5 Types Of Boundaries To Uphold When Talking To An Ex, According To A Psychotherapist

Breakups are never fun and can be a low point in numerous ways, especially as it sinks in that the person you used to spend a lot of time with is no longer in your life. Many things can lead to a relationship's demise, from one-sided breakups to mutual partings and betrayals. Typically, there's often some sort of contact between exes after a breakup, whether that's to figure out the logistics of separating from a shared living situation, return belongings, or because you and your ex have mutually decided to shift your relationship to a friendship.

Of course, this isn't a comprehensive list of why exes may touch base with one another after a breakup, but there are some core boundaries that should be at the forefront of your approach to communicating with an ex regardless of the degree to which you stay in touch (or if you happen to cross paths down the road).

In an exclusive chat with Glam, clinical psychotherapist Lisa Lawless, Ph.D., the founder of Holistic Wisdom who specializes in clinical psychology and relationships, revealed that the boundaries to uphold when speaking with an ex fall under the categories of mental and emotional, time, conversation, physical, and digital. Prioritizing these boundaries is a form of self-care, and implementing them can help you to protect your space and energy during interactions with your ex.

Mental and emotional boundaries

No matter how long you've been separated from your ex, prioritizing your mental, emotional, and psychological well-being is paramount. Even if you ended things on the best terms, heartbreak can linger and you may find that it's too painful to communicate with your ex at all, and that is absolutely okay! 

Should you find yourself speaking with an ex, staying grounded and present in the current moment is one of the best ways to approach the interaction while simultaneously caring for your emotional and mental wellness. "When you are friends with an ex, keeping your communication about the present rather than the past is essential," Dr. Lisa Lawless shares exclusively with Glam. 

Practicing mindfulness is a healthy way to regain your confidence and self-assurance after a breakup, while also helping you to build the habit of staying in the present rather than reverting back to the past. Journaling and meditation (even micro-meditation!) can assist you in developing this mindfulness, and may also help you to heal from the heartbreak, per Tiny Buddha. "Your relationship should avoid causing distress in your current relationships, avoiding any interactions that can evoke romantic or challenging feelings from your past," says Dr. Lawless, emphasizing the importance of walking away if your ex only wants to revisit the past. 

Time boundaries

Boundaries around time are extremely important for establishing mutually beneficial values for the foundation of your post-relationship interactions with your ex-partner. "Ensure you live your life with a healthy amount of time spent with your ex," Dr. Lisa Lawless tells Glam exclusively, alluding to how a sustainable balance should be developed when interacting with an ex so that both people are able to develop lives outside of the former shared relationship. Noting that there isn't one set length of time that's considered healthy for every former couple, never push yourself to speak to an ex because you feel guilty or that you owe it to them if doing so will negatively impact your own well-being and healing. 

"Spending too much time with [your ex] can lead to misunderstandings and make them a priority in your life over people and things that should take precedence as you move them into a friendship role," Dr. Lawless warns. This extends not just to how frequently you speak to an ex, but how often you communicate with them over text messages, phone calls, social media, or through others. It can help to set pre-determined time limits and stick to them by informing your ex of your boundaries in advance.

Conversation boundaries

Conversation boundaries involve letting your ex know which conversation topics are off-limits for you. In return, listen to the topics that your ex wishes to avoid discussing so you both know and can respect one another's boundaries before you interact. "Avoid conversations that stir up romantic feelings and keep things platonic and respectful," Dr. Lisa Lawless recommended during our exclusive chat.

Remaining focused on the present can be a healthy mindset to avoid falling into discussions of the past, but ensure that you and your former partner are upholding boundaries around over-sharing current happenings in your respective lives, too. This will ensure that you are both moving forward from your prior relationship instead of being pulled backward. Additionally, it's wise to establish that speaking about current dating endeavors or new people of romantic interest are topics to stay away from. Elaborating on this, Dr. Lawless shares, "Allow them to have parts of their life that they do not share with you and vice versa. Make sure to avoid discussing new partners with one another in detail, as it can cause a feeling of betrayal in a new partnership."

Physical boundaries

Boundaries around in-person interactions shift as your post-romantic relationship dynamic evolves. "Be clear about physical boundaries as you move into friendship. Protect your personal space in whatever way works best for you," Dr. Lisa Lawless tells Glam exclusively. 

It can be beneficial to pre-determine limits for physical touch and proximity, like keeping a respectful distance of a few feet. Remember that boundaries can change at any time, so respect your own comfort and the comfort of your ex by regularly checking in about evolving boundaries when in person.

"In addition, it may be best to avoid in-person time together, depending on the nature of your breakup and current relationship status," explains Dr. Lawless. Only spend time with an ex if it makes you feel comfortable. Particularly during the immediate aftermath of a breakup, you may want to allow both yourself and your ex a period of complete physical space from one another as you process your feelings and begin to heal from the ending of the relationship.

Digital boundaries

Before social media, breakups were free of constant digital reminders of your former relationship, as well as your ex's current activities. To combat these, Dr. Lisa Lawless urges setting digital boundaries that are in your best interest, even if unfollowing your ex on Instagram or TikTok feels difficult at the moment.

Having firm digital boundaries isn't an action to take solely for blocking out emotional reminders of your former relationship, but also to help you establish relationships with new people and give your full attention to a fledgling romance that could turn out to be your greatest love story. "Your online interactions should be minimal as they can easily complicate feelings and interfere with a new partner. You may wish to keep your profiles private, especially right after a breakup, to allow for healing. Also, avoid texting or calling late at night or frequently to ensure that your communications focus only on friendship," Dr. Lawless tells Glam exclusively. When in doubt, taking social media breaks can help you focus on other areas of your life.