Breaking up is hard to do, but the few weeks after are even harder. Cutting things off with someone you treasured is heartbreaking, while keeping him around can keep one or both of you stuck in the relationship. Here, three popular options for dealing with your ex after a break-up, how they actually play out—and what they mean for your mental health.
Post-Breakup Strategy #1: The Cold Cut It’s a case of “out of sight, out of mind,” as you completely cut off communication.
A case history: “I was crushed when a guy I was dating for a year broke up with me and said he didn’t want to talk anymore,” says Jay, who works in finance in New York. “I was depressed and felt it was really unfair. But after a while, I did meet someone else. I know now I needed such a clean break, because it helped me move on. I didn’t have any false hopes—I just built myself back up.”
Why this strategy works: Sounds brutal, but it’s popular for a reason. “From a psychological perspective, this is the healthiest strategy, particularly if you’ve been cheated on,” says Joseph Taravella, Ph.D., a couple’s therapist at NYU Medical Center. Taravella says that it’s not an easy choice to stick to, but it pays off by letting you move on. He recommends asking your friends and family to help you stay busy—it’ll help you feel fulfilled and loved, which you need after a breakup. Staying in touch with your ex gives him the power to still hurt you, even if you’re not together—you may still reel when he has a new boyfriend or hold out hope that things will work out. “The patients who take the ‘clean break’ approach generally make faster adjustments and move forward with their lives,” says Taravella. “As a result, they tend to carry less baggage into their next relationship.”
Post-Breakup Strategy #2: The Friend Zone You’re not going to be lovers anymore, but you’ll try to be pals.
A case history: Ed, a writer in New York, has remained friends with his ex-boyfriend of six years, with whom he broke up a year ago. While he appreciates having his ex’s friendship, Ed admits that their emotional intimacy even now makes it hard for him to move on. “I can’t say it’s been easy,” he says. “He started dating two months after we broke up, and I didn’t. It’s not that I wish we were together, but it does get awkward when, say, he wants to bring his new boyfriend to dinner. I’ve vowed to spend a little more time apart from him so I can meet someone, too.”
Why this strategy works: It’s a nice idea, but Taravella warns against this strategy as a means of deluding yourself: “Many people do this when they still have feelings for the other person,” he says. “They hope that, over time, they’ll get back together. But if it didn’t work the first time around, it often won’t the second time.” Partners doing the dumping also like this because it helps them feel less guilty, but it keeps the dumpee hanging on. Still, it’s natural to want a place in your life for someone with whom you shared so much. Many exes find they can be friends—but only once they’ve both moved on so one doesn’t feel judged or rejected by the other person’s dating behaviors. “It generally it takes time for people to get to this place,” says Taravella. A better idea? Take a temporary no-plans-together break, then rebuild the friendship once you’re both comfortable with the relationship’s demise.
Post-Breakup Strategy #3: Exes With Benefits You’re no longer dating, but you still hook up sometimes.
A case history: “I broke up with my boyfriend six months ago, and we’ve been hooking up a couple of times a month since,” says Tim, who works in the entertainment business in Los Angeles. But what he thought was a no-strings attachment turned out to have several threads from their ruined relationship. “I met this new guy, and we started having sex, too. So I told my ex about it, and he got mad. He said I should have told him first. I didn’t know that was part of the deal. I’d think twice about sleeping with an ex again.”
Why this strategy works: Think you’re signing on for an easy booty call? Think again. One person’s mindless sex can be his partner’s proof that the love is alive. “Emotional attachments linger after breakups, and it’s difficult for many people to separate their feelings from sex,” says Taravella. “More times than not, one person is left feeling alone, abandoned, and hurt.” After all, if someone’s told you you’re not good enough to date, why settle for being only good enough to sleep with him? Not only does one person usually think the relationship’s still ongoing, but it makes it difficult for both of you when one person wants out—then you have to deal with another breakup. And it also doesn’t leave you free to date other people and begin sexual relationships with them without baggage. “Ex sex may satisfy certain ‘needs’ in the short-term, but it’s never a good idea,” says Taravella. Now that you know the pros and cons of these three common scenarios, you can proceed with the best chances of a full and speedy recovery should you have a breakup in the future.
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