Facebook Post-Breakup: Bad For Your Heart?

It’s over. But should you stay Facebook friends? Research sheds light on how to handle social media.

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Even when it ends badly, defriending might not be the answer. The Ontario research found that those who remained Facebook friends with their ex had an easier time getting over the split—likely because it's particularly hurtful to be cut out completely. Marshall, too, found that remaining friends with an ex didn't incite negative feelings, and sometimes even helped people get over their former flame. "It often resulted in indifference and loss of attraction over time, like if he posted unattractive photos or silly, boring status updates and comments," she says. Being bombarded with the mundane details of your ex's life could kill any lingering feelings or sense of mystique. (That haircut? He's had better days. Her posts still aren't grammatically correct? You're so much better off.) And one more caveat: "It could also be that people who didn't have any lingering hostility or sexual desire for their ex were just more likely to remain Facebook friends," Marshall says.

Indeed, the problem typically isn't being connected as Facebook friends—it's surveillance, which remains possible regardless of friendship status. Maybe his updates are public and visible to the world at large, or you two share mutual friends, granting access to photos or statuses. It's also not uncommon to ask a buddy to monitor a recently-defriended ex's profile. So in the aftermath of a breakup, how should you handle social media?

[See Can Your Relationship Survive ADHD?]

For starters: Avoid the temptation to trash-talk your ex via status; hide your relationship status rather than alerting your 950 friends that you're now single; and don't overcompensate with countless posts about how wonderful your life is—all in the name of making your ex jealous. (Trust us, he'll see through it.) If the breakup was friendly, there's no need to unfriend immediately; the ugliest splits may call for an even more drastic measure: blocking. At minimum, hide your ex's updates from showing up on your news feed. "Sometimes people aren't even looking for information, but then it pops up—and that can really throw you off," Quan-Haase says. "You're overcoming that relationship, or feeling more stable, and then all of a sudden your news feed is telling you that your ex is dating someone new."

Perhaps the best solution is logging offline and focusing on in-person interactions, says Nancy Berns, an associate professor of sociology at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. "After a breakup, it's important to identify the loss and what it is you're grieving over," she says. "Is it missing a person? Is it missing the idea of being in a relationship? Spend time with people who are encouraging and not feeling the negativity—someone who will listen, face-to-face."

[See How to Survive a Breakup—Especially on Valentine's Day.]