Facebook Friends . . . With Your Ex?

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Are you friends with any of your exes on Facebook? Did staying friends with them impact your recovery? Recent research has answers...

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Facebook has become such an interesting phenomenon in our culture. With more than 955 million active Facebook users, it is an incredibly integral part of our social relationships, romantic and otherwise. People are often judged or questioned if they aren’t on Facebook, as if not having a Facebook account makes them some sort of leper. People are friends on Facebook with folks who they wouldn’t say hi to if passed on the sidewalk. And the number of “friends” we have on Facebook is thought to perhaps be a poor indicator of how many actual friends we have. If being connected to someone on Facebook doesn’t really mean much (everyone has it and online friends doesn’t equate to real life friends), then what harm can be done from having an ex on Facebook?

Well, recent research published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking examined whether maintaining Facebook friendships with an ex-partner impacted how people recovered from the breakup. The research was conducted by Tara Marshall, Ph.D. of Brunel University in the UK and found that there can be some harm in keeping an ex as a Facebook friend.

To give you a sense of the sample, the study surveyed 464 people (84% of those were women), and around half (48%) were currently single. Of those who were in a relationship though, 71% were exclusively dating their partner, 8% were living with their partner, 8% were married, 7% were engaged, and 7% were non-exclusively dating their partner. In the analysis, Marshall took into account offline contact with an ex in addition to personality and relational predictors of recovery from a breakup.

Overall, the study found (above and beyond offline contact), continuing to be friends with your ex on Facebook may inhibit recovery and growth from the breakup. These results were broken down into two sub-categories: remaining Facebook friends with an ex and remaining Facebook friends with an ex while also “stalking” their page (referred to as surveillance of their page in the scientific article).

Participants who remained Facebook friends with their ex actually reported less negative feelings, less sexual desire, and less longing for the ex, but did report less personal growth post-breakup compared to participants who did not remain Facebook friends with their ex. However, of those who did remain Facebook friends with their ex, the amount to which they ”stalked” their ex’s page played a role. Surveillance of an ex’s Facebook profile was related to greater distress over the breakup, more negative feelings, greater sexual desire and longing for the ex, and less personal growth.

Therefore, although it might be okay to remain friends with an ex on Facebook (although you’ll potentially experience less personal growth), it is important not to be monitoring their Facebook page, or a host of other negative consequences are more likely to occur than if you avoid Facebook “stalking”.

In a study conducted by Muise and colleagues on jealousy related to Facebook, over 75% of their participants had exes among their “friends” on Facebook. So it is far from uncommon. How many of you are still friends with your exes on Facebook? If you’re noticing yourself stalking their profile, it might be time to cut that tie.

Kristen Mark, PhD, MPH

completed her PhD in Health Behavior and her MPH in Biostatistics, both at Indiana University. Kristen is an Assistant Professor in Health Promotion at University of Kentucky. Kristen's research focuses on sexual pleasure, sexuality in long term relationships, sexual function, and women's sexuality.
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