How To Be A Good Ex After A Breakup

Or how to break up better

Illustrated by Jihyang Lim

To stay friends after a breakup, or what? That is the question we all grapple with following the ending of a romantic relationship. Sometimes the answer is clear because you and your ex are better off friends anyway. Sometimes it's not because even though you may genuinely still love and care for your ex, remaining in contact with them can leave you with more heartache than good. The same can be said for your ex: You may feel okay following the breakup, but your presence in their life may be too much to handle. There is no be-all and end-all rulebook for these type of things; the only truth of the matter is time and distance heal, the rest is subjective to you and your relationship. Guidelines, though, are beneficial in getting you and your ex on a path to healthy healing and, perhaps, reconciliation. Here, Jean Fitzpatrick, a relationship therapist based in Manhattan, lays it out. Breakups are hard, but that doesn't mean they have to be ungraceful.

What do you suggest one do immediately following a breakup?
Be gentle with yourself.  Reach out to friends and family and let them know you need support. Even if you initiated the breakup, your life is about to change drastically. Your daily routine and your inner world are missing someone who has been important to you. You're grieving; trust your process and resist the urge to second-guess. Instead, focus on activities that help you manage the inevitable anxiety: working out, walks in nature, mindfulness training, yoga, and let yourself cry.

With social media's omnipresence, it's difficult to truly avoid your ex without resorting to unfollowing. What advice do you have for fighting the urge to lurk on social media? Can "checking in" like that be healthy?

Often people do unfollow their ex. One reason social media makes a breakup extra painful is that they bring you into your ex's life in an up-close and personal way. You don't just risk running into him or her on the street. Instead, a photo of his smiling face at a party or on the beach pops up in your newsfeed while you're sipping your morning coffee in your bathrobe. It's tough to have someone disappear totally from your life when they were once important. Consider scheduling a weekly social media check-in rather than keeping Instagram open all day.

Who, ideally, should be the first to initiate conversation again following a breakup? The one who did the breaking up or the one who got broken up with?
If they broke up with you, reaching out may be perceived as an attempt to revive the relationship. If you do decide to do that, be sure to be clear about your motives—with your ex and with yourself.

If exes do decide to work on being friends, how do you suggest they go about maintaining an open and honest conversation?
It's not unusual for exes to find that easier to do after a breakup because they tend to take things less personally and are not looking to their ex to meet their needs. Realistically, they may or may not want to be totally open with each other as they start dating and move onto other relationships. They may connect as colleagues or friends.