We were invited to speak to Hannah Reilly (Twitter @HMReilly) on Triple J’s The Hook Up about the use of ‘Thirst Traps’ to get an ex’s attention after a breakup. You can listen to the podcast, read a brief summary and see our full tips on managing social media use after a break-up below.
Relationships: Tips for managing social media use after a breakup
Is it a good idea to stay connected with an ex on social media after a breakup?
Each relationship break up is unique. In situations where the relationship reached an amicable end, staying connected on social media can be a straightforward process. However, for breakups where there has been a great deal of confusion, pain and loss, staying connected on social media can be tricky and can potentially cause a lot of anxiety and hurt at a time when you are already emotionally vulnerable.
Staying connected on social media can be a negative for several reasons:
- Seeing posts by your ex can exacerbate the pain of losing them and the relationship.
- You are likely to read into posts and make unhelpful assumptions e.g. “they are coping fine, they seem happier without me, they’ve already moved on and forgotten about me”.
- If or when your ex moves onto a new relationship, seeing this play out on social media can be a painful process as it is quite common for people to compare themselves to an ex’s new partner.
- When you are posting content to your social media, you may find yourself preoccupied with how your ex will perceive your post, whether they will interact with the post or whether they will reach out to you.
How long should I unfollow or unfriend for?
Having a short-term break from being connected to your ex on social media for around 1-2 months can be helpful to create space for you to heal from the breakup and to start rebuilding your life. After this time has passed you can then reassess whether you can manage staying connected with your ex on social media or whether you need more time. It can be helpful to talk to your ex about what you plan to do and why you need to do this.
Why am I struggling to unfollow or unfriend?
For some people unfollowing or unfriending an ex from social media is quite a reactive and immediate response after a breakup, while others can really struggle with letting go of this connection. They may feel terrified of losing connection with their ex and worry that they may be reducing the chance of reconciliation. It is important to remember that this disconnection can be temporary and short term, and that it can provide you space to heal. If there is a later chance for reconciliation, having this time apart can help you reflect on the healthy and unhealthy aspects of your relationship, your values and your needs. This will likely improve your chances of successfully repairing and rebuilding the relationship.
You can take slow, graded steps if this is a difficult transition for you e.g. hiding your ex from your Facebook wall, unfollowing them, unfriending them or to blocking them if necessary. You may also need to have a chat to close friends and family about not wanting to hear about what your ex may be up to on social media. Similarly, you may also need to temporarily unfollow some your ex’s friends if they are likely to post things that involve your ex.
What if I can’t help but check their profiles?
Even after unfollowing or unfriending an ex partner, you may still experience urges to check their profiles and at times give in to this urge. One Canadian study with Facebook users found that 88% of participants reported that they had checked on their exes on social media. In addition, 70% of participants reported getting their friends to look at their exes’ profile if they are still connected.
Checking your ex’s social media profile, especially in the early days of a breakup often leads to more pain. When you experience the urge to check, you are already likely to be in an anxious state. When we are in an anxious state our brain interprets information in a different way. The executive functioning parts of the brain which are responsible for things like perspective taking, problem solving and forward planning become less activated and the parts of the brain which are responsible for registering threat become more activated. As a result, when you are looking through your ex’s profile you will likely be reading into things and interpreting things as a potential emotional threat e.g. “they seem to be having a better time without me”, “they’ve moved on already”, “they have forgotten about me/us already”. You may also read into posts that they like or comment on, people that they start following or people who start following them and start looking into those peoples’ profiles. The deeper the search goes, the more you may end up feeling distressed.
What are some tips for managing the urge to check?
Some useful tips to help you manage the urge to check include:
- Reflect on possible times of vulnerability where you might experience increased urges e.g. after you have gotten through the work day, when you are scrolling on your phone in bed at night, or maybe on Friday or Saturday night when you might anticipate that they are out socialising with others.
- Try to make an alternate plan for those vulnerable times e.g. get some exercise after work, read or listen to music at night instead, schedule an event or a chat with a friend on the weekend.
- Notice early warning signs for the urges e.g. lump in throat, heart racing, knot in stomach.
- Try some mindfulness exercises to help you manage feelings of distress.
- Try to set a manageable time frame to postpone the checking and then extend it if possible e.g. I’ll put the phone in the other room and go to bed and see what my urge is like tomorrow.
- Remind yourself that managing the urges will get easier with practice.
- Remind yourself how you have felt after checking in the past e.g. Does it ever provide relief? How long for? Do you experience the urge to check again soon after? Or do you end up feeling more distressed than when the urge began?
What are helpful things I can focus on after a breakup?
Some helpful areas to focus on after a breakup include:
- What are your relationship values and needs?
- How did your recent relationship meet your values and needs and how didn’t it?
- Reflect on your positive qualities and what you can bring to a relationship.
- Spend some time connecting with yourself and rediscovering your own interests outside of the relationship.
- Stay connected to close friends and family who can provide good practical or emotional support.
Viewing your ex’s social media will not likely give you emotional relief or the closure you are looking for soon after a break-up. Viewing it will likely raise more unanswered questions and make it harder to move on.
If you would like some support with navigating a break-up or other relationship issues, contact us at https://www.resiliencepsychology.com.au/contact
We provide Clinical Psychology services in Adelaide for adult individuals and couples, and provide Telehealth services Australia-wide.