Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

Why being friends with your ex on Facebook is bad for your mental health

cd.JPG

Unless you’ve had a really nasty, bitter break-up – the type that makes your friends spit blood and your mum start plotting violent revenge – it’s often tempting to try and stay friends with an ex. It seems like the healthiest, most mature option, doesn’t it? If you don’t genuinely think they’re the spawn of Satan, there seems no reason to completely cut them out of your life.

And in the age of constant digital connection, where we’re used to reading updates on the lives of people we haven’t seen for years (“No way, Kirsty and Chris D from school are together now?!”) unfollowing an ex on social media is a big, bold statement. It either says, “I have literally zero interest in how your life unfolds” – or, “I am so interested in how your life unfolds that I have to remove the temptation to cyber-stalk you every minute of the livelong day”. If you’re trying to take the high road, neither seems a great option.

But psychological research suggests that not pressing “delete” on past relationships can seriously affect our ability to recover from a break-up.

Anna Kendrick

We all do it: Anna Kendrick as Katherine in 50/50

A British study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking found that about one in three people admitted to “Facebook stalking” an ex-partner at least once a week. It also showed that staying Facebook friends with an ex and monitoring their profile can increase feelings of distress about the relationship ending. This kind of online “surveillance” was associated with lower personal growth, a protracted sense of longing for the ex-partner, as well as more negative feelings and increased sexual desire for the ex. In other words, it can all get a bit messy.

The study shows a correlation, rather than causation, between keeping your ex as a friend Facebook and negative psychological effects. But according to psychologist Dr Tara Marshall of Brunel University, who led the research, the findings still “suggest that exposure to an ex-partner through Facebook may obstruct the process of healing and moving on from a past relationship”.

Dr Marshall has spent the last few years investigating the relationship between social media and romantic psychology. In a recent interview with MIC, she confirms that “all indicators would suggest that [staying online friends with an ex is] not healthy”.

girls

In Girls, Marnie spends far too much time checking her ex's social media accounts

In another study led by Dr Marshall, anxiety in the context of romantic relationships was shown to be strongly associated with “Facebook jealousy and surveillance”.

Dr Marshall advises thinking carefully about why you might really want to stay online “friends” in the first place, and says that people usually have one of two motives. Either they’re genuinely cool with the situation and simply can’t be bothered to unfriend – or they’re using social media as a way of maintaining a sense of connection. “People are often morbidly curious,” she says. If that sounds familiar, it might be time to grit your teeth and unfollow. “The more you can minimise exposure,” says Dr Marshall, “the more space you have to move on.”

While we might grasp that rationally, we might not actually have the nerve to click delete. So in November 2015, Facebook started testing tools to help people reduce the amount they have to see a former partner on their news feed. Now, when people change their relationship status from “in a relationship”, they’ll see a range of tools allowing them to see less of their ex’s name on Facebook – and limit the amount that their ex can see them.

Related

break up.jpg

Friends with your ex? Apparently you’re a psychopath

Couple on bridge.jpg

Read the heartbreaking final messages lovers send each other

lena bonhm carter.jpg

Helena Bonham Carter opens up about "heartbreaking" split

diary 1.png

Seven-year-old's story of unrequited love goes viral

facebook study gender words.jpg

Study reveals gender differences in the language we use online

42cdf434-c860-11e2-9a40-0025b511226e.jpg

New website helps the heartbroken sell their emotional baggage

new_kate_rt.jpg

Kate Beckinsale talks to Stylist about her next chapter

iStock_000073919951_Medium.jpg

Shocking extent of misogyny on social media revealed in new study

2252406.jpg

Life after heartbreak: stars on break-ups and divorce

More

Sandi Toksvig’s shock Bake Off confession completely rocks our world

Can we get a “THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING”, please?

by Kayleigh Dray
21 Sep 2017

Gossip Girl was supposed to have an entirely different ending

Good morning, Upper East siders…

by Susan Devaney
21 Sep 2017

How to use Instagram to boost your career (and land your dream job)

It’s time to make your Instagram account work as hard as you do…

by Kayleigh Dray
21 Sep 2017

Students disciplined for making rape joke during a charity fundraiser

The four teens spelled the word ‘rape’ with body paint

by Amy Swales
21 Sep 2017

Colin the Caterpillar has been given a cute Christmas makeover

We only just got over Halloween Colin – now Santa Colin is in town

by Kayleigh Dray
21 Sep 2017

Sabrina the Teenage Witch is conjuring up a seriously dark TV reboot

But who will play everyone’s favourite half-witch?

by Kayleigh Dray
21 Sep 2017

Elisabeth Moss isn’t done with powerful dramas about women’s rights

Call Jane is set to be as relevant for Trump's America as its 60s setting

by Amy Swales
20 Sep 2017

Why we all think we’re the least popular one in our group of friends

If you believe everyone’s hanging out without you, you’re not alone

by Moya Crockett
20 Sep 2017

Why that Doctor Foster conversation is so incredibly important

So many people missed the point of this big reveal…

by Kayleigh Dray
20 Sep 2017

What is panic disorder – and do you suffer from it?

Nadiya Hussain described it as a 'monster'

by Megan Murray
20 Sep 2017