By Laura Heck, LMFT, Certified Gottman Therapist
Q: Should I delete all relationship evidence from social media after a breakup? My long-term boyfriend and I recently broke up, and I’m not sure how to navigate the online proof of our relationship. The relationship didn’t end on bad terms, so I feel that unfriending and unfollowing him might be unnecessarily dramatic. I also still follow a bunch of his friends and family members — and have a ton of pictures of the two of us on all of my accounts. How much cord-cutting do I need to do after this breakup? A part of me wants to delete everything, but a part of me feels that cutting the cord entirely might be extreme. Is there a healthy or unhealthy protocol when it comes to social media after a breakup?
A: I’ve asked myself this very question. As the consumer of social media, I’ve observed many breakups over the years and witnessed the many varieties of breakup strategies. My least favorite to observe is when one person instantly erases any evidence of personal relationship with someone by removing all photos from their profile, untagging themselves from shared photos, and blocking or unfriending any family members of the ex. Doesn’t this method of cutoff seem a bit too harsh?
In the situation where you and your partner end a relationship amicably and are still capable of having a civilized conversation, why not talk about how you want to handle social media breakup? You get to be in control of your story and it can either be, “I’m hurt, pissed, and cutting off from this person,” or it can be, “We are no longer together but we had a heck of a good run and created great memories together.”
If I was to give some guidelines, I would recommend the following:
1. Agree with your ex how and when you will change your profile pic (if it includes your partner) and change of relationship status.
2. Give yourself a six-month break from your ex by mutually unfriending one another on social accounts. Being a passive observer of your ex’s new life without you will cause unnecessary hurt feelings, especially when they begin dating again or spending time with mutual friends without you. Ever had the feeling like your ex was having too good of a time, too soon after the break up? Social media is not an accurate depiction of the truth. Nobody posts pictures when they are a pint of ice cream deep and dehydrated from crying.
3. After taking an informal poll of local singles in my life, they all agree that while a breakup can be painful in the moment, erasing all photos from social media is too harsh of an ending. It’s metaphorical arson of your breakup box. Each person you share your life with teaches you something about yourself and contributes to the person you are today. Why erase that from your profile? One recommendation is to talk to your ex and select a couple of your favorite photos of the two of you and keep those as a part of your social media history and then hide or delete the rest from your public profile.
4. Boundaries and respect are my guidelines for thinking about social media and your past, current, and future relationships. If you start dating someone new and they are uncomfortable that you are social media friends with your ex or still have intimate photographs of the two of you, perhaps it’s worth removing those old pics (for now at least).
As with any change in life, take the time to respond thoughtfully rather than reacting fueled by hurt and anger.