Messaging my ex – can it be cheating?

Online Affairs Message My Ex

‘Friending’ or messaging an ex is sometimes defined as cheating

Research suggests most Facebook users have previous romantic or sexual partners as friends on the site. However, research also suggests that messaging or ‘friending’ an ex-partner on Facebook is defined by some people as cheating – but is it?

Ex-partners are easily seen as a cheating risk

The first thing to recognise is that there’s a lot of research on jealousy in the context of romantic partner relationships. Furthermore, an ex – someone who you once may have loved and had sex with – is sometimes seen as a relationship threat. So, ask yourself honestly – what would messaging an ex mean for you or your partner?

Cheating is about context – what’s the (perceived) risk of messaging this ex?

Whether or not messaging your ex ‘counts’ as cheating will depend in part on you, your partner and any agreements you have between you (for more on this see ‘what is cheating online?’).

Consider the following scenarios:

  1. Your ex is happily married and you only contact them because you are trying to find a contact number or email address for a mutual friend
  2. Your ex is the love of your life and your partner knows it
  3. You and your partner are having some problems in your relationship right now

These different scenarios could change the likelihood that messaging an ex might be experienced as cheating. In the first scenario, the likelihood of the ex being open to an affair seems low, which may make contacting them feel less risky for everyone. However, in the other two scenarios either you or your ex-partner might be open to an affair – this could potentially make messaging them feel more challenging and risky.

Social networking sites may increase contact with ex-partners

Social networking sites may mean that you need to think more about how to manage contact with ex-partners.

  1. Social networking sites make it easy to track down ex-partners
    There’s an increasing amount of research examining the relationship between using sites, such as Facebook, and problems in relationships. Although a lot of this research has been conducted with students, rather than older adults living with a partner, the evidence suggests that social networking sites can be bad for relationships.

    One reason for this is that social networking sites make it easy to contact potential affair partners. Not only is it possible to make new friends it is also much easier than in the past to get back into contact with old friends and ex-lovers.

  2. Social networking sites can make it harder to avoid ex-partners
    Even if you are trying to steer clear of an ex online, after a relationship ends it can be hard to untangle your online selves – for example through tagged images and mutual friends. It can also be tempting to go looking for information about your ex’s new life and romantic partner(s).

All of this can make it harder to manage your online relationship with an ex-partner.


Messaging an ex – what’s my motive?

Research on infidelity suggests that both individual unhappiness and problems in the relationship can make infidelity more likely. So, if you’re noticing a temptation to message an ex you might want to stop and think a bit about what’s going on for you. Do any of the following ring true for you?

  • You’re really fed up with your partner right now
  • You feel really low and/or anxious
  • You still miss your ex
  • You’re bored in your relationship
  • You love your partner but the sex is not fulfilling/not enough

Now ask yourself - will messaging this ex make your current relationship better? Will it make you feel better? The answer might be ‘no’ or it might be ‘yes’ but either way it might be useful to think about this before acting on anything.

To see the full list of research references which have informed the content on this page, please see our research references section.

Page authored by Dr Naomi Moller (The Open University)