If you’ve read any of my articles or books you know I’m not a fan of rules when it comes to relationships. I think rules treat the symptoms, not the disease, but that’s a tangent for a different time! The only “rule” you might hear me reference is the “no contact rule.” This is something I’ve discussed when I write about how to get your ex back and is a concept I get asked about frequently, but I noticed it often gets misinterpreted and done completely wrong so I figured it was worth writing an article exclusively on this subject.
The no contact rule is exactly what it sounds like. After a breakup, you resolve to not contact your ex for a determined amount of time. Easy in theory, not always easy in practice. When done right, the no contact rule can get you the exact relationship you’ve always wanted (and not always with your ex, sometimes you’ll be surprised where it takes you). When done wrong, you just end up wasting even more of your precious time pining away for someone who isn’t meant for you.
So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and talk about everything you need to know about the no contact rule.
So What’s the No Contact Rule All About?
When I say no contact, I mean no communication whatsoever. No calls, texts, G-chats, Facebook messages, snapchats, tweets, nothing. Also, this doesn’t really count as “contact,” but I would add no stalking or checking in on him on social media or by any other means.
OK, that sounds easy enough … that is until you try to put it into practice. It ain’t so easy when you see something that reminds you of him … when you finally remember the name of that book you were telling him about that he would love … when something happens that only he would find funny … when it’s his birthday … when you just want to hear his voice. It’s hard, I get it. I’ve lived it. But no contact means no contact and it will ultimately bring you exactly where you’d like to go. But we’ll get to that in a bit.
A lot of women mistakenly think the purpose of the no contact rule is to get him back. This can happen, but that’s not really the point and it shouldn’t be your focus. The point is to help you get to a better place emotionally and mentally. It’s to give you the space to detox from the relationship because let’s face it, relationships can be emotionally intoxicating and draining, especially when they’re on the decline. And it takes time to plow through all the emotional rubble.
There are a lot of feelings to sort through, there is a lot of pain to process, and there are many layers of hurt. It takes time to peel back those layers, get to the core of that pain, and heal. The no contact rule is for you; remember that first and foremost.
Why It’s So Important
The no contact rule is important and effective for several reasons. First, you need to remember that you can live without him, and that will only happen once you’re without him. I know that this can feel impossible, especially if you’re fresh out of a relationship. I remember that feeling all too well, the feeling you physically won’t be able to exist without him in your life. You will. You’ll be fine. You’ll be so fine.
If he’s the right guy for you he’ll be back, and if he’s not, then you’ll find someone who is. In the meantime, you need to learn to stand on your own two feet without him there to support you, and it can be done. Not only that, breaking through that feeling of “I won’t be able to survive without him” and then discovering that you can
Not only that, breaking through that feeling of “I won’t be able to survive without him” and then discovering that you can will make you realize how strong you are, and as a result, will help build your self-esteem and give you that amazing “I can get through anything” feeling.
Another reason this rule is so important is because if a relationship didn’t work, then it won’t begin to work unless something significant changes, and change takes time.
You can’t expect to just get back together and magically have this perfect relationship that you’ve always dreamed of. You broke up for a reason, probably a lot of reasons because breakups don’t usually happen on a whim.
When you get a little bit of distance from the situation, you’ll gain clarity about where it all went wrong, and you may learn that things simply can’t be fixed. Or maybe you’ll find the solution to the underlying problems in the relationship. Clarity is probably one of the greatest gifts in life, so whenever you have the opportunity to get some, grab it!
With a little distance, you can decide if he’s really the right guy for you and if you want to get back together with him for the right reasons. If you get back together because you miss him or feel like you can’t live without him or you don’t want to be alone, then you are setting yourself up to circle back to exactly where you are right now, in relationship no-man’s-land.
Missing someone doesn’t mean you’re supposed to be with that person. And wanting something doesn’t mean it’s good for you. We can want plenty of things that are terrible for us, like Krispy Kreme donuts.
Distance gives you perspective. It gives you clarity and, if you can really rein in your emotions, a dose of objectivity (which is almost impossible to have when it comes to matters of the heart). Once you’re in this place, you can assess whether the relationship is right for you. You’ll be able to see things more clearly and won’t be blinded by your emotions or ego. You will hopefully be able to see where and why things went wrong and will be able to know if it’s salvageable.
MORE: 5 Signs He’s Not The One
The biggest mistake people make is refusing to let go of dead-end relationships. It doesn’t matter how abundantly clear it is that the relationship isn’t going to last, they keep jumping back into the toxic waters and hoping this time they won’t get wet. This is what happens when you let your emotions guide you, when you don’t let yourself detox and come down from the high. This is what causes people to waste months, years, or decades of their lives, with nothing but feelings of hopelessness and despair to show for it.
So Will My Ex Come Back If I Do This?
Yeah, yeah so I need to focus on myself … but will I be able to get him back?? I can hear what you’re thinking as I write this article and I will address it because I know you want him back, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this.
If you spend your period of no contact working on yourself and building up your self-esteem, if you are able to really realize that you can live without him and you can find happiness in your life, then yes, there is a good chance he will want you back. Men are attracted to independence and confidence. They are also drawn to a woman who wants them, not one who needs them. (See this article on neediness to learn the difference between the two.)
When you follow the no contact rule, you give him the time and space to miss you. This can only happen in your absence, not in your presence. By reaching out too soon, you risk falling into a post-relationship relationship. Meaning you talk on occasion and you hang out from time to time, but your relationship stays in a state of no-man’s-land.
You will also remain on the emotional hook, investing time and energy in a man who may not be right for you, only you can’t see it because you haven’t stepped back far enough to see the full picture.
Knowing what someone is up to isn’t alluring, wondering is. So let him wonder about you, let him fret over how many guys have been pursuing you now that you’re on the market, let him miss you and all your little quirks.
All humans have the tendency to idealize the past, and most of us don’t realize the true value of something until we don’t have it anymore. The only way to trigger these feelings of nostalgia and yearning are to not be there.
But again, don’t make it about him. Him wanting you and thinking about you and wondering about you is a byproduct, not the goal. The goal is to gain clarity and better yourself. Learn to love yourself, to love your life, to be happy.
Like I said, change takes time. And the no contact rule is meant to serve you, it’s meant to help you become your best self. By doing this, you may realize you don’t even want him anymore and you can do much better. Or maybe those inner changes will help you be more equipped to be in a healthy relationship. No matter what, this is in your best interest.
How to Be a No Contact Rule Success Story
Getting through the day without the one person who was once practically the sole center of your life can feel daunting. At first, you might feel a little lost and empty. But I promise once you power through those first few days, it will get easier.
Here are some things you should focus on instead of him:
1. Get moving. I don’t need to tell you about the transformative power of exercise; you already know that exercising is good for you on many levels, including physically and emotionally. And these days, breaking a sweat is more fun than ever thanks to all the new types of classes out there: soul cycle, zumba, barre method, SLT, yoga, pilates, pick your poison. Or you can go the old-fashioned route and run on the treadmill or outside when it’s nice. Just do something to get those endorphins pumping!
Exercising can improve our mood, reduce stress, boost metabolism, and increase our self-esteem because it feels good to push ourselves to new limits. And of course, in addition to feeling good, exercise will also help you look really good!
2. Take care of yourself. Yes, it’s tempting to lie on the couch with a gallon of ice cream watching sad movies and feeling sorry for yourself post-breakup, but this will not make you feel any better. Just the opposite, actually. It will send you down a negative, self-loathing path. Punishing yourself isn’t the answer. And wallowing and obsessing over him will not bring him back; it will just drive you deeper into the depths of your misery.
Remember when you were a teen and feeling sad and angsty over some issue or other and your mom told you to take a shower and get dressed and put yourself together and get out of the house, and then somehow you kind of snapped out of your funk? Just as how we feel on the inside shines outward, the way we adorn ourselves on the outside also radiates inward.
Beyond just getting dressed and making an effort to look better than you feel, take this time to nurture yourself. Get a massage or a manicure or a facial (or all three!) Be kind to yourself. Breakups are hard and there is no way around it. Even clean breaks are painful. So go easy on yourself and use this as an excuse to load up on me-time.
3. Spend time with friends. As humans we are social beings, and having relationships is essential to our mental health. We need people. This is why solitary confinement is considered the cruelest punishment and can literally drive people insane. Call your friends or family and spend time with them, a lot of time. You need people right now. And you need fun. So call up the funnest people you know and get out there!
I am also a big proponent of getting out of town when things get rough, especially after a breakup. For one, it’s helpful knowing there is no chance of running into him. You can also escape all the reminders of him lingering in your house and spread around town like emotional landmines. If you can’t swing a full-on exotic vacation, try to at least plan a weekend trip somewhere, anything just to get away for a bit.
4. Pursue your passion. We all have that something that makes us feel alive, that puts us in touch with our essence, that makes us feel worthy and competent. Do that thing. Maybe it’s painting or writing or dancing or singing or traveling or photography. Whatever it is, make the time to do more of it. This is a major building block for self-esteem, something everyone can use more of post-breakup (and in general, actually).
5. Is he really what’s best for you? Above all, you should try to gain clarity during your period of no contact to avoid making the devastating mistake of getting back together with a guy who is wrong for you.
About a decade ago I experienced a gut-wrenching breakup with a guy I thought I loved. We were entangled in a codependent, toxic relationship and it needed to end. I knew it and he knew it, only I was too weak to do it. After our sad, tear-filled breakup conversation, we decided not to speak for a week and then touch base.
It was the longest, most agonizing week of my life. I literally couldn’t walk in a straight line; it felt like my entire world had been knocked off kilter. I’ll spare you the dramatics; suffice it to say it was bad. Then we got together and he seemed … fine. So fine. I was not. And him being so fine just obliterated me. I couldn’t hold it together. After seeing me in this sorry state, he suggested we have no contact for three months. Three months?! Just getting through this one week had been complete torture!
I resolved not to let myself sink into a black hole for the next three months; I had to move forward somehow. The only thing that kept me going was the hope that he would be back eventually. So I got my act together. I did all the things I’m telling you to do in this article.
I went to the gym, I spent time with friends, I wrote, I read, and I even started dating someone new. It was very unexpected, he was a guy I’d had a crush on in my teens when we worked at the same summer camp. We were off to a strong and healthy start and then of course my ex resurfaced one night completely out of the blue. He was the one who suggested three months yet there was his name flashing bright on my cell phone after only three weeks. And despite my better judgment, I answered.
It didn’t take long for my hard work to unravel and I took him back even though I’d been so much happier without him, even though our time apart had made me realize he wasn’t the right guy for me. Soon enough our relationship devolved to the toxic mess it had been before, and the end (the second end) was so brutal it took me over a year to recover. Don’t make my mistake.
The no contact period is about getting yourself into a good spot and also about discovering if he’s the right guy for you. Don’t ignore your better judgment and respond to contact from him during this no contact period; the ramifications can be devastating.
“Okay, I won’t contact him … but for how long?”
In terms of how long it should last … I say the no contact rule should be fully in effect without exception for at least three weeks. If after that you feel you absolutely must reach out to him, then throw something casual out there and see how he responds.
Keep your expectations low so you don’t set yourself up for another round of heartbreak and disappointment; you don’t want to undo all the progress you’ve made. It is always best to let him be the first to reach out, though, so try not to cave.
What if he contacts me?
One of the most confusing breakup scenarios is when he dumps you, but then continues to contact you. What’s the deal? Does he want you back or not? You can’t read into it. The simplest answer is usually the correct one: if he wanted to be back together, he would get back together. Him reaching out doesn’t mean that’s what he wants.
Why is he doing it? He probably misses you and is feeling lonely. And he still cares about you, that doesn’t evaporate after a breakup. However, that doesn’t change the fact that he doesn’t want to be in a relationship with you, and that is the only fact that matters.
Something you must realize is