When an ex suddenly gets in touch with you, it can be an awkward and confusing situation. Trying to figure out how to proceed is particularly challenging.
But it doesn’t have to be complicated. Here’s how to respond to an ex contacting you, as advised by experts.
Gray Robinson, Esq.
Attorney, Lawyer’s Lifeline | Relationship Expert | Author | Speaker
It doesn’t matter whether you broke up the relationship or they broke up the relationship. It doesn’t matter whether your heart was broken, or their heart was broken. It doesn’t matter if they have custody of the kids or you have custody of the kids.
Your response needs to be based on some fundamental principles of relationships that will make things easier no matter what the circumstances.
You have to be an adult
This may be difficult if you consider yourself the victim. Many times, when we feel damaged by another person, all we can think about is revenge and making them wrong. This will never end well.
You need to at least pretend that you are objective and over the pain. Keep your emotions out of it. Raising your voice or cursing will not help.
The best revenge is to be happy
There is no need to cry over spilled milk. You do not have to replough old arguments and try to convince the other party that they were at fault.
Blaming the other party for your trauma may be tempting but it never makes you feel better for longer. Focus on your own future happiness.
Draw and enforce boundaries
Decide beforehand how long the conversation will last and stick to it. Do not allow the other party to criticize or blame you for the failure of the relationship. Only talk about reconciliation if that is what you want.
It is not healthy to play “what if” if you do not want to re-engage in the conversation. If the call is about money, establish the ground rules before you get into an argument. Above all, if you feel unsafe or threatened, hang up.
Focus on solutions
Get your ex to talk about solutions if the contact is about a problem. Talking about how you got into the situation is rarely helpful, talk about how you can work through it.
Talk to a counselor
It never hurts to go to post-relationship counseling with or without your ex. If the counselor knows both of you, the counselor can help draw up some rules of engagement between both of you. If both of you can agree on the rules, then contact and conversations can be healthy.
At any rate, if you can get some advice from your counselor about what is best for you and focus on those suggestions, you will have much more positive interactions.
If for any reason you don’t feel safe or feel threatened if your ex calls, don’t answer the call or don’t respond.
There are many ways to structure communication to where it is healthy and productive for both parties without threats, shouting, bullying, or psychological warfare. Or don’t communicate at all if it is unhealthy to do so.
Clinical Psychologist | Author, Joy from Fear
When an ex-relationship reaches out to connect, a wide variety of feelings can arise. Depending on how the relationship ended, feelings such as anxiety, excitement, anger, sadness, or joy might arise.
Sometimes, one emotion is predominant and other times a mixture of different feelings arises. In many cases, the initial response to contact from an ex is a mixed sense of confusion and curiosity. “What does my ex really want?” is a common and very natural instinctive response.
Pause before responding
And, depending upon what you think you might want from your ex—if anything—the best initial strategy is to pause before responding. Hitting the “pause” button is vital for several reasons, the first of which is to allow for self-reflection.
For example, if you are dating or with a new partner, it’s important to evaluate how any response would affect the health of any current relationship.
Self-reflective time also allows for a more thoughtful assessment of the situation rather than a reactive response. When you take your time before responding, you’re able to consider your needs and boundaries in regard to communicating or seeing your ex.
And, depending on the nature of the ex’s reach-out message, your relationship history, and your personal boundaries, you may decide to forgo responding altogether.
For example, if an abusive ex reaches out to hook you back into a toxic cycle, it’s very appropriate not to respond—and to even block the person from contacting you.
It’s truly important to pause in order to choose a course of action that feels right—that is right—for you. Thus, after a period of self-reflection—be it hours or days—you’ll be able to move forward in a way that is empowering.
If you choose to communicate with your ex, it’s absolutely appropriate to ask for clarity on the ex’s intentions.
Sometimes an ex is bored and is simply fishing for attention. In other cases, an ex wants the comfort and fun of casual sex. Some ex’s reach out to reignite the relationship after having little success in the dating world. And, unfortunately, some are abusive and want to engage in toxic behavior cycles.
When—and if—you decide to communicate with an ex, remember that you are in control; you have both the right and the power to choose a path that is best for you.
Jaime Bronstein, LCSW
Psychotherapist | Licensed Clinical Social Worker | Relationship Expert
Receiving a text from an ex can stir up a myriad of emotions depending on how you perceive your ex. Deciding how to respond will also depend on how you feel about your ex. Three examples are: You’re still in love with your ex, you’re over your ex and your ex was toxic.
Listen to your gut
No matter how you feel about your ex, the best advice I can give you regarding how to respond to a text is to use your intuition; listen to what you feel in your gut is the right way to respond (or not respond). Your heart never lies; trust it always.
Scenario 1: You still love your ex.
If you still have feelings for your ex, and you were excited and thrilled to receive the text message, you will want to respond in a positive manner.
Don’t respond right away
Regardless of who ended the relationship or who had the “upper hand,” I would recommend not responding right away; let your ex sweat a bit wondering if you’re going to write back.
I’m not a fan of games, but in this situation, a little wondering can’t hurt anyone; your ex will appreciate your response more if he or she waits a little while for it.
When you do respond, be very positive and authentic. If you’ve missed them, you can let them know that. If you think about them and the relationship a lot, let them know that as well. It’s up to you how open and honest you want to be.
If you are vulnerable, you will be giving your ex “permission” to be vulnerable and they will most likely follow your lead. If your ex asks to see you, and you do want to see him or her, then you should accept their invitation.
Scenario 2: You’re over your ex.
If you don’t have feelings for your ex, but you had an amicable breakup, you could respond with a simple, “Thanks for reaching out. I hope all is well.”
If they persist and it seems like they either want to see you, or they persistently ask you questions, you can kindly write, “I honestly think that it’s best for us to stop communicating and go on with our own lives. I hope you understand, and I wish you well.”
If you feel that the texting gets excessive, give yourself permission to simply not respond; your ex will eventually get the clue that you are really done.
Scenario 3: Your ex was toxic.
Do not respond
If this is someone who is toxic, who is unhealthy for you and you know that, you should not respond to the text message. Protect yourself and your heart. Especially if you have been working on yourself and you have been feeling stronger and empowered, you don’t need a toxic ex to bring you down.
You need to focus on you and your happiness, so stay focused, centered and grounded and you will be able to be completely unaffected by the text message. Keep focusing on manifesting the right one for you, and your past will remain a distant memory.
By not responding to your toxic ex, you are sending out the message that you are not open for business. The more you send an “I’m done with my ex” message to the universe, the closer you will get to bring in the best possible match for you; someone who will love and respect you, and you will love and respect them just as much.
Psychiatry Resident, Dalhousie University
Whether and how to respond to an ex contacting you depends on what you are hoping to get out of the interaction.
Be firm and make your boundaries clear
If you would like to remain friends, respond kindly but firmly shut down any flirting, and make your boundaries clear: that you have no romantic intentions and that you expect that to be respected.
If friendship is not on your agenda, then you can choose to either not respond and hope that your ex gets the message, or politely tell your ex that you do not want to hear from them again.
Hostility leaves both of you feeling negative and regardless of the circumstances of the breakup, you don’t need that negativity in your life.
Consider testing the waters
If you would like another chance at rekindling your romance, respond warmly and consider testing the waters to see what your ex’s intentions are by flirting lightly. The breakup may have left you with some lingering pain and bitterness, but responding with a cold, scolding, bitter style will not help you reach your goal.
If you need an apology from your ex for having hurt you, perhaps even couples therapy, save that for a future time when commitment is guaranteed.
In the meantime, keep things light, friendly, and fun, in order to rebuild the connection that was severed. The serious issues can be addressed later on.
Relationship Expert, Dating Pilot
Not all romantic relationships that have come to an end have ended in the same manner or under the same circumstances. Therefore, how to respond to an ex will depend on each person’s former relationship situation and the emotional state that the person is currently in.
For example, if a person is currently trying to recover from infidelity after a long-term relationship, then they probably should avoid contact with their ex and instead focus on healing and moving on.
If a relationship ended on good terms and for reasons that were beyond their control, such as moving away for work, then the response should be more amenable. If the relationship was abusive, then all contact attempts from the ex should be avoided.
Reflect on where you stand emotionally
If the relationship ended for non-abusive reasons and it wasn’t detrimental to your wellbeing, and you are not sure how to respond, then begin with reflecting on how you feel and where you currently stand emotionally.
Talk with a friend or a loved one that supports you, as doing so will help you determine how you should proceed. After a breakup, people tend to be the most vulnerable, therefore, seeking guidance from someone they trust will be in their favor.
Find out the reason for the contact
Finding out the reason for their ex attempting to contact them can also help in determining how to proceed. There is nothing wrong with asking the ex what brings them around and using this information to make a much more informed decision on whether they want to continue communication or not.
Being honest with the ex is also important
For example, if the ex wants to get back together, but you have no desire to do so, then you should communicate this upfront. This also goes the other way around and you desire to get back together, then you should also communicate this.
The last thing you want is to get your heart broken again at hearing your ex telling you that he or she is dating someone new while you been plotting a plan of how to get back together this entire time.
Therefore, upfront honesty is very important when communicating with an ex to avoid misunderstandings and more heartbreak.
Certified Addiction and Trauma Therapist | Relationship Expert
You have to be certain you know what you want
When you receive a text from your ex, it is like opening up a can of worms, it is like revisiting an old location, it is the beginning of potential re-connection.
Do you want to go there again? How is your heart? Did he/she cause you pain? Did you heal it? Do you want to open up the wound? Sometimes, it is good to make a clean break, to be clear on what you want and how you want to move forward. S
Some love relationships get wishy-washy and jello-like – you never know where you stand. It is like walking on a tightrope. So if you want to answer the text from your ex, beware. Know for sure that you want to go visit that old road. If you don’t, then you can ignore the text, or just send a quick response. “Hope you are well,” and end it again.
If you think he/she is texting to rekindle the relationship, be equipped for all possible returns to the old feelings. If it is a danger point, be honest with yourself. If you miss him/her and she is the one – then go for it. Do not lie to yourself.
Stay sane, happy and clear.
Figure out what they want first
If your ex contacts you whether by phone or email or text, listen. Are they feeling sad or lonely without you? Do they want something back that you have of theirs? Did something happen to a mutual loved one? What are the circumstances surrounding their reaching out?
Most of the time, exes simply want to talk…they are lonely, they are craving the good times, the human interaction and connection that we all need and miss in times of breakup and loneliness.
Treat them with respect
My goal when anytime an ex contacts me — as difficult and awkward as it might be sometimes — is to hear them out. Treat them as I would want to be treated: with kindness, respect, dignity, and empathy — even if they wronged me in some way.
It’s not always pleasant — in fact, it’s usually painful as hell and can feel very squeamish — but I realize that one is measured more by how you end things than how you start them.
Bottom line: Work through whatever reason your ex is contacting you, figure out an amicable solution (even if that solution is to ask them to never contact you again if warranted!), and move on with peace, understanding, and closure.