Social media and separation: What’s the online etiquette for your ex?

Social media and separation: What’s the online etiquette for your ex?

How do you handle social media when your relationship breaks down? Unfriend, unfollow, or block? And should you announce your new status to the world?

Relationships in the age of social media can be complex, whether you’re an active social media content creator, a lurking content consumer, or someone who falls in and out of love with their online platforms.

Whether you’re active or not, your social media profiles are an online representation of you and your life, and it’s only natural to feel a little confused about what comes next after your partner becomes your ex.

Here’s what you need to consider.

1. Your mental health matters

Doom scrolling pictures of you and your ex or spending an unhealthy amount of time ‘just checking’ their social media accounts to see what they’ve been up to is only going to wreak havoc with your mental health and wellbeing.

But like picking at a scab or eating too much chocolate, it’s hard to resist the urge, even when we know it isn’t good for us.

After a break-up, we’re particularly vulnerable. Even if the rational part of our brain is telling us it’s for the best, and that the relationship needed to end, it still stirs up ugly feelings and heartbreak. It’s not just the end of a relationship, it’s the death of all your hopes and dreams for the future with that person.

It’s natural to feel low after a break-up, especially when you’re wondering if you’ll ever find someone to love again, or blaming yourself for why things went wrong. Bearing this in mind, it makes a lot of sense to unfriend your ex on social media, or at least mute their account so you’re not caught off guard by updates from them.

2. Protecting your privacy

Not only does social media share a view of your life with the world, but it can also put you at risk when it comes to privacy and the legalities surrounding a break-up.

If your relationship has ended in a messy way, or you were married or in a long-term relationship that involved shared assets, property or even kids, then privacy and what you share on social media is important.

For example, sharing information about where you’ve been and when, sharing big expenditures (e.g. check out my new car!), or volunteering incriminating information about your ex and their role in the break-up can all come back to bite you if legal professionals become involved.

Try to keep your life private during this tricky time, and only share things online if you feel it’s consequential. It’s better to be a social media ghost for a while than to live with over-sharer’s regret.

If you’re feeling angry or frustrated, write it down in a diary, chat to a friend about it on a long walk or keep a journal of your emotions and reflections rather than sharing things in a public forum.

3. What if you have kids together?

Adding kids into the mix of a break-up makes things much more complicated, especially if you have different ideas about what’s appropriate to share online.

For example, one of you might want to share lots of photos with yourself and the kids out and about, ‘making memories’ and ‘choosing happiness’, while the other might feel that sharing your kids’ images and lives at this time is insensitive and inappropriate.

It’s even trickier if your kids are old enough to be on social media platforms themselves. The last thing you want is for them to see you behaving badly on socials, badmouthing their other parent, or rushing to share the news of your ‘new love’ once you’ve moved on.

4. Communicate openly

If you do decide to delete your ex from your social media platforms, it doesn’t have to mean things have ended badly or that you now hate each other.

In the interest of transparency, try to give your ex a heads-up that you’ll be unfriending or unfollowing them, and explain it’s nothing personal, you’re just trying to get your head around life without them, and this clarity will help you move on.

While you’re speaking with them, it might also make sense to agree on a post that you both share about the relationship ending and asking people to respect your privacy.

Although you might feel resistant to sharing this information with your social media world, it will help avoid any awkward questions or interactions with well-meaning friends and colleagues who ask why your relationship status has changed or why your name has changed (if this is the case).

If you have kids, it also helps the extended community around your family understand what’s happening and removes the need for your kids to have to be the messengers when their friends’ parents or their teachers get curious.

5. Seek advice

Navigating social media and separation doesn’t have to be something you do alone. Ask friends who’ve been through similar situations for their advice they might have and seek legal guidance if you’re worried about your online privacy or the implications of social media on your divorce or separation.

For professional guidance, we’ve created AFLAS as a service to help people connect with the right advice when they’re navigating tricky life situations like separation, because we saw so many people struggling with knowing where to start.

Whatever you do, remember your real-life world is more important than your social media world. Real-life connections and friendships are more important than ever after a break-up, so don’t get sucked into your screen when you need human connection.

Adam Levine

This article was written by Adam Levine.

Adam is the founder of Australian Family Law Advisory Services (AFLAS), which provides free and low-cost resources and guidance on relationship and family situations. AFLAS connects people with the right professional support for every situation including family law, financial advice, accounting, valuation, mortgage broking and mental health covering all aspects of family relationship issues.