Handle Yourself When Running into Your Ex

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Running into your ex can be an emotionally taxing experience that throw you off your game. When you know in advance you’ll be in the same place, you can prepare yourself and manage your feelings. When it is unexpected, regardless of the location, such encounters can stir up a range of overwhelming feelings and really upset your equilibrium.

Typically, the spectrum of feelings runs from shock to nostalgia, to insecurity, to scrutiny, and eventually discomfort or even competition. However, you can avoid discomfort and distress and handle yourself with grace and dignity if you keep a few things in mind.

Considering every Divorce is unique, and every couple has a different background and story, it’s important to be aware that every outcome may bring on different emotions. There are practical steps you can take to prepare for unexpectedly running into your ex, as well as what to do afterwards with all the unexpected feelings you might feel are difficult to manage.

At the encounter of running into your ex

Try to Appear calm and composed

First and foremost, try to maintain your composure. It’s natural to feel anxious, but acting on those feelings may escalate the situation unnecessarily. Because of the strong feelings you have towards this person you want to appear unphased.

Breathe deeply (breathwork is like water…its helps with everything!) and remind yourself that you control your emotions. Focus on the present moment rather than dwelling on past issues or worrying about future interactions. Stay focused on the present by reminding yourself that you’re in control of how you react and behave.

Assess the Situation

Assess the context of the encounter. Are you in a public place? Is there an opportunity for a brief exchange or should you simply acknowledge each other and move on? Is he with someone? Understanding the setting can help you decide on the appropriate course of action. If you are unsure what is appropriate, always err on the side of civility, because it won’t haunt you in the long run.

Don’t React impulsively or assume you know what your ex-partner is thinking. Take a moment to collect yourself before reacting. Responding impulsively can escalate tensions or lead to regrettable actions or words. Don’t jump to conclusions or assume you know what your ex-spouse is thinking or feeling. Approach the interaction with an open mind and without preconceived notions.

Be Civil and Respectful

Regardless of your history with your ex-spouse, your new normal should always be to strive for civility and respect. Extend a polite greeting if the situation allows for it, while keeping interactions brief and courteous. Never bring up that one pestering thing you have been annoyed about- delving into personal matters or rehashing past grievances, especially in public settings, as this is setting both of you up to relive past triggers, and possibly misbehave.

Be open to the possibility that things may not go exactly as planned. Stay flexible and adaptable and be prepared to adjust your approach as needed, as you don’t want to regret your behavior later. Visualize the encounter going smoothly and peacefully. This can help alleviate anxiety and increase your confidence in the moment and for future encounters.


Juli Walton, Divorce Therapist, North Shore Reach


Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries should have been part of the new way you communicate after Divorce, and should be expected now with your ex, however, in an unexpected encounter you can often have difficulty keeping those boundaries in place. This may be when you need them most! Feeling uncomfortable or vulnerable during the encounter is just a reminder that you need to put those walls back up, to protect yourself and your emotional well-being.

If you are caught off guard and can’t get that control back, you can politely excuse yourself from the conversation or politely decline invitations for further interaction. Remember, prioritizing your emotional well-being is essential. Plan an exit strategy as it provides a sense of security.  Think about a graceful way to handle the encounter if it becomes too overwhelming or uncomfortable.

After the encounter of running into your ex

Focus on Yourself

After the encounter, take some time to check in with yourself. Reflect on your emotions and any feelings that may have been stirred up.  Try to process what happened and why you are feeling this way.

Engage in self-care activities that help you feel grounded and centered and remember you can never get too much validation. If you need to rehash the event, reach out to a friend, a family member, or your therapist. Practice self-compassion. Be kind to yourself throughout the process. Give yourself permission to feel whatever emotions arise and remember that it’s okay to prioritize your own well-being.

Move Forward

Ultimately, encountering your ex-spouse unexpectedly can serve as an opportunity for personal growth and healing. Use the experience as a reminder of how far you’ve come since the dissolution of your relationship and focus on how you are already moving forward with your life. Embrace new opportunities, nurture meaningful connections, and continue to prioritize your own happiness and well-being. If the encounter went well, don’t second guess yourself, instead accept that you are in a place now where you are ready to behave okay around each other.

Respect your ex-spouse’s boundaries and personal space, as you each have separate lives now and don’t have access to the intimate details and controls you had while you were married. You would not want them to assume or impose themselves in your personal life, and that rule applies to both of you.  Following them or attempting to prolong the encounter against their wishes can be seen as intrusive or harassing.

Avoid making comparisons between your current life and theirs or flaunting any perceived success or happiness. Keeping the conversation humble and focused on mutual respect leaves space and distance to stay out of each other’s inner world.

After the encounter, try not to overanalyze every word or action. Dwelling on the encounter excessively can lead to unnecessary stress and anxiety. Instead, focus on moving forward positively. Keep in mind you have survived the worst of the process and even though being in the same place as your ex-spouse can activate emotions, you are much stronger and more independent than during the Divorce.

Juli Walton
Juli Walton, LCPC, Therapist, Certified Divorce Mediator


Juli Walton is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) committed to supporting individuals, couples, and families in navigating diverse, complex issues. She has extensive experience working with adolescents and adults who struggle with anxiety, depression, trauma, abuse, family conflicts, and transitional life events related to professional challenges, grief, loss, unexpected stressors, and more.

While her specialties are multi-faceted, she is a trained Divorce Therapist and certified Divorce Mediator, credentials for which she earned from Northwestern University, with significant experience supporting clients through the separation and divorce processes. Her related expertise includes mediation, co-parenting, dysfunctional family patterns, and discernment counseling.

Juli believes that, above all else, the work starts with building a safe and non-judgmental relationship, where clients feel empowered to realize their potential. Through her empathetic nature, she provides a supportive space where clients can grow, change, and heal. Juli is intentional in her goal of helping clients create a life that makes them happy.

Juli sees individuals, couples, and families, and aims to help people dealing with divorce. Her treatment specialities include: separation, divorce, post-divorce, discernment counseling, anxiety, depression, grief and loss, trauma, abuse, family conflict, life transitions, mediation and co-parenting. Learn more and/or schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation here.

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