Stalking an ex-lover on Facebook may prevent you from moving on with your life, new research reveals.
But remaining friends on the social networking site and seeing their banal status updates could help diminish any residual attraction.
A British study has looked at how people were affected after breakups by staying Facebook friends with a former partner and checking their profile.
Keeping tabs on an ex on Facebook was linked with poorer emotional recovery and personal growth, Tara Marshall, of London's Brunel University's department of psychology, found. "Therefore, avoiding exposure to an ex-partner both offline and online may be the best remedy for healing a broken heart."
Those who admitted stalking their ex on Facebook had greater distress over the breakup, more negative feelings, sexual desire and longing for the former partner. They also had lower personal growth.
Stalkers who had limited access to an ex's Facebook page because they were no longer friends had the worst experiences, because their former partner might come to be "shrouded in an alluring mystique", Dr Marshall said.
On the flip side, those who remained Facebook friends were less likely to pine for their ex, and it may "actually help rather than harm one's post-breakup recovery".
This could possibly be due to seeing "banal" status updates, comments, and photos of an ex-partner that could douse any smouldering feelings, she said.
Facebook is the most popular social networking site, with more than 900 million users worldwide.
Previous research had found that as many as one-third of people used it to keep tabs on former romantic partners, but little had been done on the emotional effect that this had on people, Dr Marshall said.
She found that people who experienced a bad breakup were more likely to stalk on Facebook than those who separated amicably.
"Perhaps, then, people are more likely to engage in Facebook surveillance if a former partner has been unfaithful."
Relationships Aotearoa national practice manager Cary Hayward said Facebook had made breakups more complicated, especially when the breakup was not a "constructive separation".
"In that case, it's another means where people can take revenge. That's the time when people put up naked pictures, or shame and humiliate their ex-partner to get back at them."
Most of the 464 people who took part in the online survey were female and nearly half were single. All were Facebook users and had experienced at least one relationship breakup with someone who also had a Facebook account.
Most of the nearly 60 per cent who were still friends with their exes could access their walls, photo albums, profile pictures, status updates and lists of friends.
The Facebook surveillance of former romantic partners: Associations with post-breakup recovery and personal growth study was published in the latest Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking journal.
Defriend: Do this quickly, especially if the relationship ends in animosity, "otherwise Facebook's a channel for more conflict".
Act famous, and protect your online brand: "Often celebrities will issue a positive statement about their ex because they don't want to get into a big social media firestorm."
Don't feed the machine: negative gossip and criticism will ramp it up for your ex – but will also come back on you.
Follow the mantra, "I'm OK, you're OK". But if things descend into an "I'm OK, you're not OK" situation involving putdowns and criticism, "that's not appropriate online behaviour".
Source: Cary Hayward, Relationships Aotearoa
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