When you move on from a relationship, you might make every effort to close that door entirely. An ex is an ex for a reason, and your best plan for healing is to put the past behind you and start to look forward. Inevitably, you and your ex will both date other people at some point — and in theory, their new dating life won’t be a concern of yours. But nothing can prepare you for what to do if your ex’s new partner texts you out of the blue. Hi, hello, what is going on here? And what is the appropriate response?
It’s a text you probably never expected to receive. Perhaps you knew your ex was seeing someone, but you still didn’t think this person would ever contact you directly. It’s completely understandable to be a little uneasy, even if you and your ex are still on good terms. After all, receiving a text like this puts your mind immediately back in the past, and it might even stir up some buried emotions related to your breakup. All of a sudden, you’re in contact with this person who is literally dating your ex. It’s not an easy position to be in, and your feelings about it are valid, no matter what they are.
According to Anita Chlipala, relationship expert and licensed marriage and family therapist, there are several reasons your ex’s new partner might be reaching out to you. Maybe you still keep in touch with your ex, and their new partner is hoping to be your friend as well. Maybe they’re insecure about their relationship in some way, and they’re looking to you for advice. Or, in a less amicable scenario, they might be worried you’re still involved with your ex behind their back. Whatever it is, the tone of their message can give you a clue about the information they’re after.
Before you respond, think about what you could gain from communicating with your ex’s new partner. “Context might matter here,” Chlipala says. “If you had a good relationship with your ex but it just didn’t work out, you can start by ignoring the new partner’s texts. You don’t have to respond if you don’t want to.” This is important! If engaging with this person will be detrimental to your emotional health, you are absolutely not obligated to respond to them. Do what you need to do to feel your best. And, if you believe they are attacking you unfairly, you shouldn’t feel the need to respond and fuel the fire. Take the high road and choose to ignore or block them to stop the negativity.
But if you believe you can help your ex’s new partner in some way (for instance, if you’re worried your ex might be mistreating them), Chlipala recommends an honest approach. “You can be direct and ask, ‘I’m not sure why you’re texting me. Is there something that you are wanting from me?'," she suggests. “Texting them back may give them some relief or confirmation of their own beliefs.” Remember, though, that while you can be a resource for someone in an abusive relationship, you also need to protect your own health and wellbeing. If needed, you can refer them to a licensed therapist or the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which is available 24/7 by calling 1-800-799-7233 or visiting thehotline.org.
If you’ve established that this person just wants to be friends, but you’d rather avoid communicating with them further, you have a few options. “You can text something like, ‘I’ve closed that chapter of my life and have moved on, so would appreciate it if you don’t text me anymore as I don’t want to be involved. Good luck,’” Chlipala says. “Or, ‘They’re your problem now (insert fun emoji here). Good luck!’” Your ex is in your past now, and it’s your choice whether to continue to be involved in their life. If you’re happy being in contact with their new partner, that’s great — but it’s also smart to set healthy boundaries. The moment you start to miss your ex again, or to dwell on your breakup regularly, you might need to reassess your contact with their partner and take a break for awhile.
You don’t need to involve your ex in any of these conversations unless you want to. If you’re super uncomfortable about your ex’s new partner contacting you, and they won’t stop texting you even after you’ve asked, you can get your ex involved — but only if this feels like your best option. “Make it clear to the new partner that you will tell your ex about their texts unless they stop right away,” Chlipala says. “If they violate that boundary, consider whether you want to open communication with your ex. If you don’t, just block the new partner. Don’t devote any more time and energy to it.” Only open that door if it’s something you feel confident and secure doing.
It’s natural to care about your interactions with other people, but after a breakup, the most important person to care about is you. If it’s best for your mental health to cut off contact with people close to your ex, you should feel free to do so without guilt or regret. And if that means ignoring a text from their new partner, or crafting a gentle but firm response that you’d rather not keep in touch, so be it. You’ve recognized your needs in this situation, and that in itself is an admirable thing.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.
Anita Chlipala, relationship expert and licensed marriage and family therapist