups in which one person was not DTS (down to split). In those situations, staying in touch, both physically (you know what I mean) and via text, can be comforting for that person. It can help them heal (or at least seem to) and find closure in an otherwise confusing chapter of their lives. However, according to Jeney, when one person is left feeling disproportionately hurt after a breakup, it’s smart to proceed with caution.
“It’s probably best to give each other space to individually process the breakup and, more importantly, find tools to deal with their emotions on their own in order to avoid any unhealthy codependency,” she says.
Still, after a breakup, the only thing many people want to do is respond to their ex’s Instagram story and tell them how good they look. To text them when something funny happens and they know they’re the only soul on this planet who will appreciate it. To sleep with them one (or more) last time. However, these are all forms of communicating, some more direct than others.
“Any communication is probably harmful if both parties aren’t on the same page,” Jeney reiterates. “It leaves way too much room to overanalyze or misinterpret information, especially via text.”
While texting an ex may be harmful, let’s be real, most of us will still do it. And in lots of cases, texting leads to meeting up to “talk,” which is code for hooking up. This, again, is how many people cope and try to make sense of the end of their relationship. We know it’s probably not good for us — our friends, therapists, and subconscious advise us against it. But maybe, just maybe, there a world where it could work.
“I’m sure there are scenarios when sleeping with an ex would not be harmful — maybe if both parties are using the comfort of each other knowingly and do not have any expectations, hidden agendas, and/or hurt feelings,” Jeney says. “But again, this is rare.”
Listen, in the end, there’s no right or wrong way to break up. There are some people who benefit from taking a cold-turkey approach, while there are others who prefer to taper off contact with their exes little by little until they feel normal again. To that I say, to each their own.