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Pros, Cons of Pursuing An Ex-Partner After Break Up

Pros, Cons of Pursuing An Ex-Partner After Break Up

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Thursday, 04 April 2019 12:00 PM Current | Bio | Archive

For many couples, a breakup is not the end of the relationship.

Accordingly, it is also not the end of their communication. Should it be?

In some cases, absolutely.

As a career prosecutor, I have seen post-breakup behavior progress from subtle to stalking. From conversation to criminal threats.

Why do so many ex-partners try to fan old flames? Perhaps because research reveals that pursuit behavior is subjective — and sometimes successful.

Post-Breakup Pursuit

Many people who attempt to keep in contact with ex-partners do not consider themselves stalkers. But what do the targets think? And are such attempts at maintaining contact a healthy way to get over a relationship?

Christina M. Dardis et al. (in 2017) examined this phenomenon in young adults. Studying unwanted pursuit behaviors (UPBs), they found that in a sample of 1167 undergraduates, 95.4 % heterosexual, approximately 80 percent reported engaging in such behavior.

Most targets responded to pursuers — who generally did not view their behaviors as threatening, frightening, or even annoying. Women perceived that their targets responded more negatively, especially if their pursuit was violent or threatening, while men perceived their targets displayed overall, a more neutral or positive response.

The authors suggest that post-breakup pursuers likely underestimate the manner in which their behavior impacts targets, and even severe and threatening pursuit behavior is often reinforced, particularly for male pursuers.

When it comes to post-breakup behavior, does it matter who breaks up with who? Dardis et al. found that although partners who did not initiate the break up were more likely to pursue than the partners who initiated the break-up, it was partners who initiated the break-up who were most likely to engage in severe UPBs.

When Pursuers Catch Their Prey

Does unwanted ex-partner pursuit work? Sometimes.

But we worry about the safety of those being pursued.

Are they viewed as a relational prize, or as prey?

Target receptivity flies in the face of the advice we in law enforcement often give UPB recipients — who are warned not to let themselves become human slot machines by providing intermittent reinforcement. Responding to the 35th phone call or text message simply teaches pursuers that it takes 35 tries to reach you.

In their study, however, Dardis et al. found that not only did most UPBs prompt a response, sometimes it was positive. Although women perceived more negative responses when they were the pursuer, when they were pursued, they were somewhat more likely to agree to re-ignite a relationship with their former flame.

But such receptivity was dependent on the type of UPBs used. Only minor pursuit behavior was linked with reconciliation among women. With men, however, both minor and severe pursuit behavior were associated with relationship reconciliation.

Spectrum of Pursuit: Innocuous to Invasive

Although this research appears to indicate that at least for young people, some measure of post breakup pursuit is normal, it is important to note the type of behavior sampled.

Two specific types of behavior endorsed by the vast majority of pursuers were having an in-person conversation with an ex-partner, and asking friends for information about the ex-partner. Both of these behaviors, standing alone, are not usually problematic.

Regarding the use of technology, Dardis et al. found that women engaged in a greater number of minor UPBs by sending an excessive amount of text messages. Men endorsed higher rates of some severe types of cyber UPBs, including spying on an ex-partner through a hidden camera, a web cam, or spyware.

They also found that men were more likely to send threatening messages or threaten to post compromising photos. The authors speculate that rather than assume that men are more tech savvy than women, from a standpoint of gender socialization, "it is possible that men feel the backing of social power or entitlement to former partners to engage in severe surveillance behaviors, or that depictions of surveillance in popular media have encouraged their use."

Resisting Hollywood Sanctioned Stalking

You may be wondering, when is severe unwanted pursuit behavior ever viewed as an acceptable path to reconciliation? Perhaps when it is romanticized and normalized. In attempting to explain their counterintuitive results in this respect, Dardis et al. speculate that on one hand, research shows that female targets of UPBs report more fear than men, which would lead men to report more negative responses to their pursuit.

On the other hand, different research has found that men perceive their own UPBs as romantic or noble, consistent with popular media portrayals of men who work to win back an ex-paramour.

Hollywood portrayals aside, couples should establish post-breakup boundaries to discourage unwanted pursuit. Healthy relationships involve communication that is supportive and respectful both during a relationship, and post-dissolution.

This article was originally published in Psychology Today.

Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 4,000 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.

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When it comes to post-breakup behavior, does it matter who breaks up with who? Post-breakup pursuers likely underestimate the manner in which their behavior impacts targets, and even severe and threatening pursuit behavior is often reinforced, particularly for male pursuers.
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Thursday, 04 April 2019 12:00 PM
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