Today we are going to talk about what to do if you think your ex is keeping you in relationship limbo.
We'll define exactly what it is, why exes do it, if they still care about you and how you should handle yourself if you end up in a limbo period after your breakup.
In other words, we're going to come at this problem from every way imaginable.
First things first, let's define what relationship limbo is in breakups.
What Exactly Is Breakup Limbo?
Breakup limbo is a situation where your ex says or does something that makes you believe that you are guaranteed to get back together in the future, but you aren't together right now.
It basically entails giving you small specks of hope so you stay emotionally attached and available for your ex in case they need a fallback option. For some, these type of mixed signals can be devastating.
There's actually a really famous scene in the tv show “How I met your mother” that deals with this concept, though they use something slightly different.
It's a situation where the main character is really in love with a girl and she's always putting him on the hook – telling him “I'm really into you but I just can't be with you right now.”
Notice how that “right now” isn't specific to when it ends?
It's because they don't really have a concrete plan of getting together. The same goes for your ex – they will say or do anything to make you believe that you can't be together “right now”, but you will definitely be together in the future.
I hate to spoil it for you but that perfect future where you're together again almost never comes.
And why would it?
Your ex knows they can get away with keeping you on the hook for their needs so why turn it into a full-time relationship.
Your ex might even directly say “We can't be together right now but can be in the future” when putting you in relationship limbo.
Here are some other examples of what they might say that's the same thing:
“I just want to date before WE settle down. Just in case.”
This one is especially interesting because your ex is clearly implying that you're special and might be “The one”, but they need to explore more just to be sure. Sounds like you're a backup option that they're keeping in limbo in case the grass is not greener on the other side.
“I think you're my best friend and you always will be but I'm not ready to settle down yet. Maybe we will in a few years.”
The “best friend zone” is almost like the next level of the friend zone, mainly because best friends usually give a lot more emotional support than other friends.
By calling you their best friend, your ex can tap into all the emotional comfort you give them without the commitment of being in a relationship.
Now obviously being in a relationship limbo sucks and you don't feel good when it happens to you.
You feel bad for not being their number one choice, but you hold onto just enough hope that you don't get yourself out of this phase. You can go through a lot of complicated emotions in a breakup limbo so we'll get to how you can handle that in a bit.
First, let's look into the psychology behind exes who do this.
Why Are Exes Putting You In Relationship Limbo?
Is it because they enjoy seeing you cry or make you feel bad?
Actually, I would argue it's the exact opposite.
I liken this to someone who gets really nervous about a confrontation and as a result they end up conceding things to the other party to avoid an unpleasant confrontation.
In this case, it could also be the result of a hero complex – your ex already knows they're going to break your heart but instead of breaking it all the way, they break it just enough to leave you with some hope.
Then they might even break apart bit by bit until they're ready to fully leave you or come back to you if you're still waiting in their relationship limbo.
Now, are they doing this in a malicious manner?
Well in my experience, they're not. They're just unaware or not very good at dealing with conflict.
What To Do If You Find Yourself In Breakup Limbo
We've talked about what a relationship or breakup limbo is, how people cover it up, and why they do it, but more importantly, let's talk about what you should do if you find yourself in this situation.
Honestly, there isn't much actionable advice about this if you look it up.
It's mostly cliched advice like “work on yourself”.
Don't get me wrong I have plenty of content along those lines because I think it works in most situations, but today I want to share some actionable advice that you can actually implement in a breakup limbo.
Active strategies Vs. Reactive Strategies
There are two main groups of strategies you could take in the relationship limbo – active and reactive strategies.
Reactive strategy: Any strategy where you don't have any agency yourself. You're essentially letting your ex make the moves while you react to their actions and decisions. Examples of reactive strategies include:
- Waiting for your ex to call or respond
- Stalking their Facebook profiles or Instagram profiles
These are not things that you're actively doing to improve your situations, they're things that you are reacting to.
Sitting around for your ex to contact you or hovering around their social media to catch glimpses of their life will not help you get them back or crawl your way out of the breakup limbo. If anything, such reactive strategies might drive you further into limbo if your ex considers you to be too clingy.
Instead, you need to focus on active strategies.
Active strategy: Anything you can do that gives you some sense of control and ownership over your situation. Examples include:
- Following a no contact rule
- Reaching out to your ex first
Both of these examples put you in the driver's seat of the breakup you get to decide when you ignore your ex and for how long.
When you're ready to talk to your ex again, you reach out to them on your own terms.
The Availability Issue
It's fairly simple to remember that active strategies are always going to work better than reactive strategies, especially in scenarios like this where you're stuck in limbo.
However, there's another aspect of limbo that a lot of experts miss – the issue of limbo is essentially an availability one.
I know I said that the reason your ex might keep you in limbo is
to avoid confrontation and serve their own hero complex but there's
another really obvious reason too: they do it because they can.
It's really that simple. If your ex knows you will always be there for them, emotionally and physically, they will feel very comfortable keeping you in limbo.
After all, you're a safe bet because you have made yourself too available.
Now a couple of weeks ago I talked about the science and art of playing hard to get and why it works so well.
Limbo is the exact opposite of that.
If playing hard to get is staying aloof and keeping busy in your own world, the breakup limbo is being too available to your ex.
Here is your ex's thought process about your availability during the breakup limbo:
What they say: “I want to date other people and see what's out there so I can make my way back to you.”
What they mean: “I know that you're pathetic enough to wait around for me so I know that I can get away with taking advantage of you. I can go and date as many people as I want, and you'll still be there when I come back”.
They are disrespecting you on this level so how do you tackle it.
Do you disrespect them back? No. You just prove to them that you're not as available as they think you are.
Human relationships are quite simple when you boil them down – it's all a big competition where you are always trying to find the person who you think best meets your needs but also minimizes the costs.
That's why a lot of men are not attracted to super anxious women.
They don't want to deal with the emotional burden of being with someone who constantly berates them for not responding on time or keeps texting them while they're at work. All this obsessive anxious behavior makes your ex think you're emotionally unstable and high maintenance.
They are looking for a bit more control rather than this chaos.
Being able to keep you in break up limbo is the biggest way for your ex to control you after a breakup because you have made yourself too available. That's why you need to do the exact opposite and take back some control and challenge their perception of your availability.
Do whatever you have to do to make them see that you are not as available as they thought you were.
You could take up a new hobby, go traveling with friends, spend more time at work, etc. – the less time you spend as a doormat for your ex, the more they will respect you and change their perception of you.
They will look at you and see they had you pegged wrong and they clearly made a mistake. If you play your cards right and show your ex you're not available for them they may even panic and ask for you back for fear of losing you forever!
A relationship or breakup limbo is when your ex leads you on by saying they don't want to be with you right now but will get back to you in the future.
Your ex might do this to avoid confrontation and serve their own hero complex by softening the blow of the breakup.
You need to adopt active strategies like the no contact rule to show your ex who's in control and that you're not available for them whenever they need you.