Running into an ex is a post-breakup rite of passage. It's an undoubtedly uncomfortable yet sometimes unavoidable experience. But running into your ex and their new partner? Well, that's a whole different world of awkward. It doesn't matter if you broke up a month ago or a year ago: Seeing your former SO with someone new can trigger feelings of regret, remorse, resentment, longing, and straight-up sadness (among a whirlwind of other emotions). Luckily, experts emphasize that you absolutely can and will survive one of these situations unscathed.
Rest assured, however, that feeling little anxious about running into your ex and their new partner is not only normal but also understandable. You might feel calmer, however, if you take a few steps to mentally and emotionally prepare yourself for whenever this situation may arise — and you can start by reading what the experts have to say.
"You may be dealing with feelings of rejection and self-doubt if you didn’t want the relationship to end, or feelings of awkwardness and guilt if you initiated the breakup," explains Michelle Fraley, a relationship expert, life coach, and founder of Spark Matchmaking.
Melanie Shapiro, a licensed clinical social worker, notes that this scenario can be particularly painful if you and your ex are in different places following the breakup. If they're dating again but you're still mourning the relationship, seeing firsthand that your ex seems to have moved on can trigger feelings of insecurity or jealousy.
While you may be able to avoid running into your ex and their new SO if you were doing long-distance, it's nearly impossible to dodge the situation entirely if you go to the same school, work at the same company, share any mutual friends, or even just happen to live in the same city.
If you get advance warning of this run-in — such as if you're invited to the same wedding or holiday party — then you have the advantage of being able to prepare yourself in a number of ways. First, Fraley advises reminding yourself of why you broke up and why you weren't a good match. This can help to prevent you from romanticizing the relationship or idealizing your ex, which would make running into them with their new SO more agonizing.
Shapiro recommends utilizing the buddy system by informing a bestie who will be present about the possibility that you'll see your ex and their partner. If they know what you're dealing with, they'll be able to provide better emotional support by checking in throughout the event and even potentially sticking by your side when you actually have to face the new couple. She also suggests coming up with an escape plan if the situation becomes too uncomfortable for you to handle.
"Know which friends you can count on to have your back — or if there's a ladies' room nearby where you can take a break or hide out if needed," she adds.
By the way — if you think interacting with your ex and their new significant other could be detrimental to your well-being, Fraley says it's totally OK to avoid the situation either by keeping your physical distance, not attending the event in question, or simply not engaging with them.
"You can also offer a brief smile or nod without committing to a conversation," she explains. "This acknowledges your ex without creating unwanted drama on your end."
Sometimes, however, these run-ins may take you by surprise — such as if you just happen to be at the same concert or coffee-shop. Either way, once you become aware that your ex is dating someone new, it's time to accept that you may see them together when you least expect it — and not just in those nauseating photos that pop up in your feed on the 'Gram.
According to Fraley, if an interaction with your ex and their new partner is unavoidable, it's typically best to keep the conversation brief, polite, and surface-level.
"There’s no reason to rehash an old argument or initiate a lengthy discussion about the breakup," she tells Elite Daily. "A simple hello and a polite introduction (if you’re with a friend) is sufficient."
Fraley also stresses that confidence is oh so key — even if you have to heed the old aphorism "fake it till you make it."
"Hold your head up high, smile and refrain from apologizing or using any negative self-talk," she explains. "Keep the interaction neutral or positive. This will help your brain think you’re confident and comfortable... even if you’re not."
If you suspect that you may struggle in the confidence department, you may want to try introducing some positive affirmations into your daily routine. These empowering little phrases can help to rewire destructive thought patterns and gradually build up your self-assurance.
The most important thing to remember here is that you can't predict or control how your ex and their new partner will act — but you can control how you handle the situation.
"Whatever your ex may say or do during the interaction is not really your concern and should have zero bearing on how you feel about yourself," says Fraley. "Their behavior is not a reflection on you, and their emotions do not need to infiltrate your emotions."
Running into your ex with their new partner is often difficult because it serves as a visual reminder that your relationship is not only over, but that you're trying to move on with your lives. Resist the temptation to start comparing where you're at in that process with where your ex is at, and remember that just because they're dating someone else doesn't necessarily mean they're not still grieving your former relationship in some way. Rather than fixating on how they behave toward you or ruminating about what they might be feeling, focus on staying aware of your own emotions, practicing self-compassion, and protecting yourself however you can.
I can't guarantee how such a run-in will make you feel afterwards, but I can guarantee you this: You will get through it, and if you heed the aforementioned expert advice, you will do so with the utmost class and dignity.
Michelle Fraley, professional matchmaker and relationship expert
Melanie Shapiro, licensed clinical social worker