A breakup can be one of the most painful, scarring experiences of your life. Blindsided, betrayed, brokenhearted, you stagger and struggle to recover, slowly healing your wounds, gradually accepting your new, harsh reality, eventually moving forward with your life. Just when you’re starting to feel normal again after months or years – whammo! Suddenly your ex contacts you again. Months or years of silence, of no communication, then all at once your life seems tipped upside down all over again. Memories of those old passions, traumas and painful experiences threaten to overwhelm you. What should you do?
Should you embrace the crazy soap opera that is your life? Well, you don’t have to. You may be tempted to let yourself fall back into that maelstrom of emotions and chaos that you only recently escaped from – but take a moment to ask yourself, what does that tell you about yourself? What problems or situations or imperfections in your life are you hoping to fix by reengaging with your ex? And how likely is it, really, that getting sucked back in with your ex will help you? What does your reaction tell you?
It might tell you that you like being unhappy, that you enjoy feeling like a victim, wallowing in crazy self-pity. But if that’s true, it’s probably something you want to work to change about yourself, because if feeling like a victim gives you a sense of power, there’s something wrong in your life.
Think about it. You broke up with your ex for real, valid reasons, no matter how painful and unpleasant they may have been to accept at the time. No couple breaks up for no reason. Even if they can’t always figure out the reason or reasons behind their breakup, those reasons are always there. Something wasn’t working right in the relationship, either with you or with your ex or, more likely, with both of you. It’s not much fun accepting that you both might have had problems of personality or maturity that contributed to the end of your relationship. But by moving on and accepting the breakup, you did the mature, grown up thing. You accepted that your relationship was over, and that it was time to move on. You realized, perhaps quickly, but more likely over a long period of time, that being single was OK, and that you could be happy and hopeful even when you weren’t in a relationship. You cultivated family connections and friendships for social and emotional nourishment. Perhaps you even grew up and moved forward enough to start a new relationship with someone else.
All that took a lot of work, even if it was messy and slow. So when your ex contacts you out of the blue, be aware – be very aware – what you are risking by reengaging with your ex. You are at risk of losing all that growth and the new happiness and serenity you’ve acquired so painfully over months and years.
So the first thing to do when your ex contacts you, whether it be by text, email, phone (let it go to voice mail, please!), letter, singing Valentine, floral delivery, social media, telegram or smoke signals, is nothing. The second, third and fourth things you should do are also nothing.
That’s right. Don’t do anything. Have some compassion for yourself. You are in shock, even if you don’t realize it. Remember your basic first aid – in almost any kind of injury, treat the person for shock. Have the victim lie down. Raise their feet to keep blood flowing to their brain, and cover them to keep them warm. Shock is caused by the body’s own failure to deliver blood and oxygen to all its parts. It takes a little time to recover from this. Your ex’s sudden message has triggered a similar kind of emotional and psychological shock, and perhaps even some physical shock, too, and you need to give yourself a bit of time to rebalance and recover afterward.
It’s possible you don’t have anything to say, or don’t trust yourself to say anything. That’s totally fine. You are allowed to still be hurt, still be upset, still be angry about the breakup. Your feelings about it are yours and no one can deny them or take them away from you. But you don’t have to share them with anybody if you don’t want to. In this case, it’s best to say nothing. If your ex is insistent, you may want to send a polite, short, very clear message saying, “Please respect me and don’t contact me again.”
On the other hand, you may feel like you have a lot to say to your ex. Perhaps you are still attracted to them, or still feel you love them, or are enraged at them and want to shout and scream about it. Maybe you’ve remembered some “loose ends” from your relationship that need to be discussed. You should also beware of following these urges.
If you feel like you still have issues to work through, things you want to say to your ex, don’t do it by text or email or phone. Write down what you want to say on paper, with a pen or pencil. Then fold it up and stick it in a drawer for two weeks or, better yet, for thirty days. Take it out again and read it over. If the passage of time has not changed your feelings about communicating it to your ex, then you can consider a safe way to do that.
Even if your ex just says something innocuous like “Hi,” be careful how (and even if) you respond. That little emotional nudge, even just a “Hi,” can be like a worm on the end of a fishhook, waiting to snare you and pull you back into an emotional mess you just barely got out of.
A prolonged period of no contact – a minimum of thirty days – is best for both people after a breakup. Beyond that, no contact is still perfectly OK. Feel free to go your whole life without contacting your ex again. But if, after some time, both of you feel like you need to communicate for some reason, take it slow and be careful. You are playing with fire.