This is why keeping your ex as a backup is never a good idea

You’re headed for trouble

Couple lying in bed together, holding hands
(Image credit: Getty Images / Beatriz Vera / EyeEm)

Breakups are hard. It can take us months to get over an ex-lover and even a year after you may find yourself wondering why you're still dreaming about your ex. But while it can be tempting to stay in contact and even keeping them as a backup—experts are warning that keeping an ex on the ‘back burner’ can do more harm than good.

While keeping your ex around for whenever you need some attention—mentally and physically, if you know what we mean—can feel comforting, a new study by the University of Oklahoma revealed it can be bad for everyone involved, especially if you’re already seeing or exclusive with someone else. And really, is getting back with an ex ever a good idea? (Only JLo makes it look like a good idea...)

In the study, published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, scientists studied hundreds of adults in long-term relationships and found more than half were keeping an ex on the back burner. 

Couple's feet sticking out from under duvet in bed - stock photo

(Image credit: Getty Images / Frank and Helena)

The study found that the individuals with an ex backup had bad feelings about themselves, and their ex—especially if they too were in a relationship. This was the case even if the individuals were just communicating and not sleeping together.

Dr. John Banas, the lead author of the paper, explained that even if there is no sex involved, communicating with an ex can be seen as a betrayal to your current partner, causing bad feelings. In fact, participants in purely platonic relationships reported a greater negative effect the more they communicated digitally with their back burner.

Young Woman Crying In Bed - stock photo

(Image credit: Getty Images / Adam Kuylenstierna / EyeEm)

Dr. Banas said: “Back-burner communication, by definition, has romantic/sexual desire as a motive. We examined how admirers feel after engaging in back-burner communication, and our data indicate that for those who are already in a committed relationship, communicating with back burners incurs intrapersonal costs producing negative effects. For ex-partner back burners, digital communication may also bring past problems into the present.”

He continued: “If having ex-partner back burners cascades into increased communication, increased sexual activity, and bad feelings for the admirer, those in committed relationships might wish to exercise greater caution before forming a back-burner relationship with an ex-partner.”

Put simply, engaging in a relationship with a ‘backup’ or still being in constant contact with an ex, can have a negative impact on everyone involved—even if you’re in a bit of a grey area as regards being disloyal or cheating.

Like with most decisions we make in life, the one to make your ex your ex was probably the right one, so best to just stick with it and not look back.

Naomi Jamieson
Lifestyle News Writer

Naomi is a Lifestyle News Writer with the Women's Lifestyle team, where she covers everything from entertainment to fashion and beauty, as well as TikTok trends for Woman&Home, after previously writing for My Imperfect Life and GoodTo. Interestingly though, Naomi actually has a background in design, having studied illustration at Plymouth University but lept into the media world in 2020, after always having a passion for writing and earned her Gold Standard diploma in Journalism with the NCTJ.

Before working for Future Publishing’s Lifestyle News team, she worked in the Ad production team. Here she wrote and designed adverts on all sorts of things, which then went into print magazines across all genres. Now, when she isn’t writing articles on celebs, fashion trends, or the newest shows on Netflix, you can find her drinking copious cups of coffee, drawing and probably online shopping.