You and your ex broke up a while ago. You grieved, you suffered, you raged, you recovered. Just as you’ve started to move on and put your life back together, suddenly, out of the blue, you receive a message from your ex.
What should you do?
Like so many things in life, it depends. A friend of mine recently got a message from his ex-wife after 15 years of no contact. He was shocked. But it turned out she wanted to let him know someone in her family – someone he knew when they were married – had died. After 15 years, both he and she had certainly moved on and built new lives. The stability of their new lives and the context of the message made it perfectly safe to communicate.
A Message From Your Ex Can Tilt Your World
Even so, a message from his ex-wife after 15 years brought up a lot of fear, curiosity, and other feelings. If a message from an ex is that powerful after a decade-and-a-half, imagine how much more powerful it can be just days, weeks or months after a painful breakup (and really, is there any other kind of breakup?).
A sudden message from your ex can turn your whole world upside down and undo a lot of the hard work you’ve done to let go and move on, so be careful how you react.
If it’s a text message, you may have no choice about reading it or not reading it, because it will just flash up on your screen whether you like it or not.
That’s a change from the old, old days when lovers and exes sent each other actual letters. When a letter arrived you could tell by the handwriting and postmark who it was probably from, and you could wait until you were ready (or thought you were ready) to open it and read it.
But in today’s era of instantaneous, 24/7 technological communication, it’s harder to hide from unwanted messages. An ex can reach out and touch you by text, email, phone call, or on social media.
That’s one reason it’s so vital after a breakup to block those lines of communication to give yourself some peace of mind.
Block calls and texts from your ex, and mark any of their email messages as “spam” – your computer will quickly learn where to file any more of them.
You’re not cutting off communication to be cruel. Not at all. You are doing it for yourself – to give yourself the gift of time to think and to heal.
So, if, somehow, despite all your precautions, a message gets through, it’s vital for you to think first of yourself. What do you need in this situation? Avoid thinking of what is best for your ex, or what is “polite” or socially required of you. The most important thing is to protect yourself, if necessary, from further emotional harm.
Do Nothing to Protect Yourself
That means, if you are still upset, or if the receipt of the message has upset and unsettled you, then do nothing. Don’t respond at all. Block the number or email account that the message came from, and move on. You aren’t required to “be polite” and even acknowledge the receipt of a message that you didn’t ask for. Make sure the feature in your phone that lets people see when you’ve read their messages is turned off. Whether you’ve read someone’s text messages is none of their business.
Another option, not as good, but possible if you simply feel required to respond, is to just reply to your ex with a polite but firm message saying you received their communication but aren’t interested in contact with them right now.
You aren’t obliged to give an explanation, either, so don’t start giving reasons why you don’t want communication. Just send a clear, simple message saying don’t contact me again, please, and leave it at that. Then block their number.
The worst thing you can do if your ex sends you an unsolicited message is to respond to them immediately, either in happiness or anger, and to once again get drawn into that tornado of painful emotions that you suffered during and after your breakup.
It’s all too easy to lie to yourself and think that your ex has forgiven all and realized the huge mistake they made and to think that they want you back and everything will be wonderful again. Remember that they hurt you before, and you hurt them, and those wounds take a long time to heal. Give yourself – and your ex – time to heal.
This is generally true even if you hope to someday reunite with your ex and start a new relationship with them. Rushing back into the same old situation that led to your painful breakup is not a good idea.
Healing Takes Time
You need to make sure both of you have had time for serious healing, reflection and change. How long does it take for a person to really change the fundamental things about themselves that may have contributed to a rocky relationship and eventual breakup?
Everyone’s different, but it surely can’t be done in weeks, and even in a couple months it would be very difficult. Think more in terms of six months or a year or more. That may seem like a long time, but it’s worth it to build a strong, healthy foundation on which to start a new and different relationship.
If a long time has passed, and you feel you are ready for renewed contact with your ex, then perhaps you’ll want to respond to their message. But don’t rush! Give yourself time, from a few hours to a few days, to think over what you want to say to them. Talk to someone you trust – a family member or friend – and get some outside feedback. It’s often difficult to see your own blind spots, and another person’s opinion can be very helpful.
Be honest with yourself, and with your ex. If you honestly don’t ever want to have a romantic relationship with them, be very clear about that. Don’t string them along and let them dream that your renewed contact is going to lead to a resumption of romance.
On the other hand, if you want to try again to have a relationship with your ex, be honest about it. Tell them you hope that someday you can work things out and be a couple again. Then give them time and space to think it over.
There are no guarantees, but you will give yourself the best chance by being clear and honest about what you want.