It's a question that many couples face in the aftermath of a breakup: "Do we still stay Facebook friends?" Inevitably, in an attempt to show maturity and poise, many couples choose to remain connected. But now, new research is showing that keeping tabs on your former partner is a big mistake — one that will have a serious impact on your ability to get over the breakup and move on.
Psychologists have known for some time that ongoing offline contact with a former romantic partner after a breakup tends to disrupt emotional recovery. But we didn't know whether this same effect translated to the digital realm.
To that end, Tara Marshal of Brunel University in the U.K. surveyed more than 464 active Facebook users in an effort to find out. By evaluating their Facebook habits as it related to their emotional recovery and personal adjustment following a breakup, Marshal was able to confirm that ongoing online contact — even in the complete absence of offline contact — does indeed disrupt the recovery process.
And what's surprising is the extent to which it happens. Previous studies have shown that the two primary reasons for using Facebook are are to keep in touch with others and to secretly monitor their activities. And not only are people using Facebook to keep track of their current partners, upwards of 33% are using it to monitor the activities of their former romantic partners.
Marshal's analysis, which appears in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, confirmed that Facebook surveillance exacerbates feelings of distress over the breakup, as well as inducing more negative feelings. It also increases feelings of sexual desire and longing for the ex-partner (all of which leads to the "why the hell are you doing this to yourself" category of post-breakup questions).
Interestingly, when analyzing the post-breakup recovery of individuals who defriended themselves on Facebook, they reported less negative feelings, sexual desire, and longing — but like their Facebook stalking counterparts, they too experienced decreased levels of personal growth (let's face it, breakups can really suck — Facebook friends or not).
As part of Marshal's study, she made sure that the participants did not have any offline contact, and that their personality traits and other psychological characteristics were consistent with someone going through a post-breakup adjustment.
Essentially, by continuing to expose yourself to information about an ex-partner, you're only intensifying the heartbreak — particularly if you discover one day that your former partner has suddenly become involved in a new relationship.
Check out the entire study.
Image: Boris Ryaposov/Shutterstock.