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No Contact Rules With Exes

It can be difficult enough to move on after a breakup, but when there is an established dynamic of continuing to contact your partner (and vice versa) after the relationship ends, this can turn from difficult to toxic. These types of contact can be hurtful and confusing, and ultimately prevent you and your ex from being able to process the break up and move on. In some instances, when there is repeated contact post-breakup, one or both of you may be fishing for some sort of reaction. For example, you might text your ex because you are still angry and trying to provoke them and continue to argue. Another instance might be repeated bids to get your ex to reconsider the break up. If this type of thing is happening, establishing a “no contact” rule for a period of time whether mutually agreed upon or not may be helpful. It is healthy to be able to recognize when a relational dynamic is unproductive or harmful and to set boundaries in response to that. Sometimes once the “no contact” period is up, neither one of you may have any desire to contact the other. In other cases, you might feel like you want to reach out. Before doing so, I would recommend going through the following steps.

  1. Check in with yourself at least three different times preferably in different moods and circumstances in order to make sure you truly want to reach out and this is not just a mood-dependent decision (i.e., you are feeling down because you heard your old song and decide to reach out “just to say hi”).
  2. Understand why you want to reach out and what your goals are. You might want to reach out to tie up loose ends like bills or exchange belongings. Another reason might be to gain closure. In some circumstances, you may be aiming to establish a friendship.
  3. Make sure that even if the established time frame has passed that you have had enough time to process things so that you can talk to them without it being harmful to you. As it can be hard to predict exactly how you will feel after an interaction, one way to test this is to imagine different scenarios in which you try to initiate contact and get a whole range of reactions such as being ignored, being met with a snarky or mean response, or your ex saying they want to rekindle things. Think about how you will feel in each of these scenarios. If you will be devastated if you are ignored or if you would be hopeful if they want to try again and you absolutely know that is bad idea then I would recommend waiting another week and revisiting the matter.

What if your ex keeps contacting you despite your request that there be no contact. In this case, it is essential that you clearly state that you do not want to be contacted by them and that you will not be responding. Chances are that they will continue to try to contact you anyway and may even up the ante each time. This is called an extinction burst in behavioral terms and refers to a spike in a behavior before it is extinguished. It is most important NOT to respond during an extinction burst as that will be more reinforcing and perpetuate the behavior more than responding the very first time. (Think gambling and the experience of finally winning after a long losing streak or a child screaming because they want something and only when it reaches ear piercing volume or a full on tantrum do they get what they want).

Lastly, in some instances it is just not appropriate to have any future contact. If you want to reach out but the relationship was abusive, this would fall into that category and I would recommend blocking your ex’s number, email addresses, and ability to contact you on social media.