Getting over a breakup is never easy. After you've invested time in a person, formed a meaningful bond, and gotten used to having them as a central part of your life, it's hard to cut ties entirely. It's no surprise, then, that the urge to text an ex can be almost unbearable. You may feel the need to give them a piece of your mind, you might want to tell them you miss them terribly, or perhaps you just want to see how they're doing—in any case, the chance that you've come close to reaching out are pretty high.
Everyone deals with breakups in their own way. Some people feel more at peace after sending every thought that crosses their mind to their former significant other. Some only get the urge after one too many margaritas. Others prefer to cut ties for good—healing their heart by closing it off entirely. When it comes to texting an ex, there is no right or wrong answer. But if you've felt the urge to make contact, you know how agonizing the decision can be.
To make the process easier, we tapped Fran Walfish, PsyD, Beverly Hills–based family and relationship psychotherapist, author, and TV personality, to guide us through the decision process of texting an ex. Should you send that message that's been sitting in a draft in your iPhone notes? Read her tips and find out whether it's a good idea. Sometimes, you just need an expert opinion to pull the trigger (or not).
Why do we feel the urge to text an ex?
"Many people can't stop thinking about their ex obsessively to ease a feeling of loneliness. Others, who truly loved their ex, can't let go. Some are afraid of getting out there again, so they keep their former relationship alive as a way of staying involved and not feeling single again," explains the psychotherapist. "There's only one way to finally let go of your beloved ex, and that is to begin dating, enjoy the dating process, and replace your ex with someone who values you and treats you better. The key factor is the readiness to (finally!) let go."
When thinking about someone constantly, it can be hard not to get the urge to text them, but Walfish insists that looking forward is the healthy thing to do: "Everyone holds on for a different length of time. Some people avoid the pain of loss and grief by texting their ex. Others who have been deeply hurt may close the vault to their heart shut it away under lock and key. You need to know yourself and respect your personal timing. When you're ready to let go and try again, you will. Meanwhile, if you need to stay in touch with your ex via text, that's fine, as long as they're not rejecting you or causing you more pain and hurt."
When is it acceptable to text your ex?
"It is acceptable to text your ex when you get signs that it might be a good idea to reconcile," explains Dr. Walfish. "These signs include that they express and demonstrate genuine accountability and remorse for having hurt you (generally it's a hurt that ruptures and destructs a relationship). Another sign is that your ex demonstrates change with continuity. Anyone can change for a moment, but being flexible and sustaining real change is the key we're looking for in a life partner."
If you feel that this is your case, the psychotherapist suggests that there's no set time frame for how long to wait before reaching out. "Only you can take your own emotional temperature," she says. "Feelings change moment to moment. If it feels right, go for it." The key to reaching out to an ex is to expect absolutely nothing. "You'll be joyfully surprised if you get a positive response," she notes. "Expectations lead to letdowns and disappointments. I'm a firm believer in direct communication between two people. If someone has treated you with courtesy and respect, you're fine to proceed them, but always expect reciprocity. That means they should answer your texts. It has to be a two-way street."
When should you refrain from reaching out?
"It's no longer acceptable to text once you discover that your ex has a new relationship," says Walfish. "This is pivotal is the grieving process. Most folks entertain a certain fantasy that reconciliation of romance and all-good love will resume. When you learn your ex has a new relationship, the ending and death of the fantasy must be faced, and the true mourning process begins. The depth of pain of the loss of love is usually felt at this point, and recovery is quicker because time has passed during the fantasy/hope phase. Learning that your ex has a new relationship forces you to move on with your life, and, painful as it feels, it is really a golden gift in disguise."
Even if your ex is still (to the best of your knowledge) single, the psychotherapist warns against another scenario in which it's perhaps not the best idea to reach out: "It's no longer acceptable to text when you keep getting blamed for all things gone wrong, when there's no shared responsibility, or when you're virtually in this relationship alone," she explains. "Most people feel an empty, lonely, sad feeling after a breakup. Others may feel relief when the relationship has been filled with conflicts, anger, and fighting. The real question is how do you take your own emotional temperature and know the difference between neediness and the impulse to return to a negative relationship or the hope for an improved relationship with your ex?
The answer is self-awareness. One must be brutally honest at all times, including when we experience our deepest pain. It is natural and absolutely normal to feel needy. We are interdependent beings who need each other. We can only come to another person as a complete and separately contained whole individual without the expectation of the other filling up gaps and holes. Two wholes equal the best couple." ■
Next up: To survive a breakup, a neuroscientist says to take a cue from drug addiction.