Relationship splits are even messier in the online age. When must you change your Facebook status? And who gets custody of Netflix? Here’s all the advice you need
In the early stages of
You are suddenly single again. Should you steer clear of social media?
In the early stages of a breakup, going online can feel like the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan, only instead of waiting artillery there are pictures of your ex, ready to blow you to bits. If there is any animus or unfinished business between you, looking at your ex’s profile is a form of psychic self-mutilation. “It’s called ‘shopping for pain,’’ says Peter Saddington, a counsellor with Relate.
If the breakup was not your choice – ie you were dumped – Saddington suggests a temporary holiday from social media. “If you’re seeing other people happy, or your partner moving on, that can be very distressing,” he says. But if you feel strong enough to venture online, Facebook lets you “unfollow” your ex so that their content doesn’t come up in your news feed. This allows you to create some distance, without the finality of unfriending, which removes them from your social media profile entirely (the equivalent on Twitter and Instagram is called “muting”). “That way, you’re still friends, but you can’t see any of their information,” explains psychologist Emma Kenny. “It’s healthier to do that.”
But if the relationship was abusive in any way, Kenny is firm. “Absolutely block them,” she says, so that they are unable to contact you or view your social media profiles.
Should you cut all online ties with your ex’s friends?
Even if you have unfollowed or muted your ex, the chances are they will still come up in your feed if you remain friends with their friends. Again, do not be rushed into over-reacting. “If you blanket remove-and-reject all these friends,” Kenny says, “you’re probably doing that from a position of anger and hostility, which are feelings that can pass.” It may be better to mute them instead.
Is it ever a good idea to like posts by an ex?
It depends why you are doing it. If you are liking your ex’s posts because you are on good terms and there’s no lingering romantic attachment, this is OK, but best saved for major life events. “Unless you had a really solid friendship before you began dating, you should try and keep a little bit of distance,” says Kenny. “A general rule of thumb should be: if they’re an ex, they’re an ex for a reason.”
Even if you are truly over the relationship, ask yourself whether your ex is in the same place. “By liking their posts, you’re giving off some kind of message or expectation that you might reconcile,” says behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings. “And if you hurt them, it might feel painful for them to have you liking their posts when you’re not in their life any more.”
Should you post about your breakup in the immediate aftermath?
Absolutely not. For a start, it is self-indulgent. “There’s something quite narcissistic in thinking that the world cares,” Kenny says. “Those who do care will already know, so a social media post won’t be relevant.”
“There’s an oversharing thing that goes on with social media, and it’s unnecessary,” Hemmings agrees. It is also disrespectful to your former partner: “It’s inflammatory to be discussing the breakup on social media. It’s not fair on the other person, and it shouldn’t be there for public discussion. Avoid it if you can.”
Is it a good idea to do a couples breakup post?
Identically worded posts are an import from celebrity culture, whether that’s Gwyneth and Chris’s genre-defining “conscious uncoupling”, or Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan’s more recent “We have lovingly chosen to separate … [We] have had a magical journey together.” But, unless you are a public figure with an image and brand to protect, this over the top. If you must channel your inner celebrity, Saddington says, make sure “you’re using agreed wording that’s not open to misinterpretation”.
What should you do if you have nude pictures of your ex?
Breakups bring out the worst in us, particularly when we are humiliated and upset, and holding on to nude pictures can lead to behaviour you may later deeply regret. “All it might take is a few glasses of wine in the evening with your mates, and then you’re using those pictures to humiliate people,” Kenny says. (Remember, disseminating such photos counts as revenge porn, which is illegal.) Plus, unless you plan on being single for ever, at some point you are going to be in a new relationship, in which case, having nude pictures of your ex is weird. Delete the lot – including those stored in the cloud – and let your ex know you have.
How quickly should you change your Facebook status?
Although it is tempting to set your status to “single” immediately, Kenny urges caution. “Just wait! The problem with social media is that it takes us a step away from being an adult,” she says, advising instead that you hide your status until you can discreetly change it, for minimum fuss. “You have to remember that there’s another person on the end of this breakup. Just because you might be ready and raring to go, and want the world to know you are single because you’re been chatting to a nice guy or girl, that can be painful for the other person.”
What about changing your Netflix password?
As watching Netflix together is all that many couples do anyway, the issue of what to do with a shared account is not insignificant. If you are the bill-payer, rip off the Netflix plaster and move on, advises Saddington. “As the relationship has ended, so has everything else, so just change the password as soon as you are able to. It’s just about being realistic: the relationship has ended, so everything else that goes with it has also ended.”
If you meet a new partner quickly (or had a new partner before you broke up) how long should you wait before going public on social media?
In breakups, as in Hollywood films, Little Mix songs or Greek epics, there are good guys and bad guys. Don’t be the bad guy. “If you go on social media immediately after a breakup and post about your new relationship, no one takes you seriously or respects your choices, and everyone thinks you’re the villain,” says Kenny. “And to some degree, you are being the villain, because you’re evidencing that you’ve been thoughtless to another human being.” Flaunting your new relationship can also be upsetting for your former partner’s friends or family: “You’ve got to think about collateral damage. Who have I got the potential to hurt?”
Out of respect for your former partner, you should wait at least three months, but preferably six, before taking your new relationship online. That will also give you time to work out whether you have stumbled into a rebound relationship, like Pete Davidson and Ariana Grande, or lasting love à la Barack and Michelle. “If you’re going fairly quickly into a new relationship, it’s unlikely to be a stable one,” warns Saddington, “because you haven’t really got over what’s happened.”
What if you are in a WhatsApp group with your partner’s friends?
“It’s brutal, but it’s better to just come out of it,” Saddington says. If you want to keep in touch with anyone, message them individually. Or, as Kenny suggests, “Pop a nice little message in the WhatsApp group saying: ‘I’ll be leaving, it’s been nice hanging out, and I’m still around if anyone else wants to WhatsApp me.” However, don’t expect anything: “It’s their territory, and as you withdraw from your ex’s life, you should withdraw from that territory.”
What should you do if you are matched with your ex on a dating site?
Odds are, if you are a similar age and live near each other, it is going to happen. If you do see your ex’s all-too-familiar face looming in your Tinder, swipe left (“Don’t swipe right, because that’s sending all kinds of strange messages,” says Hemmings). Then pour yourself a stiff drink.
Should you have therapy – and if so, what kind?
Breakups are a normal part of life, and most functioning, healthy adults are equipped to deal with them, meaning that therapy is not necessary. “If you don’t like your partner very much any more, and don’t want to be with them, and you’re OK with that, go ahead and save your money!” says Kenny. “Because, let’s be real, therapy is bloody expensive.” If you would like therapy, but can’t afford it, there is a burgeoning market in breakup apps such as Let’s Mend, which advertises itself as a “personal trainer for heartbreak”, or Break-Up Boss, which “allows you to be the boss of your goddamn breakup”.
If the issues related to your breakup were sexual in nature, Saddington suggests that you see a sex therapist, so you are in a better position to start any new relationship.
Is it ever OK to ‘ghost’ someone rather than explain why you want to break up?
Ghosting has never been less acceptable. Dating apps Bumble and Badoo both recently announced that they would be cracking down on ghosting. Badoo even plans to introduce auto-prompted Dear John messages, allowing ghosters to let down their ghostees gently. One reads: “Hey, I think you’re great, but I don’t see us as a match. Take care!” All our experts would impose a ban on ghosting given the chance.
“When you ghost someone, you’re playing to your nastier nature,” Kenny says. Social media and online dating have effectively made people digitally disposable, but ghosting can create lasting hurt, even if it is done through a screen. “You should always have a conversation with the person you’re breaking up with, and tell them the truth about your feelings,” she says.
Routine ghosters may want to consider what is driving their behaviour. “Ghosting is an ‘avoidant’ quality,” says neuroscientist and sex therapist Nan Wise. “Are you someone who’s got an avoid-and-detach style, rather than confront-and-deal? That will probably show up in your future relationships.”
If you are just a hopelessly shitty person, take comfort in the fact that you’re not the only one. “I don’t think ghosting is a good thing, but it happens,” says Hemmings. “You can’t force people to explain themselves if they don’t want to. It’s a lot of effort. Ghosting is for the more cowardly, but the message does get delivered.”
Is it OK to break up with someone by text?
There is no hard and fast rule, but Hemmings suggests that “after four or five dates, someone deserves a better way of being broken up with”, especially if you have already slept with them. Otherwise it is fine to end things via text or instant messaging, if that is how you usually stay in touch.
If you have had the exclusivity chat, does that mean you have to break up face to face?
Basically, yes. “It gives the other person the opportunity to explain how they feel,” Kenny says. “You both walk away understanding why that relationship hasn’t worked.” You will also feel better about yourself: “They might want to crawl off and drink a bottle of wine afterwards, but at least they’ll know you’ve given them the respect they deserved, challenging as it was.”
Is it really a breakup if you haven’t had the exclusivity conversation?
If you are upset and hurt by the breakup, those feelings are legitimate, regardless of whether or not the relationship was official. You can form a romantic connection with someone in a moment, a month, or a year – and having that connection terminated will always feel like a body blow. “We fall quickly in life, and we fall hard,” Kenny says. If you are the person doing the breaking up, tread carefully, and be kind: “Recognise that the other person may be far more invested in it than you’re feeling.”
Because, when we date, we hold the other person’s heart in our hands. Handle it roughly and it will smash into smithereens. Treat it carefully and, even if it breaks, they will be able to fix it so well that you would never even know.