After a breakup, the urge to check out how your ex's life is progressing is hard to resist.
A whopping one-half to two-thirds of Facebook users have gone on the site to check up on a former partner, according to research by Tara C. Marshall, lecturer in the department of psychology and school of social sciences at Brunel University in Uxbridge, England.
Not a great idea, because the research found that doing so once or more daily delays post-breakup recovery: The more often you look at your ex, the more heartbroken you'll feel.
"Before the inception of Facebook, people would accept that they might very well never see their ex-partner again, and this may have helped them to move on," says Marshall, whose research took place when Facebook had about 900 million users; now there are an estimated 1.4 billion. "I found in my research that Facebook surveillance of an ex-partner showed similar associations with post-breakup functioning — greater distress over the breakup, greater longing and sexual desire — as did 'real life' contact with an ex-partner."
At times, the desire to spy has less to do with interest in your ex than it does with other unresolved issues you need to address.
A problem with self-worth, for instance, may be responsible for this kind of cyber-stalking, says Anabel Quan-Haase, co-author of a new study from the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, that found that 88% of subjects lurked on an ex's social media pages, with 64% of them admitting to going over old messages from an ex repeatedly.
"The lower a person's self-esteem, the more likely the person is to start obsessing about what their ex is doing at all times," says Quan-Haase, an assistant professor in the university's sociology department.
Anxiety is also a contributing factor. "High levels of anxiety often do not allow individuals who have recently been through a breakup to see clearly where they stand in relation to the relationship," Quan-Haase says.
Therapy can help you regain perspective.
"Focus on improving present problems and relationships, rather than invest even more time in failed past relationships," advises Dr. Elias Aboujaoude, a Stanford University psychiatrist and the author of "Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the ePersonality."
And go cold turkey — unfriend, delete or block your ex immediately. "Having the self-discipline to avoid looking at an ex's profile is simply too difficult for most people," says psychologist and psychoanalyst Deborah Serani, author of "Living With Depression."
"Maintaining a conscious mantra like, 'I'm just going to keep my distance,' is generally helpful when you're angry at your ex," Serani says. "When you begin feeling the loss, it's doubtful that anyone can keep distance on social media. This is why unfriending, blocking or deleting helps to keep a true and real distance. Closure is a very important aspect of healing, and one of the key practices in getting closure is to disconnect from your ex in all ways."