Here's When You Should (and Shouldn't) Text an Ex

We explain the psychology behind the decision.


Unsplash | Design by Michela Buttigno

Getting over a breakup is never easy. After you've invested time in a person, formed a meaningful bond, and gotten used to having them as a central part of your life, it's hard to cut ties entirely. It's no surprise, then, that the urge to text your ex can be almost unbearable. You may feel the need to give them a piece of your mind, you might want to tell them you miss them terribly, or perhaps you just want to see how they're doing.

When it comes to whether or not texting your ex is a good idea, there is no one right or wrong answer; ultimately, you'll have to decide if it's a good idea for you to reach based on your history. To make the decision-making process easier, we tapped Fran Walfish, PsyD., for some expert advice.

Meet the Expert

Dr. Fran Walfish is a Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author, and TV personality.

Why We Feel the Urge to Text an Ex

"Many people can't stop thinking about their ex obsessively to ease a feeling of loneliness. Others, who truly loved their ex, can't let go. Some are afraid of getting out there again, so they keep their former relationship alive as a way of staying involved and not feeling single again," Walfish explains. But according to the psychotherapist, there's only one way to truly let go of our ex: dating. "The key factor is the readiness to (finally!) let go."

When thinking about someone constantly, it can be hard not to get the urge to text them, but Walfish insists that looking forward is the healthy thing to do. "Everyone holds on for a different length of time. Some people avoid the pain of loss and grief by texting their ex. Others who have been deeply hurt may close the vault to their heart [and] shut it away under lock and key. You need to know yourself and respect your personal timing," Walfish says. Try dating again when you're ready, and in the meantime, it's fine to stay in touch with your ex via text; just make sure they aren't rejecting you or causing you any pain.

When It's Acceptable to Text Your Ex

According to Walfish, there's definitely a time when it's acceptable to text your ex—particularly when there are signs that you two might be able to reconcile. "These signs include that they express and demonstrate genuine accountability and remorse for having hurt you. Another sign is that your ex demonstrates change with continuity," Walfish says. "Anyone can change for a moment, but being flexible and sustaining real change is the key we're looking for in a life partner."

If you feel that this is your case, the psychotherapist says that there's no set time frame for how long to wait before reaching out. "Only you can take your own emotional temperature," she says. "Feelings change from moment to moment. If it feels right, go for it." Just remember: The key to reaching out to an ex is to expect absolutely nothing.

"You'll be joyfully surprised if you get a positive response," Walfish notes. "Expectations lead to letdowns and disappointments."

When to Refrain from Texting Your Ex

There's a time when it's definitely not acceptable to text your ex, and according to Walfish, that's when they enter a new relationship. "This is pivotal in the grieving process. Most folks entertain a certain fantasy that reconciliation of romance and all-good love will resume. When you learn your ex has a new relationship, the ending and death of the fantasy must be faced, and the true mourning process begins," she says. "The depth of pain of the loss of love is usually felt at this point, and recovery is quicker because time has passed during the fantasy/hope phase. Learning that your ex has a new relationship forces you to move on with your life, and, painful as it feels, it is really a golden gift in disguise."

Even if your ex is still (to the best of your knowledge) single, the psychotherapist warns against another scenario in which it's perhaps not the best idea to reach out. "It's no longer acceptable to text when you keep getting blamed for all things gone wrong, when there's no shared responsibility, or when you're virtually in this relationship alone," she explains.

The question is how to know the difference between neediness and/or the impulse to return to a negative relationship and the hope for an improved relationship with your ex. The answer is self-awareness.

"One must be brutally honest at all times, including when we experience our deepest pain," Walfish says. "It is natural and absolutely normal to feel needy. We are interdependent beings who need each other. We can only come to another person as a complete and separately contained whole individual without the expectation of the other filling up gaps and holes. Two wholes equal the best couple."

Related Stories