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Should You Stay “Friends” With Your Ex-Partner On Facebook?

Let’s face it, Facebook has changed the way we experience romantic relationships. The widespread popularity of Facebook has increased the amount of information people can access about their romantic partners - past, present, and future. In addition, Facebook has provided new ways for romantic partners to communicate. In previous posts, I talked about research findings linking Facebook use to higher levels of romantic jealousy and greater relationship satisfaction when going “Facebook official”. But, what are the consequences of staying Facebook “friends” after breaking up with said partner?

Why would somebody even want to stay friends after a breakup? Well, obviously, you can use Facebook to keep tabs on an ex-partner. In fact, 67% of surveyed college students reported “creeping” their ex-partners on Facebook by monitoring their profiles.1 In a previous post I suggested that this “creeping” may make it more difficult to recover from a breakup; in order to move on people should delete their ex-partners from their friend lists. A new study found that the more time people spent ”creeping” their ex-partners on Facebook (i.e., checking their page or friend list) the less they were able to recover from the breakup. In other words, they felt more distressed, more negative emotions, more desire and longing for their ex-partners, and less personal growth.2 The severity of negative consequences were determined by the amount of time a person spent monitoring an ex-partner on Facebook, regardless of whether they remained “friends.” Granted, because this study was correlational (the researchers did not manipulate who stayed friends with an ex-partner and who did not), we cannot rule out the possibility that people who are more distressed about a break-up are more likely to monitor their ex-partner’s Facebook page.

In addition, simply remaining friends with ex-partners (regardless of the amount of time spent monitoring their activities) had mixed consequences for break-up recovery. Keeping a partner on your Facebook friend list was actually associated with fewer negative emotions and less desire and longing for a partner; however, remaining Facebook friends with an ex was also associated with less personal growth following the breakup.2 In some cases remaining Facebook friends with an ex-partner may help relieve the pain associated with a break-up – it may relieve feelings of uncertainty or decrease our attraction to that person (perhaps seeing an ex’s mundane status updates solidifies the decision to breakup). At the same time, however, maintaining this virtual friendship may also impede a person’s ability to move on from the relationship.

The take home message from this research is that regardless of whether you choose to stay friends with ex-partners on Facebook, spending time monitoring their activities may make the break-up recovery more difficult. For some of us, the only way to resist “creeping” a former partner is to delete them from our friend list.

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1Lyndon, A., Bonds-Raacke, J., & Cratty, A. D. (2011). College students’ Facebook stalking of ex-partners.Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, Online First, DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2010.0588.

2Marshal, T. (2012). Facebook surveillance of former romantic partners: Associations with postbreakup recovery and personal growth. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15, 1-6 http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/pdf/10.1089/cyber.2012.0125

Dr. Amy Muise - Sex Musings | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Muise’s research focuses on sexuality, including the role of sexual motives in maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships, and sexual well-being. She also studies the relational effects of new media, such as how technology influences dating scripts and the experience of jealousy.

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