By Chris Seiter

Published on July 20th, 2022

Today we’re going to talk about what it means when you’ve gone through a breakup with your ex but you are still acting like a couple.

And I’ve brought my new partner in crime, Shaunna Nicol, who just happens to be the newest addition to our coaching team to help me out with this article.

Really the two of us are going to take two tracks to help with understanding this complicated situation.

  1. We are going to define what this looks like
  2. We are going to talk about what it means when you are broken up but still act like a couple

Let’s begin.

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Defining What This Situation Looks Like

Generally speaking when you are looking at a situation where you are still acting like a couple after a breakup we’ve found the following behaviors to be the most consistent among our clients,

  • Texting, calling, seeing regularly
  • Becoming intimate
  • Going on vacation/holiday
  • Going on dates together

I’d like to clarify a bit on two points in the list above.

  1. Becoming intimate
  2. Vacationing together

Most people naturally assume I’m talking about sleeping together with an ex when I mention intimacy but that’s not necessarily the case. This can be something as rudimentary as holding hands or even kissing.

The point is you are crossing over a line that friends should not cross and in my mind any physical touch that can escalate to sexual behavior can be viewed as over that line.

But let’s assume that you are still sleeping with your ex. Where this becomes more complicated is figuring out what their true intentions are. After all, we’ve definitely seen some exes be total jerks and just get back in touch or “play nice” so they can sleep with you.

As a general rule when we see people in a Friends with Benefits situation they’ll sleep with their ex, and then disappear.

Technically that’s an entirely different situation and not one we are talking about in relation to “being a couple.” After all, most relationships even if they aren’t in the best of shape don’t have one part ghosting you after a one night stand.

The next thing I’d like to clarify is actually an idea put forth by Coach Shaunna,

My example is if you share children, and you’re deciding to go away together with the children, that’s like mixed signals, it’s you spending time together as a family, even though you’re not a couple anymore. So it’s like, you don’t really know where you stand with the other half, but you’re still having that family time that family bond is still there.

One of the things that I think gets lost in translation is the idea of other people connecting you together. So, when you’re going on a vacation or a holiday, and you share kids together, it’s giving a lot of mixed signals to all involved and in a weird way, makes everyone’s life more difficult.

But the question that is haunting most of you is “Why?”

Why would an ex act like everything is fine around you and all the kids but refuse to commit?

What does it all mean?

Well, let’s talk a bit about that.

What Does It All Mean?

I think there are three main things you can point to when trying to explain this breakup behavior.

  • Classic avoidant where they are avoiding a commitment but still getting the benefits of a relationship
  • Fear of moving on (too scared to let you go), keeping you on the hook
  • Used to spending time together, habitual routines are embedded in their lives (NC analogy)

Let’s start first with avoidant behaviors

Understanding Classic Avoidant Tendencies

A few days ago I was working on an article about avoidants and if they feel guilt that I actually think is really relevant to this discussion.

One of the things that I found fascinating when I was researching this subject is how an avoidant will often hold on to guilt as an excuse to avoid a commitment.

What Are Your Chances of Getting Your Ex Boyfriend Back?

Take the quiz

And what I think usually happens when you go through a breakup with someone but they’re still acting like a couple, is that they are falling victim to very classic avoidant behavior where they avoid a commitment, but they’re still getting the benefits of a relationship.

So the avoidant, you need to understand, they have this contradictory nature, which is, on the one hand, they want love. And on the other hand, they don’t want to let anyone close enough to give them that love. And so they’re constantly at odds with themselves.

Ultimately what we’re seeing with this behavior is an extension of that contradiction.

So you get into a relationship with them, they break up with you but they still want to act like a couple, because they still want that the benefits that you get from being in a couple, but they don’t like the commitment.

And so they’re kind of keeping you in an arm’s length by still having their cake and eating it too.

Your Ex Is Too Scared To Fully Let You Go

The next explanation is something directly from Shaunna so I’ll just quote her directly,

So what I was saying was the fear of like letting that person go, you don’t want to be with them. But you also don’t want them to move on. You want them like on the hook so that you can come back to them if you don’t find somebody better. So spending that time with him, making sure that they’re still there hoping that you’re going to change your mind, you’re gonna come back to them.

What I find really interesting about this is that when you pair it with the avoidant concept it almost seemingly contradicts itself.

But what’s important to remember is that there’s two types of avoidants there’s the dismissive avoidant, which usually is all in on avoidant behaviors, and then there’s the fearful avoidant.

  1. Dismissive
  2. Fearful

So I would argue that most of the people that are broken up with you, but still act like a couple are more likely to be fearful avoidants and not dismissive avoidants. So like Shauna says they’re afraid of letting you move on. They don’t want to let you go. So the keeping you on the hook, that’s really their anxious side coming out and taking control.

But there’s a strange subtext to all of this. An underlying jealousy aspect here. Like they know, they’re not going to do well with jealousy. If they let you go, and you’re with someone else they know they aren’t going to be able to handle that. They don’t want to see you happy with anyone else except them, but at the same time they don’t want to get into a full blown relationship with you.

And that’s really their anxious side coming out again with the jealousy but they then they get ruled by their avoidant side.

So they’re constantly at odds with one another.

And this, this is often really classic with why the mixed signals are happening because people, when they get into relationships with fearful avoidants are often left really confused.

Because on one hand, their ex is giving them very like, Hey, we’re still together type signals.

And then on the other hand, they’re like, No, we’re not together. And the mixed signals confuse people. And that’s really common for a fearful avoidant individual.

The Habitual Routine

When you’ve been together for a while you fall into this routine and this habit of spending time with that person, talking to that person.

And we see it with most of the clients that come to the program, they, they are so obsessed with reaching out to their ex, they need to speak to their ex, they’re just thinking about what they’re doing, why, what who they spending time with.

And that’s why we enforce the No Contact Rule telling them that they need to spend that time not focusing on their ex, whereas those that fall into the habits can’t seem to just pull themselves away.

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9 thoughts on “We Broke Up But Still Act Like A Couple”

  1. Matt

    June 17, 2024 at 7:48 pm

    I would like to explain this the best I possibly can. Me and my girlfriend of about 5 years have been through everything together. We have been glued at the hip since we met and done everything together. Recently my partner messaged me one day over the phone saying I can’t do this anymore. We have never really had any big problems in our relationship like this until now. Since we met we have always lived together. We have not had intimacy in about 5-6 months. We no longer say I love you to eachother. We do still live together and see eachother everyday, have dinner together, message over the phone etc. since all of this has happend it has taken a huge toll on my life. I am very lonely and struggling. I guess my question is what should I do? I love this girl with my heart. We have done so many amazing things together and she has told me how amazing I am and how happy and proud I make her and that she’s never going to leave. But recently I just don’t know what’s happend to her. This isn’t her at all, something inside her has just changed and now it’s almost like I don’t even exist. I would love to hear some advice or help and also if anyone would like to reach out and talk to me please do. Thank you in advance for everything.

  2. Rob

    December 22, 2022 at 12:22 am

    I’m guessing your answer will be you have to enforce no contact, but nevertheless I want to get give as much context as possible. My ex and I were together a year and broke up a few months ago amicably with the verbally stated fact that she couldn’t imagine me not in her life but that she had fallen out of love. In between that time and now we had a month of no contact to reset ourselves to be friends however we still remained very close and had many instances of intimacy. As a result, we had a conversation where we both admitted to having feelings for each other but thought that we weren’t at a place to go back dating. Since then the situation has stayed the same and we reclarified that she doesn’t see us getting back together. I’m not sure how best to move forward with all of this as a result

    1. Coach Shaunna Nicol

      January 12, 2023 at 10:36 pm

      Hey Rob, so as you admitted feelings for each other, but said no relationship. Then yes it is NC you need to make it clear you do not want a friendship with your ex, you want a relationship. The only time we allow ourselves to be friendzoned is when they begin a new relationship with another person.

  3. Maria

    November 9, 2022 at 4:38 am

    Me and my boyfriend just broke up recently after being together for 5 years. We had our ups and downs but ultimately he broke up with me because he wants to figure himself out. But since the break up we’ve still been seeing each other and it’s only been 3 days and we still big and have kissed several times. Today was the most physical, tho we did not get “into the bed kind of intimate” we very much were flirting and kissing and hugging each other and we did get a little handsy but not to a full extent. Afterwards I had a little hope but he said we weren’t still together. Should I just cut him out completely? He knows I am still in love with him whereas he told me he still loves me (which we also keep saying I love you’s as well) he is not in love with me.

    1. Coach Shaunna Nicol

      November 13, 2022 at 1:05 pm

      Maria, you need to apply the no contact. He has just told you a second time you’re not together. Remove yourself from his life.

  4. Jonesha

    September 16, 2022 at 4:03 am

    I’m currently doing all three things you posted in your article. I broke up with my boyfriend because I felt disrespected with him texting his exes and spending time with these women’s children (he has no children of his own). But we never went no contact. We still see each other everyday, talk to each other after work, and spend the night with each other. I just don’t feel comfortable with sex with him now. But this doesn’t feel like we’re broken up. Just like we’re taking a break or in the middle of a avoidant/passive/ grudge like season. What should I do? I broke up with him because I don’t see a future with him if he keeps in contact with his exes. He said he doesn’t feel comfortable cutting them out because he doesn’t know how long we’ll last. But he also says he thought we would get married and have children. We’re currently still ‘playing’ as if we’re dating, haven’t told our friends or family that we’ve broken up and I’m fearful he continues to do the same behaviors because technically now I said I didn’t want a relationship. What should I do

    1. Coach Shaunna Nicol

      January 1, 2023 at 9:11 pm

      You need to actually start and follow the rules of a no contact if you want this program to work!

  5. Felicity

    September 4, 2022 at 6:34 am

    So what do I do when I am in this exact situation as you have described? We have children, we separated two years ago (my instigation) Both of us have done lots of work on ourselves and now I see how avoidance has played a huge part in the demise of our relationship.

    The spending time together is heartbreaking and I have had to put a stop to it, but what now. Do I just stand by and watch the person I love drift further and further away, become more withdrawn and sad? Do they hit a point of realisation that they have lost their loved one.

    1. Coach Shaunna Nicol

      September 4, 2022 at 9:38 pm

      Hey Felicity, so if you are looking to follow the ERP program then you need to follow the limited no contact to begin with to allow this space between you and your ex. Understand that the NC is not about him, it is about you taking this time to work on yourself hit a reset button to find who you are outside of the relationship and outside of being a parent too. This article should help with your LNC when sharing children