While some exes do not need time and space apart after the break-up, some exes need time and space to emotionally regulate, reflect, heal, work on themselves, etc. How you take that time and space after a break-up is the difference between going no contact and a cool off period after a break-up.
What is a cool off period after the break-up?
A cool off period after the breakup answers the question, “What would someone with a secure attachment style do if they wanted their ex back, but needed space and time after the break-up?”
The common way most people take time and space after the break-up is to go no contact. I have written extensively how no contact affects different attachment styles and why no contact if you want your ex back may actually hurt rather than increase the odds of getting back together.
A cool off period after the breakup is different from no contact because it’s a mutually agreed time for both people to take a step back from contact and self-care, process the breakup, do a relationship autopsy, and gain perspective. The great thing about the cool off period is that:
1) It’s about you and not about making your ex miss you or regret the breakup. Trying to make someone miss you not only shows desperation but also massive insecurity about your worth and desirability.
2) It does not damage the current connection you have with your ex.
3) You’ll feel good about being able to communicate your need in a safely and effectively.
4) You are more likely to be respected and supported by your ex during and after the cool off period.
Without question, a cool off after a break-up is a safe, effective and emotionally healthier way to deal with wanting time and space after a break-up than no contact, especially if you want your ex back, and I’ll explain why and how.
1. Forced rule vs an organic response
No contact is a reaction to a break-up or situation you don’t like or find upsetting. It’s not an organic response because making sure you follow the strict rules of no contact is more important than listening to your own feelings and needs. During the no contact period, someone doing no contact tries as much as possible not to break the no contact rule and ignores any attempts their ex makes to reach out. The main concern is “respecting” the no contact period and making sure that their ex does not “distract” them from ‘no contact”. If your ex contacts you and you respond, it is a violation of the ‘no contact rule”. For many people it becomes no longer about the break-up, but about the no contact rule.
A cool off period is more powerful than no contact because it’s an organic response to an overload on your emotional system and ability to deal with the situation in a healthy and constructive way. You’re responding to what you need to feel safe and choosing your words and actions based on what you need at the time and for how long you need it instead of following some made-up rule with scientific empirical data or peer-reviewed findings to back it.
The goal of the ‘cool off’ period is not to see how long you can go without contacting your ex or how long it’ll take your ex to contact you. The goal of a cool off period is to process your emotions so you can try to resolve the issue as soon as possible. There is no specified time period or rule for “cool off” period; the amount of time and how you go about it is driven by what you need at the time. If you need more time, you can communicate that you need more time.
2. Indifference vs empathy
The cool off period shows and communicates a level of empathy that does not exist in people doing no contact. Taking into consideration your ex’s feelings and needs even when you’re hurting yourself shows your ex how you’d want them to treat you and act towards you if the tables were turned. You’d want them to let you know:
- How much time and space you will need away from them
- What the boundaries during this time are (is there going to be contact and what kind)
- How you’ll re-engage (who reaches out and where do you go from there)
This is different from no contact where you don’t even have to communicate that you’re going no contact just ignore them and let them figure it out for themselves, and keep ignoring them until they feel irrelevant and insignificant. This is apparently is how you treat the person you say you love and want back. But if they did the same to you… (I won’t even go there!)
3. Avoidance vs connection
Someone doing ‘no contact’ is mostly concerned about “protecting themselves” and avoiding feeling the pain of a break-up and chooses avoidance coping to achieve that.
Elizabeth Scott describes avoidance coping—also known as avoidant coping, avoidance behaviors, and escape coping as a maladaptive form of coping in which a person changes their behaviour to avoid thinking about, feeling, or doing difficult things.
There are times and circumstances when it is necessary to avoid dealing directly with feelings and emotions but only as a short-term response to the problem. When used as a solution to a problem avoidant coping strategies not only affect a relationship, they also affects your self-confidence in a major way. Most people after ‘no contact’ find themselves feeling even more anxious about contacting their ex. “What do I say?”. ‘Should I reach by text, write a letter or send a short video message?”
The cool off period protects the relationship or connection you have/had. You are not necessarily dealing with the problem but a cool off period helps you reframe how you approach the problem differently. You understand that any actions you take will affect the current connection and/or future attempts to re-establish or strengthen connection, and take steps to preserve your connection.
It’s this ability to look beyond current feelings and self-preservation and focus on what’s important long term and for the future that separates individuals with an insecure attachment style from securely attached individuals.
I am not saying don’t take measures to protect yourself; doing so is irresponsible and reckless. I am saying there are better ways to “protect yourself” that also protect your connection or relationship. As they say, don’t burn the bridge you might one day need to cross back on the other side.
4. Triggering an ex vs. making an ex feel safe
The person doing ‘no contact’ is banking on ‘no contact’ triggering their ex’s attachment anxiety, and making an ex who has an anxious attachment style and/or fearful avoidant ex leaning anxious extremely distressed, panicked and even depressed.
The cool off period is better than no contact because it’s about you. You are not trying to cause your ex anxiety, distress or anguish. Quite the opposite, you make sure that your ex knows that the “cool off” period does not mean you are abandoning them or punishing them for the break-up. You need to briefly step away from the situation so you can deal with your feelings and emotions, so you can engage and communicate more constructively. If at any time your ex needs to reach out, you will be available and responsive to reassure them and make them feel safe and secure.
4. Concerning Vs. Reassuring
If you’re trying to get back with an avoidant ex, cutting off contact and taking weeks to months to “get your emotions together” can be concerning (and should be) for an avoidant ex who is convinced that your inability to control your emotions contributed to the break-up, and if you need to cut off all contact for weeks and months just to manage your emotions, your inability to manage your emotions will still be a problem if you get back together.
But taking time to short period of time to self-care without making ‘your emotions” an issue is reassuring to an avoidant because it communicates that you know the importance of managing your emotions and have the ability to bounce back without turning the experience into a theatrical production about your emotions and how hurt you are.
The time and space apart after the break-up feels safe for both of you
The cool off approach to taking time and space after a break-up is better than going no contact if you’re working on becoming more secure because it allows you to learn how to provide safety and security to your ex while being safe and secure yourself. Instead of trying to make your ex feel uncertain and unsure and even lose trust and respect for you, you make the time and space apart feel safe for both of you.
To make the cool off period feel safe and not seem like you’re asking for no contact or having a closure texting, phone or in-person conversation, its very important to be very clear about:
1) How long the “cool off” period” is going to be
In the case that the two of you cannot come to an agreement on how long the “cool off period” after a break-up is going to be, my suggestion is 3 -10 days at most. This is a reasonable time before you check-in on each other. Keep in mind that a check-in after a break-up is not to try to get back your ex; a check-in after a break-up is to touch base and see how the other is doing, and show you still care about them.
2) How you will treat and act towards each other
A cool off period is about you needing a few hours or days to self-regulate, it’s therefore important that your ex knows that nothing is changing between the two of you. If they need to reach out to you, you will not ignore them and if you run into them, you will not treat them like somebody you used to know and you hope they treat you and act towards you with the same courtesy.
3) How you re-engage (who reaches out and where do you go from there)
The goal of the cool off period is for both of you to feel confident that you will be able to fully re-engage after the cool off period, and communicate how you will re-engage. This will make both of you feel good the time and space away from each other is good for both of you and any future relationship.
If these things are not clearly communicated, there is a chance an ex will take it as you going no contact or saying goodbye and asking for closure and react accordingly.
What a conversation about needing time to cool off isn’t about
A request for a cool period doesn’t include a conversation about what you wanted and needed and did not get (e.g. getting back together) or even needing time and space to heal and work on yourself. Depending on how much time you’re saying you need, this may sound more like no contact than a request for a cool off period especially if you’re dealing with an ex with an anxious attachment or fearful avoidant leaning anxious. If it’s not clear to them that this is not “no contact”, they may react like you are asking for no contact or even closure.
A request for a cool off period also doesn’t include talking about memories in a sort of “thank you for the memories we shared” way. This is more of a closure conversation than a request for a cool off period. You are not ending anything so don’t make it sound like this may be the last time you speak to each other. If the thought of not being plugged into your ex for a few days makes you so emotional that it feels like a goodbye, then you really need to work on your anxious attachment ASAP. You’re likely more co-dependent than you realize or are willing to admit to yourself.