I was content and in a healthy, long-term relationship when my ex met his new partner. I was genuinely happy for them, with no envy or resentment. Our divorce was the best thing for both of us – we weren’t happy together, and our marriage had become toxic. Even so, we parted amicably, and I didn’t think twice about remaining friends with him on social media. When my ex and his girlfriend became serious, I met her. On friendly terms, we connected on social media, too. 

At first, it was fine. But when she started posting photos with my ex, my son, and her children together, it started to eat at me. My biggest struggle post-divorce was not having 100 percent access to my son. No one wants to put their child through the pain of a divorce, and my guilt over that is intense. Although I had no lingering romantic feelings toward my ex, I was holding on to sadness over our family unit’s end.  

I checked her Instagram and Facebook posts regularly (while my ex posted rarely, his girlfriend posted multiple times daily). As much as I knew that social media often paints an exaggerated, idealized version of a person’s life, seeing their “fairy tale” romance and her heavily filtered selfies started to take a toll on me. When she started making posts in my old home (with my dog), it was more than I could handle, and I decided to unfriend and stop following them both.

Experts agree that using social media to keep tabs on your ex can negatively impact your mental health. Here’s how to tell when it’s time to hit the unfollow button.

Social media can deepen feelings of loneliness

Social media can offer opportunities for connection and support when used mindfully, Caleb Birkhoff, LMFT, a couples and family therapist based in San Francisco, said. Unfortunately, not everyone engages with it in a healthy way. “The constant exposure to heavily curated content can contribute to feelings of inadequacy or isolation,” he says.

People tend to exaggerate (or even fabricate) their level of happiness on social media, Lienna Wilson, PsyD., a psychologist in Princeton, New Jersey, said. She says that if you’re already feeling sad or self-conscious, seeing a constant stream of positivity on social media may make you feel like you’re the only one struggling.

A person’s social profile is just a highlight reel, said Nicole Moore, a relationship expert and love coach at Love Works in Los Angeles, California. Even so, it’s common to make wildly inaccurate assumptions based on these snippets, finding ourselves (or our lives) lacking in some way, she explained.

Social media triggers post-breakup emotions

“There is truth to the saying ‘out of sight, out of mind,’” Wilson said. The opposite is true too and seeing your ex’s posts can evoke emotions ranging from sadness and nostalgia to jealousy and resentment, Birkhoff said. He said this can hinder the healing process post-breakup or divorce.

The human mind loves to compare, so seeing your ex’s post with a new partner on social media is almost guaranteed to be a trigger, Moore said. “You might obsess over every picture of your ex’s new partner, comparing their looks to yours (and finding fault with your appearance as a result),” she said. In contrast, these images might trigger a cascade of negative, judgmental thoughts about the new partner in a misguided attempt to make yourself feel better, Moore said. 

Even if the end of the relationship was your decision, seeing your ex with someone else can make you feel like you weren’t good enough to make the relationship work, Moore said. In that case, you probably need more time to heal from the breakup, she explained. 

The best way to do that? Disconnect from their energy altogether, she advised. “If you know you’re the kind of person that will see your ex on social media and immediately spiral into negative feelings, it would likely be better for your mental health to unfollow them.”

A woman blacks her ex's social media accounts
If you unfollow your ex, there still lies an urge to know what they’re doing. Hence, blocking is the only option left. It obliterates any signs of the person on your feed. That’s when you begin to find true inner peace. (Shutterstock / BRO.vector)

Prioritize happiness and self-love

Birkhoff said unfollowing your ex helps create emotional distance. And it’s easier to heal without constant reminders from the past and exposure to triggering content. He recommends redirecting your energy inward, which fosters self-discovery and growth. “It is much more difficult to grieve a loss, or transition, if you’re focused externally,” Birkhoff said.

Instead of dwelling on the past, prioritize your happiness in the present, Moore said. “Give yourself the time, care, love, and attention that may have been lacking in the relationship you left. In this way, you’ll restore a sense of wholeness and develop rock-solid self-love,” she said. If seeing your ex’s social media posts brings up negative feelings, unfollow them, she urged. 

Moore suggested making a checklist of all the things that are draining your joy and eliminating them from your life if possible. “Cultivating a good-feeling life is one of the highest forms of self-care,” she said. It can take time post-breakup to figure out what brings you peace and joy, so give yourself the space to explore, Moore said

Divorce can bring up a lot of painful emotions, Wilson said. While distracting yourself from the situation can temporarily alleviate the pain, she says it is also essential to process the impact it had on you. “Surround yourself with a strong support system of people who understand and care about you. You may also consider getting additional help from a therapist or a divorce support group.” 

It wasn’t enough to unfollow my ex and his girlfriend’s social accounts. I found myself visiting their profiles anyway (it had become a habit that proved hard to break). I decided the best course of action for me was to block their accounts. That way, I couldn’t access them even if I wanted to, and they couldn’t access mine. I had a newfound urge to keep my life private and protect my peace. While it’s true that I can easily unblock them, I haven’t had the desire. For now, their social feeds aren’t something I want to expose myself to – it’s a necessary boundary I should have enforced sooner. Recently, I started seeing a therapist to work through my unresolved feelings about the past –something I wish I’d done two years ago as soon as I split from my ex. Social media no longer dictates my state of mind. My focus is on myself, my son, my career, and my partner, exactly where it belongs.”