Birthdays, Easter, Valentines, Thanksgiving, Christmas/The Holidays, National Curry Day, the FA Cup Final, the birth of a baby, bereavements, anniversaries. The list goes on. There are clearly a lot of reasons we can find to break No Contact and get in touch with an ex.
These occasions can catch us off guard. They mark a passage of time that may highlight and even accentuate the differences between the present and where you were at that time the previous year. Sometimes it’s not that you’re remembering; it’s more that you’re experiencing the grief that comes with the hopes you had for being with them for this occasion (it might have been the first) not being realised.
The disappointment is understandable but part of grieving the loss of a relationship and respecting boundaries (theirs and yours) is recognising that you can’t pick up the relationship or restart contact for ‘occasions’. You’ve got to know where to draw the line.
Birthdays and various other occasions in the calendar don’t change. Start as you mean to go on because where does it all end with saluting them on each occasion? What are you going to do in year 2 or year 10?
No Contact means… No Contact and if you choose to make contact for any of these reasons, there must be no underlying motive, which there rarely isn’t. Feeling compelled to reach out on big occasions is code for looking for reasons to be in contact aka smoke signals. Some of these ‘occasions’ are symbols of aspects of your ex that form part of your connection which in turn you attach a meaning to. So, for example, when their team wins in a big sporting event, that can set off the temptation to reach out.
These occasions become opportunities to ensure that you haven’t been forgotten and to place yourself front and centre in their mind. Really, is a card or a message going to make this person change or regret missing you, race back into your life and sweep you off your feet?
Occasions can also represent waiting for an excuse or a bad situation to befall them that you can exploit. Hard to hear but if you could see my inbox! Really, you shouldn’t be waiting for the perfect excuse to try and get your agenda on the table. I get it and understand that you’re grieving and that you miss them, but this all goes back to validating the original reasons for doing NC and getting behind your decision. It’s a totally normal part of the breakup to be reminded of your ex by certain things – this dissipates over time as long as you don’t use these memories to inflate meaning or your hurt.
Take a bereavement for instance – I totally understand why you might want to reach out at this time but there a couple of things that reveal where you’re really at: your method of expressing your condolences and what you expect or do after these condolences have been expressed. Best way to express your condolences? Send a card and flowers, pick up the phone, or go around and pay your respects if there is an open house or a set time to do so. Sending a text or posting something on their Facebook page? Come on now!
Equally, if all you’re doing is a genuine expression of your condolences, there shouldn’t be any thinking about getting back together, sleeping with them, or feeling that you have to stick around to get them through this time.
You’re not in their life anymore and you’re not the only person capable of providing support, especially because you’re supposed to be NC. If they try it on with you, don’t tell them all about themselves but do just say, “I’m sorry for your loss and that you’re hurting. I wanted to let you know this but it doesn’t mean that I want to restart anything with you. Take care”… and… move it along. With this in mind, here are some more tips for navigating these situations:
1. Don’t hijack the occasion.
I’ve heard enough painful stories of exes that suddenly got back in touch around a bereavement, birthday etc, swooped in with a whole load of big promises and showboating, acted like they were The Most Supportive Partner Ever™… and then vanished off the face of the earth. There are too many people who associate the painful loss of their parent or a milestone birthday with an ex. You’re supposed to be NC so you shouldn’t be hijacking anyway.
2. When it’s their birthday, it’s not your birthday.
If you’re mostly thinking about your own internal drama, you’re not really thinking about him/her and you are in fact projecting. It being their birthday is not a valid reason for breaking NC because it’s like trying to give yourself some sort of birthday present in the form of validation and possibly attempting to rekindle the relationship. Birthdays only last for one day but the effects of misplaced expectations and unhealthy habits last far longer.
3. Avoid starting NC within a few days to a couple of weeks of their (or your) birthday because the likelihood is, you’ll reach out.
In fact, this really applies to most occasions but birthdays in particular because they’re personal. If it’s your birthday and you start NC and they don’t get in touch and it’s only been a short time since starting NC, you may feel compelled to tell them all about themselves or go attention-seeking. If it’s their birthday, you may feel “bad” about not being in touch. Have an honest conversation with yourself – if you think that you’re highly likely to knee-jerk into contact if you start NC and then a birthday happens later in the week, wait until afterwards and spare yourself (and them) the drama.
4. Be careful of feeling compelled to reach out on anniversaries.
I understand it, believe me, especially if you were together through something difficult like a bereavement, but working through this anniversary without them and possibly with the support of others, is grief work that you need to focus on. Yes they may understand you and you them and yes, you may feel bonded over this difficult situation, but it’s not enough to cancel out the reasons why you’re doing NC. You have to find a way to start dealing with this.
5. You don’t need to send a card.
Whether it’s for a birthday, Christmas or whatever, the fact that you’re even thinking about sending a card demonstrates that you are still too concerned with how you look and so-called ‘protocol’ instead of putting your energies into NC.
6. Remember that sending messages to their friends and family on big occasions may be perceived as you sending a smoke signal to your ex.
I appreciate that you may like their family for instance, but be careful of not only crossing your ex’s boundaries, but also of inadvertently maintaining a connection between you both.
7. Your message, whatever guise it takes, may be disruptive.
It’s bad enough when they mess with your head, but actually, being NC and then reaching out sends mixed messages. There is also the not-so-small matter of the possibility that they may be involved with someone else and that you sending messages as if you have some sort of claim on them even though ironically, you’re NC, may create friction and cross boundaries.
8. Don’t send a gift.
9. If you’re thinking about sending a text, email or tippy tapping out a Facebook message, you’re just not that serious about sending a message.
Yes I’m sure these feel ‘easier’ but again, if you’re that worried about avoiding conflict and not opening yourself up to hurt, stick to NC.
10. Think ahead.
NC is very much about getting conscious, thinking ahead and planning for success instead of planning for failure. Each year has occasions in the calendar – how are you going to deal with these? They’re inevitable so there’s no point in being surprised by them. Put a message in your diary or calendar to remind you to stick to NC and if you know that you get card angst, put reminders in your phone in the days running up to the date to keep you on the right track, like “Remember! It’s not my birthday” or “Make plans on _______ so that I don’t feel lonely and vulnerable”.
You can find out more about how to navigate your breakup with your self-esteem in tow in my book, The No Contact Rule (2nd edition).