It can happen to any of us: One day, you’re minding our own business and then your ex contacts you. Be it via text, Facebook, Instagram, or in person, this kind of run-in can make for a super awkward conversation, depending on how you handle it.
Whether the decision to split was a mutual one or you ended things on a sour note, the trepidation you feel when trying to figure out how to proceed is real. What should you do when your ex gets in touch out of the blue? Try these things on for size.
This can be a super painful experience, one that could offer closure or one that starts a rekindled relationship. Think about what you want out of the communication first and how it will affect you first before you respond.
“Know that you are under no obligation to respond,” Meg Josephson, LCSW, told INSIDER. “Often, old relationships carry with them old wounds and unanswered questions. If you feel that making contact could bring this up for you and threaten your hard-earned happiness, take a pass! The amazing part of being out of the relationship is that you are only responsible for doing things that work for YOU, without regard to how it feels to them.”
It may be a no-brainer that you immediately respond to your ex if you’re single, but if you’re already in a new relationship, it’s important to take their feelings into account too.
“If you are currently in a relationship, consider how your partner would react to knowing that you engaged in conversation,” Josephson told INSIDER. “I also find it helps to imagine how you would feel if the roles were reversed and they were in contact with a long-gone ex. Nothing like a change in perspective to keep you from responding impulsively.”
You may feel an urgency to respond right away, but slowing down can make sure that you’re happy with your response to your ex and that you are actually ready to handle speaking with them.
“You may have a strong emotional reaction if you hear from an ex you haven’t spoken to in a long time, whether it be joy, sadness, or anger,” Lindsey Pratt, LMHC, a therapist in NYC who specializes in relationships, told INSIDER. “However, try to pause before replying — it will help you gather your thoughts and become less reactive in your reply. Keep in mind, too, that this may be the only re-opened communication for a while, so being sure of how you want to respond is important.
When crafting your response, you may be tempted to lay it all on the table, but experts told INSIDER it’s better to keep things light and breezy at first — especially if you don’t know what their intentions are.
“If your relationship was basically healthy and ended due to bad timing, different paths at the time, life events, etc., then being open to this contact could be a comfortable and right move,” said psychotherapist, relationship coach, and divorce mediator Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC. “If so, keeping your response light and open-ended in order to get more information on why they are reaching out now, is the best move. This way you gather information before making any assumptions or saying anything you may regret later.”
No matter how you decide to approach the contact that’s been made, don’t rush things. You may very well end up back with this person, or at the very least good friends with them depending on how things go. But don’t rush a response or a decision about what you two “are.” That won’t help the situation.
“If you plan on reconnecting with your ex, set clear boundaries on what you hope to achieve from rebuilding a friendship or relationship,” said Marline Francois-Madden, LCSW and CEO of Hearts Empowerment Counseling Center. “Don’t allow your ex to make you feel guilty for setting boundaries and limitations on how you will interact with them. It is okay to let them know you are not interested in rebuilding again.”
No matter how the conversation goes, be sure that you’re open and honest from the get-go. No matter how you want the talk to go, making sure everyone is on the same page can only be a good thing.
A whirlwind romance may seem like a good thing, but be sure not get swept up in the idea of an on-again, off-again relationship.
“Our culture has romanticized the on-again-off-again relationship a la Ross and Rachel,” Hayden Lindsey, M.S. told INSIDER. “Yet, our best research shows that these yo-yo relationships have negative impacts on mental health and overall wellbeing. There are legitimate reasons to try again after a break up, but if you constantly find yourself in this push-pull, neither of you are getting the kind of love and cherishing you deserve.”
If they’ve reached out and seem intent on getting back together, there are some scenarios in which you can entertain it, but it all depends on how your initial relationship went.
“If an ex reaches out, there are certain scenarios where it would be completely appropriate to entertain the idea of getting back together,” Erica Gordon, founder of The Babe Report, told INSIDER. “If, for example, you broke up with them because you were going through a hard time due to personal reasons or health reasons, and you’re in a much better place now, it would be more than okay to agree to meet up with your ex. Perhaps your healthier state of mind will allow for a relationship to work out this time around.”
If they want to get back together with you and make that known, and you don’t feel the same way, be sure that communicating back to them won’t hurt them.
“There’s also a chance that you don’t care about your ex anymore and your ex cares about you. In that cas,e any type of communication can send the impression that your ex has a chance,” Dr. Benjamin Ritter, founder of Live for Yourself Consulting, and The Breakup Supplementtold INSIDER. “If you have an ex that still wants a relationship with you, then you need to pull back any engagement with that person, especially if you are dating someone else.”
One of the most common reasons for reconnecting with an ex is “closure,” but few people actually get it when talking to their ex.
“You realize that you will rarely get the ‘closure’ (the holy grail) that people speak of,” Meg Josephson, LCSW, told INSIDER. “The only one who can give you closure is yourself, and time. People have a whole host of reasons for wanting to get in touch with an ex, and sometimes, they don’t even fully understand why they themselves are reaching out.”
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Originally published on Business Insider.