After a breakup, a temporary no-contact rule may be a help

Carolyn Hax
Columnist March 7, 2013

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Long story short, my boyfriend of over a year broke up with me three weeks ago. For a few reasons, our “future” is up in the air while he figures his issues out.

This is where I’m having my own issues, aside from being pretty devastated by the breakup itself. While I would be so happy to be back together right now, I’m trying to deal with things as if we are broken up for good.

The only way I know how to deal with that is to completely cut someone out of my life, though. He seems to want to talk every few days, but this just confuses me. Since the ball is in his court, I obsess about every message: Does he miss me or just “miss me”? Does he want me in his life again? Is he just texting me because he feels lonely?


This results in my getting frustrated and acting like a jerk, being short with him, or just not responding to messages — which is the opposite of what I want to do. I want to talk to him. I don’t know how to simultaneously “move on” while leaving the door open for reconciliation in the future, in my mind two completely opposite things. I want to be patient and see what happens, one way or the other, but I can’t get out of my own head. It’s driving me mad.

How do I deal with this? I should probably also get back into therapy, but it makes me feel very weak to start therapy again after “just” a breakup; shouldn’t I be able to handle this?

Limbo

It’s perfectly fine, even reasonable, to say to a recent ex that you need a period of no contact so you can adjust to the new order of things. A month, two months, whatever seems about right for you now. You can always revisit once your head clears.

“Moving on” and “door open” aren’t mutually exclusive, if you think of things this way: Limbo is messing with your head, and your messed-with head has you “acting like a jerk,” and acting like a jerk will kill any chance at a reconciliation, right? So, a clean break is, counterintuitively, the move least likely to interfere with a possible reconciliation.

Plus, your absence will help him with his “issues,” and show him whether he misses you.

And, his willingness (or un-) to respect your wishes will tell you a lot about him.

My final plug for plug-pulling: Not having him to talk to will help you see whether you need to talk to a professional.

I get that you want to feel capable of handling this without help — and if you need any proof that this is an ingrained and positive human trait, just try to help a toddler with something he just learned to do.

However, there’s no “should” here — there’s only what you do and don’t need, or what would and wouldn’t benefit you. It may just be that you’d benefit from going to therapy briefly as a tune-up — just as you’d see your doctor periodically after having surgery. I don’t see why an emotional ailment would be any different.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at bit.ly/haxpost .

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