Interpreting Communication from the Ex- after a Breakup

Communication with the Ex-:
What to do
& how to (Not) Interpret It

Let’s say you’re doing a great job with no-contact. But then out of nowhere, your ex- breaks through all the barriers you’ve created and somehow manages to contact you. What do you do?

In the years of this site, I've gotten hundreds of questions on this topic. So much energy is put into analyzing every phrase, every word used, even every word not used.

But it's all such an incredible waste of time.

The most important point is very basic: the only communication that really counts is a very clear statement from the ex- that s/he wants to get back together.

All other communication from the ex- is just meaningless chatter: Waffling statements about missing you but not being sure. Cute little messages. Links to things of interest. Updates about things going on in his/her life. Questioning about how you’re doing.

woman interpreting letter from ex-

All of it is meaningless.

How you deal with the meaningless communication depends on you, your relationship, and all the other little details that exist between two people.

When YOU are healed and ready, you can work on creating a friendship with your ex-. But that’s a long, long time down the road after a breakup. Until you’re ready, you’re no longer the ex-‘s cheerleader, biggest fan, emotional support, shoulder to cry on, or pal.

They broke up with you. They’re on their own now.

Ignoring the ex- is ok

If you want to ignore the communication from the ex-, that’s completely your right and you shouldn’t feel the least bit bad about it; this person broke your heart, and you need to heal. Responding in any way just puts yourself out on the firing line again and can (and will) drive you to insanity in guessing if/how/when s/he will respond.

breathlessly reviewing contact from the ex-

I know that ignoring someone is hard for a lot of people. I’m definitely that way. No matter how much I’ve been hurt, I’m the type of person who hates to ignore anyone.

So for me, I worked out a compromise. When my ex- contacted me (after I finally got my head straight enough to realize that I needed to heal myself and stop begging), I took my sweet time and then eventually responded with very brief statements, no personal information, and never, never, never a question or anything that would put myself in danger of getting shot down.

Some examples of responses I used which really helped me: “Nice to hear from you. I’m fine. Take care", “Good for you. Best wishes" and (my personal favorite) “Ok."

It was bizarre for me to send such impersonal, short (and borderline rude) messages to someone who had meant so much to me. But it was the best thing I could have done (other than flat-out ignoring the ex-‘s messages) to protect my grieving heart and not set myself up for false hope and more disappointment.

Responding in any way that puts yourself out there will just prolong your pain and make the recovery take even longer.

To your ex, it seems perfectly natural to send you a text about something that’s happened, or a link to something of mutual interest, or even a simple “Hey, what’s up."

But after answering hundreds of messages from readers on this exact topic, I've learned that everyone who's been dumped reacts in the same way: they think it's a sign their ex- wants to reconcile.

Of course it's not true: the only "sign" of wanting to reconcile is a clear and direct statement that the ex- understands the situation now, understands the pain you've been suffering, and has a plan to reconcile successfully.

So instead, you end up experiencing false hope which increases both the intensity and the length of the time you spend wallowing in the pain, praying and hoping and crying that there will be a miracle... only to be so brutally disappointed every time you're confronted by the reality that it's over.

And of course, your ex- has no idea of any of this, because to him/her, a simple "Hey, what's up" is a sign of nothing other than boredom, maybe a little guilt, and some vague curiosity about someone from the past. The ex- has absolutely no idea how much pain contact causes you.

Don't let it happen to you. There's nothing, absolutely nothing, from your ex that can help you right now other than no contact.

So what DOES the communication from the ex mean then?

So many times I’ve read stories of dumpees breathless at receiving contact from the ex-, wanting help in understanding and interpreting the contact, thinking about which parts carry deep significance, plotting if and when and how to respond.

But again, the answer is always the same: the only thing that matters is clear words and direct actions showing your ex- wants you back. Everything else is meaningless.

Most people - including my ex- and probably yours, as well - are good people and have no bad intentions at all. But the dumper is over things much, much faster than the dumpee. The person who initiates the breakup feels emotions as well, but they're usually nowhere near the pain and intensity of the person who has been rejected. It's simply how our brains react; the rejection suffered by the dumpee is felt on a massively more painful level than the guilt and/or sadness which the dumper feels.

Your ex- certainly feels horrible about the pain s/he's caused you. So for both conscious and unconscious reasons, your ex- is both alleviating his/her own guilt and making him/herself feel better by "helping you through it".

So much effort is put into analyzing contact from the ex-. I've received messages from people who analyze a 10-word text from their ex- using detail, imagery and symbolism as complicated, theoretical and bizarrely disconnected from reality as if they're writing a doctoral dissertation about 19th-century literature while high on drugs.

It's crazy, of course, but it's also natural. As described in the section "The Pain Is Real," a breakup triggers in all of us a range of bio-behavioral responses from massive stress reactions to physical disturbances that affect sleep, hunger and energy levels. We can't see clearly, we can't think clearly. And it convinces us that a meaningless text somehow is a sign that our ex- wants to get back together.

But false hope is cruel, and the cruelest of all is self-deception.

The only contact which matters is a clear desire to reconcile

It takes two to make a relationship, but only one to break it. Your ex- broke it and crushed your heart. The only communication which can salvage that is if your ex- shows very clearly through words and actions that s/he wants to get back together, acknowledges whatever problems caused the breakup and recognizes the enormous pain the breakup itself has caused you.

Anything short of that is just meaningless chatter, and you’re just deceiving yourself and prolonging your own suffering by thinking about it, analyzing it, and giving yourself the false hope that it’s a signal of getting back together.

girl interpreting letter from ex-