Why Exes Stop Talking: Moving On Or Manipulation?

Even if we are fundamentally accepting of a breakup (and that’s a big if), being on the receiving end of distilled silence tends to exacerbate trauma and ferment insecurity.

Have they stopped caring? Have they met someone else or moved on entirely? Is it a wicked ego-driven game to starve me of my resolve? While the answers we seek are as complex as the strands of the breakup itself, there is an important distinction between genuine silence, aimed at healing and getting on with life, and a more sinister mind game aimed at coming out on top emotionally.

Which is it? And how do we tell?

Exploiting Emotional Supply And Demand

A crude form of manipulation revolves around our understanding that scarcity often catalyzes insecurity.

If we can’t get what we need transparently, or are unable to gather enough courage to face rejection or further pain, attempting to starve an ex of their sense of comfort can become an alluring prospect. A last-ditch effort at bringing them down to prop ourselves up.

However, it goes without saying that an abrupt and enduring silence is not always the result of one last roll of the dice. Sometimes the silence is merely the corollary of genuinely attempting to move on with life. How can we tell the difference?

As always the lines are blurred, but it won’t stop me from shelling out my opinion.

  • In the case of manipulation the silence is fragile. Should you cave into reaching out, a two-way dialogue is quickly established (even if abrasive and resentful).
  • In the case of moving on, communication feedback is limited (if you get anything back at all), abrupt and direct.
  • In the case of manipulation there is usually a cascade of other supporting behaviors that act as cries for attention (to make up for the lack of communication). Drastic changes in lifestyle, third-party involvement, and an increase in social media activity.
  • In the case of moving on, communication is usually level-headed, whereas manipulative silence betrays a definite leak of emotion (even if the emotion is expressed as anger — that too is a sign of caring deeply).

As always, over-analysis is the demon that healing must contend with, and silence isn’t always a weapon because often it is used as an attempt to move on, even if the attempt backfires and fails. Which leads to a situation where attempting to comfort ourselves (manipulation) and seeking clarity (going cold turkey) can clash.

However, in the main, I would say that the aforementioned indicators can serve as superficial rules of thumb.

The No Contact Rule

The prevalence of no contact as a post-breakup tool has also muddied our contemporary waters.

In theory I have nothing against no contact strictly as a healing tool. However, realistically, I would be lying if I didn’t say that for many it’s advertised as a get-them-back gimmick (because of the principle of supply and demand).

The result of this trend is that it makes telling the two poles of intent apart unnecessarily difficult. An ex who wishes to reconcile may project a display of indifference. This becomes especially tragic if both parties assume the no contact mantle, and instead of finding a mutual point to begin the process of reconciliation, communication withers away to long-term silence.

In the majority of my articles I do applaud the virtue of silence, but only if certain criteria have been fulfilled.

  • You have made your stance regarding the breakup clear and direct (for or against).
  • You have made sure that if your ex wishes to contact you it addresses your conditions (to protect against crumbs and disillusionment).
  • You have made sure that if you wish your ex to contact you, that they should feel comfortable doing so.

Once these steps have been taken, there really isn’t all that much to add, and no contact can serve as a powerful healing tool. Obviously, you can’t control the actions of your ex in the wake of stress, but by being transparent you promote direct communication. Lead by example, often it is sufficient to crack the clarity shell.

A History Of Insecurity

Another way to piece together the intent puzzle is by ignoring the present and looking at your ex’s past behavior. Often manipulative behavior is character defining rather than simply the by-product of grief.

If your ex has a history of manipulation, chances are that the breakup will have aggravated it, no matter what the underlying intent is:

  • A desire to “win” the breakup.
  • A desire to bring you down.
  • A desire to win you back.
  • A desire to appear strong in the face of third-party judgement.

The reasons to manipulate are limitless, as are the sources of insecurity that drive them. Happily for us, their emotional solidity is no longer our responsibility (even if it continues to be a concern).


Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

About the author

James Nelmondo

James "the Unknown" Nelmondo is a self-styled relationship enthusiast, former infant, part-time dumper and full-time dumpee.


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  • Hi
    I recently broke up with my live in bf 7/18. I packed all off his stuff up when he was out of town for work. I had been a needy insecure mess for months texting him when whenever he,was way for work. Accusing him of cheating, using me etc. The last straw that brought on the packing of things was that I texted him happy birthday and he never replied back, but I saw him “liking” his bday well wishers “happy bday” to him on fb. Several girls that I don’t know wished him happy bday. I’m not his friend on fb. , but I can see what’s ip. Needless to say I texted f you, you can’t even return text to me but u can respond back to these girls? No response. He came home while I was at work, saw his stuff packed and a nasty note and took off without his stuff. No response . I say him posting stuff on fb a few days later and texted him again ( I had already texted several times some mad some like when u coming home) I said I see you posting, cut the bs and tirture. Then I’M on fb something like need to have talk and he instantly delted his fb, blocked phone. I was extra heartbroke. I left a note for him to see when he came to pick his stuff up. Said I knew I hurt him but I was hurt too. Needed to work on my insecurity and stop drinking. That I didn’t want it to end and I loved him. He got his stuff left the note and key. Still no response since the orinal 7/13 when out of town. Should I give up. I have always had trust issue with him, my kids don’t like him ( my first bf since divorce 5 years ago, he said he might have to move for work also but was trying to get full time here. But he says he loves me but moving for work school

    • Hey there Mis,

      I think you should give up, not because the situation is necessarily hopeless, but because it’s clear that attempting to solicit a response out of him isn’t working. Perhaps he wishes to avoid a hostile environment and may attempt to tie loose ends / work through things once the waters have settled a little. Again, this is all a hypothetical, and he may never attempt to establish contact in a meaningful way.

      I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade. But it seems clear to me that the issues at stake here (I’m just going on what you’ve told me) are deeper than just re-establishing contact. There is a deep well of insecurity and resentment that, regardless of what he says and does in the near future, need addressing. And by addressing, I mean that if they aren’t partially accepted or digested, any further attempt at communication will be destructive and risk polarizing you even further.

      I don’t mean to sound judgmental or overly savvy (because I’m not), but it doesn’t seem as if attempting to communicate now is the best course of action anyway, not with all the resentment and insecurity being thrown around (on both sides). I hate to speak in cliches, but I really would give it some time and space now.

      Just my opinion!

  • Hi James

    Interested in your thoughts.

    My BF of 9months began to pull back around a month ago. Unfortunately, this made me very insecure and I think I leaned forward too much (initiating contact etc). He eventually told me he was having doubts about us long term and didn’t know what to do. I asked if he wanted to break up, he said he didn’t know. I told him we needed to have an honest chat about things and not to make any decisions about us until we had chatted.

    I tried a couple of times over a two week period to meet up with him, but trying to get him to see me was like trying to put a nail through jelly… He kept putting me off. By this time I was in a bit of a state and told him he was being unfair to me. He texted to say it was easier for him to be quiet at the moment and he was sorry. I reacted badly and texted him to say I would make it even easier for him and it was over. I have never done this before and this is not reflective at all of our relationship, so I feel pretty ashamed. He didn’t respond and I haven’t heard from him since (I haven’t contacted him). I felt backed into a corner.

    So my question is, what on earth do I do? He’s currently going through a divorce so I’m guessing this is stressing him out. I am inclined to leave it and let him come to me, but I feel in a bit of a stand off. We each have a lot of each other’s belongings, so we will be in touch at some point.

    As a guy it would be super helpful to hear your thoughts :) thanks so much in advance.

    • Hey Ally,

      Not to sound too pessimistic but it sounds like the options you really have are those you made use of, you cut a confusing and anxious situation into a clearer (if more painful one in the short-term) one. If he’s hellbent on creating/needing distance, then all you really have control over is your own sense of clarity — so I wouldn’t feel guilty about it. He made a decision (even if it wasn’t made openly and terminally) and in so doing forced you to make yours, and if you can’t count on doing something for the both of you, you’re only left with doing what’s right for yourself.

      As you say, you have each others’ belongings and so in a sense are almost guaranteed some form of contact, come what may. But there’s really no way of prying open the can of worms without inducing more distance from him IMO, so I really would leave it at that for now. I’m aware this advice isn’t the bees knees Ally, but I really can’t fathom of way of bridging a divide if it’s what he presently wants.

      p.s: I wouldn’t worry about having sent the wrong message with having cut it off, nobody goes from “please” to “I’m over it” in a week, and your actions are clearly those of someone who had to deal with pain somehow. If he cares enough about his actions, it won’t stop him from reaching out.

  • Hi James

    Thank you so much for getting back to me, that’s very kind. And thank you for confirming my thoughts – he’s asked for space so I need to give it. I feel very let down and disappointed by him so now is the time to work out what I want and need. I feel horrible for dumping him by text, I have never done that and it’s not what I ever envisaged doing to him. It’s awful but his response (or lack of) speaks volumes.

    Thanks again and take care. :)

  • And thank you for your “ps” – as you suspected, that’s what I’m most worried about. He has to know I’m hurting and was ‘forced’ into ending it. It’s not what I wanted but I felt like I had no choice.

  • Hi, 4 year relationship. Broke up and got back together every 4 months. Stupid fight both no contact for 3 months. Caught him viewing my online profile a bunch of times. Ignored it. Coincidently right around the same time he posted pics on FB cover page (we r not friends) of him and another girl having a good time. This about 1 1/2 month after fight/break up. He is definitely controlling and manipulative and sadly a high functioning alcoholic which I adressed last time we got back together but he denied. I know there is no future and I’m not getting back w him. But curiosity killed the cat after a month of resisting to check his FB. What r ur thoughts? TY

    • Hey Candy, thanks for stopping by!

      If he’s serially checking your profile and sporting a cover image (which is flagrantly public) of a potential new flirt, he’s either using her to get over you and/or trying to break your resolve so that you contact him and find out for yourself.

      Added to which, one and a half months are usually not long enough to move on in a significant way after a four year relationship, in my opinion this is all part and parcel of attempting to indirectly get your attention.

  • Thank you so much for your opinion! I agree with everything you said. As much as it hurts seeing those pictures and all of the thoughts swirling in my head I know it’s for the best. I have tried quite a few times to break free but he always came back. Lastly with his alcholic tendencies I put my foot down. Three months and new girl posting and I won’t cave. I pray everyday for my strength as one day at a time and this too shall pass. Again thank you so much! Huggs :-)