“Facebook may furnish information about an ex-partner that only intensifies heartbreak, such as news that the former partner is involved in a new relationship,” Brunel University psychologist Tara Marshall wrote in a paper published in the journal Cyberpsychology Behavior and Social Networking.
Marshall surveyed 464 people online and asked them to recount a distressing romantic breakup with an ex-partner that they knew had a Facebook profile. Participants noted the length of the relationship before the breakup, rated its intimacy and indicated which person initiated the breakup.
They were also asked whether or not they currently had contact with their ex-partner online and offline, and how often they looked at the former lover’s Facebook profile and friends list. Finally, they were quizzed on how they have adjusted post-breakup: how much distress they currently felt, the extent of their feelings about the ex-partner – including negative feelings, sexual desire, and longing – and how much their life had changed after the split.
Her results showed that 57% of those surveyed were still Facebook friends with their ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend. 46% of that group exchanged Facebook messages and comments with the former partner.
In her statistical analysis, Marshall found that while simply staying Facebook friends with an ex was negatively associated with longing and negative feelings for the former flame, the reverse was true the more a person checked up on the ex online.
Also, she found that people that were still Facebook friends with an ex scored lower in personal growth than were those who had defriended the ex-partner -- suggesting that even weak contact with an ex-partner might disrupt the process of moving on from a breakup, according to the paper.
Future experiments might compare the personal growth and recovery of people that are encouraged not to Facebook-stalk an ex to those that could check freely, Marshall wrote.
Even without followup studies, though, the takeaway is that “avoiding exposure to an ex-partner, both offline and online, may be the best remedy for healing a broken heart.”
SOURCE: Marshall, Tara C. “Facebook Surveillance of Former Romantic Partners: Associations with PostBreakup Recovery and Personal Growth.” Cyberpsychology Behavior and Social Networking in press, available online 4 September 2012.