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Should You 'UnFriend' An Ex On Facebook?

What The Research Says
Anne Parsons
Should You 'UnFriend' An Ex On Facebook?© 2017 Dennis Skley - Flickr

Okay, you’ve broken up.

It’s not like you want to stay bosom buddies with your ex, but you don’t want to cut all ties either. As sure as anything, you don’t want to ‘unfriend’ your ex in haste and come across as being reactive. You said you were going to be friends, right? So what’s the harm in staying Facebook friends? It's not like you'll be checking on them ALL the time.

The Lure of An Ex's Profile

Yet it’s hard to resist the lure of an ex’s profile - social networks are especially designed to indulge us. We want to see photos of an ex, we get photos. We want to see whether they have been out and about - a few clicks will give us this information. But are we actually better off for knowing this?

It takes a certain level of self-awareness to realise the negative impact of certain things on our well-being, and it also takes a certain level of self-control to relinquish the rewardarding stream of information. Is that short term gain, acquiring those shreds of information, actually in our best interests? According to Tara Marshall's research at Psychology Department at Brunel University, the answer is no.

Holding You Back

Marshall's research, which was first published in an article in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, suggests that remaining friends with an ex will not only disrupt your personal growth but it will interfere with your ability to move on. 

"Facebook may furnish information about an ex-partner that only intensifies heartbreak, such as news that the former partner is involved in a new relationship.”

Even if your ex remains in your social circle, Marshall's research suggests that a ‘weak-tie’ connection to an ex on a social network like Facebook is even more disruptive to your ability to move on, as opposed to the “strong-tie” connection of running into them in real life, at a party,for example. The idea is that Facebook “may furnish information about an ex-partner that only intensifies heartbreak, such as news that the former partner is involved in a new relationship.”

According to Marshall, frequent monitoring of an ex's Facebook page and list of friends, even when you are not an official Facebook friend of your ex, is “associated with greater current distress over the breakup, negative feelings, sexual desire, longing for the ex-partner, and lower personal growth”.

"Well, it's different with us"

I can already hear you say "well, it's different with us". It's not.

Marshall did explore the idea that staying friends on Facebook with an ex may actually be better over a long period - “exposure to the potentially banal status updates, comments, and photos of an ex-partner...may have decreased any residual attraction to the ex-partner. Former partners with whom we are no longer in contact, by contrast, may remain shrouded in an alluring mystique, suggesting that remaining Facebook friends with an ex-partner may actually help rather than harm one's postbreakup recovery." 

Unfriend! Unfriend!

Even so, her results still proved that people who remained Facebook friends were lower in personal growth than were those who had unfriended the ex-partner, regardless of their situation. If you keep tabs on an ex through Facebook, you simply will have a poorer emotional recovery. Unfriending may just be the best remedy for healing your broken heart. Tough love, kids.

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