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Should I Delete My Ex-Partner as a Facebook Friend?

by Jeannie Assimos - September 14, 2012

What happens after a couple breaks up – should they remain Facebook friends? A guest blog by Amy Muise, PhD explores the motivations and effects of remaining Facebook friends with your ex.

Today’s guest blog comes from Amy Muise, a social psychologist from the University of Toronto, Mississauga who specializes in the social effects of new media, sexual motivation and sexual desire in romantic relationships, and women’s sexual health and well-being.

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 of communicating in romantic relationships. My own research has demonstrated that spending more time on Facebook is associated with higher levels of romantic jealousy.1 Other research suggests that Facebook may be a barometer for existing relationship dynamics. In one study, people who were “Facebook official” — and had posted an “in a relationship” status or displayed a dyadic profile picture (a photo that includes both members of the couple) — reported being more satisfied with their relationship.2 But, what happens after a couple breaks up — should they remain Facebook friends?

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 monitoring their ex-partners on Facebook.3 

Keeping tabs on an ex through Facebook, however, may make a breakup more difficult. A new study found that the more time people spent ”creeping” their ex-partners on Facebook (i.e., checking their page or friends 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.4

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.” Since 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 breakup are more likely to monitor their ex-partner’s Facebook page.

In addition, simply remaining friends with a partner (regardless of the amount of time spent monitoring their activities) had mixed consequences for breakup recovery. Keeping a partner as a Facebook friend 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.4 

In some cases, remaining Facebook friends with an ex-partner may ease the pain associated with a breakup – 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 or not, spending time monitoring their activities may make the breakup recovery more difficult. For some of us, the only way to resist “creeping” a former partner is to delete them from our friend list.

This post was originally written for the website www.scienceofrelationships.com. Amy writes a column, Sex Musings, for the website Science of Relationships and you can follow her on Twitter @AmyMuise.

1Muise, A., Christofides, E., & Desmarais, S. (2009). More information than you ever wanted: Does Facebook bring out the green-eyed monster of jealousy? Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 12, 441-444.

2Papp, L. M., Danielewicz, J., & Cayemberg, C. (in press). “Are we Facebook Official?” Implications of dating partners’ Facebook use and profiles for intimate relationship satisfaction. Cyberpsychology & Behaviour, DOI: 10.1089.cyber.2011.0291

3Lyndon, 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.

4Marshal, T. (2012). Facebook surveillance of former romantic partners: Associations with postbreakup recovery and personal growth. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15, 1-6http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/pdf/10.1089/cyber.2012.0125