The “No Contact Rule” Explained

When a relationship with someone ends, we tend to get overwhelmed with emotions.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the “No Contact Rule” but don’t know exactly what it entails, or maybe it sounds a little too counterintuitive for how you feel right now, especially if you’re holding out hope that you could still get back together . . .

Well, I’m here to tell you that’s not the case, and in this week’s video, I distill the best I’ve learned about breakups and the No Contact Rule into everything you need to know on the topic.

P.S. Have a friend you think could benefit from today’s video? Be sure to share the link (and don’t forget to leave me a comment—I read them all!)

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The no contact rule after a breakup, let’s talk about it. In this video, I want to talk about what the no contact rule is, why it’s important, and what do you do if you’re doing no contact but the person who broke up with you reaches out to you during the no-contact period. Of any program I have ever created the idea of the no contact guiding principle after a breakup is probably the idea that elicits the most questions from people who have the program. There’s a particular program I created called Get Him Running Back To You, which Jameson and I still find to be a questionable name for the program. In fact, the program itself is one that I had to have a giant debate within my own mind and with my team about whether we were going to create in the first place because the idea of any kind of program that helps you win someone back just seemed icky.

The problem was of all the questions I get, a staggering number of them to do with how to get someone back after a breakup. What I realized was people are going to try and get someone back anyway. So if they’re going to do it, I want them to do it in the most healthy way. I want them to do it in a way that doesn’t do anything special to get someone back. In fact, I want it to be all about their growth so that even if that relationship doesn’t rekindle because, let’s face it, a lot of people break up for a reason, they can move on strong anyway. And I wanted everything in this program to be something that helped people move on strong no matter what happened with that person.

In this program I spoke of, I talk about a 21-day no contact period which is designed to be more of a principle in practice than a rule. What it’s really about is having 21 days of a true break from this person, which is a funny thing to say in a situation where someone has broken up with us, we would say you’ve been given your break. There’s a breakup. But we all know that in the wake of a breakup it’s rarely clean, it’s rarely black and white. Someone may still reach out to us, we may find ourselves reaching out to them. There are all manner of ways that we try and engage with each other. The 21-day no contact period is about detoxing from this situation for 21 days, giving 21 days of space. The hard thing about this idea of a no contact period after a breakup is that I’m well aware that if you are watching this from a place of crushing pain right now, it is the last thing you want to hear, and it is the last thing you want to do.

In the days and weeks after a breakup, we are a kind of, I would say we’re a living zombie but it’s worse than that. We’re this zombie that’s incapable of doing very much at all in our lives, we’re lucky if we can get out of bed, but is fully capable of feeling to the extreme. Now, why is the 21-day no contact period important? Well, firstly, so that we can get space so we can begin the healing process. It’s certainly not going to take 21 days, it’s likely to take significantly longer than that. But the space at least means that we aren’t consistently reactivating that wound every time we talk to someone. The second reason is so that we don’t do something impulsive that we’ll regret. In the immediate aftermath of a breakup, we are in a highly emotional, highly volatile state, and we’re liable to say and do things that we will later wish we hadn’t done.

Number three, when we do things like that, we might push someone away at the very time where deep down we would like them to be reconsidering the relationship. The more we lay all of our hurt, all of our panic, all of our anguish on somebody, all of our fears, the more likely we are to push them away not bring them closer. Number four, the no contact period leaves room for mystery. You may be having your own painful journey, but the space away from someone allows them to have to think about where you are, what you are doing, the manner in which you’re moving on. And when someone breaks up with you, they’re not entitled to know everything about what you’re feeling every day, about what your journey is. Your journey is no longer their journey, it’s a separate thing. And that mystery can actually be a good thing. 

Number five, it raises the stakes for the person who broke up with you. Now, what do I mean by this? A lot of the time in order to break up with a person, we, if we’re the person doing the breaking up, have to psych ourselves up for that moment. We may have some doubt, we may not be entirely sure whether it is the right decision. So what we have to do is get to a place of real certainty where we know, “Okay, this is the right thing. I need to do this, I need to do this, I need to do this,” and then we break up with someone. After a breakup has happened if the person we’ve broken up with stays in our lives, is calling us constantly, texting us constantly, answering our messages constantly, we’re not actually feeling the pain of that breakup. We’ve made the decision, but we don’t feel the stakes of having made that decision because there are no consequences right now to having made that decision.

And that actually starts to warp the effect of the breakup, or perhaps a more important word to use would be it dilutes the effect of the breakup. Someone in a sense gets to have it both ways. I’ve broken up with you, I’ve done this really difficult thing, but I don’t even feel the consequences of that, not the true consequences. And if I don’t feel the true consequences of that, then I’m not even getting a chance to evaluate truly whether this was the right thing or not because I haven’t really lost it. What we have to do if we’re on the receiving end of a breakup is go through this period of space of no contact so that the other person actually feels the magnitude of what they’ve done. They actually feel your absence, they actually understand viscerally that there is a person in my life I have lost. There is a relationship that is no longer there because of my decision.

When we because of our own fears, because of our own need to hang on and because thinking that hanging on is the best way to keep someone around, when we do this, we are removing the emotional fallout of the breakup from that person. And in doing so, we’re not actually giving them a clear picture of what their life is going to be like without us in it. It doesn’t hurt to send someone a message or a letter accepting their decision. In the Get Him Running Back To You program, I call this a goodbye letter. But the way I think about it today, it would be more apt to call it a I’m taking your decision seriously letter.

When you send this text, what you’re really saying to someone is I as you know don’t think this is the right thing. I care about you, I think that we’re awesome together. And I think that we would have an awesome future together. I’m prepared to work on the things that aren’t working right now, I’m prepared to do the things to make our relationship amazing. But for that, I need a teammate. And that means someone who’s willing to work on them with me, and you obviously are not because you’ve decided to end it. So while I think that this is the wrong thing, I have to respect that you’ve made this decision, and I intend to move on with my life, and I wish you the best.

If you think about it, in a breakup, one of the repellents is neediness, one of the repellents is desperation. And that’s a sad truth because that’s exactly what we feel in a breakup. We feel probably the neediest we’ve ever felt in our lives, we feel the most desperate we’ve ever felt in our lives. We’re like a junkie who just needs their fix. I can’t lose you, I’ll do anything to keep you. And it’s precisely that energy that has the potential to push someone away. I wish we lived in a world where saying to someone I’ll do anything, what can I do? I’ll do anything to keep you. I wish we lived in a world where that was an aphrodisiac, but it’s not. What it does is put an immense amount of emotional weight on someone at exactly the time where they have decided for whatever reason that they need to break up, break off.

So putting that amount of pressure on someone may have the effect of eliciting tremendous guilt. It may have the effect of eliciting an avalanche of sympathy. And that may even be something that makes them buckle and take you back for a moment. But it will only be for a moment, it will only be until their sympathy subsides and the original reasons they decided to do it reappear. Or it won’t make them buckle, it will just make them more resolute that they need to distance themselves from you because this is all too much. I can’t handle this emotional weight. So it pushes them away. Neediness and desperation are a repellent after a breakup. The opposite of those things, independence, strength, the knowledge that even though you are devastated you will be okay and you will find something or someone else, you will move on with your life. Those things are very compelling. 

And this kind of a message says to someone just in case you thought I was waiting around, that I’m going to now harbor a hope, just in case you thought I’m going to now put my life on hold until you’re ready, I am moving on. Not because I want to, that’s game playing. Not because I want to, I’ve been honest, I think this is the wrong thing, I think you and I are amazing together. I want to be with you, but my standard is that I’ll never be with someone who doesn’t feel the same way. I’ll never sit here waiting for someone who has decided that they don’t want to be the kind of teammate in my relationship with them as I want to be, so I’m moving on. It shows you take the decision seriously. And in doing so, you have raised the stakes. You have showed this person that there are now real consequences to what they’ve done.

What if they reach out to you during the no-contact period? We just mentioned that term standards. This is a time when you have to do the hardest thing in the world, which is maintaining your standards when it’s difficult to do so. The thing you want most in the world right now is to hear from the person that ended things because hearing from them feels like hope. So in that moment, there’s a snap to attention effect of they messaged me. And then we obsess, what do I text back, what should I say? And then we start investing. Not to mention, we’re just reopening that wound. If they text you some version of I’m so confused, I miss you, I keep thinking about you. If they message you any of these things, what’s about to happen is you’re going to get entangled in a dialogue.

Might last five messages, it might last an entire day. It might snowball into you two just texting each other constantly now over the next couple of weeks in the wake of this breakup all because in our emotional state, in this vulnerable position we’re in, we overvalue that little bit of communication they have given us. What we have to do is be much more discerning. We have to say what actually represents hope and what just represents weakness on their part. Think about it this way, the person that broke up with you shouldn’t be reaching out for any reason other than I’ve made a terrible mistake, and I want you back. And even then, there’s a whole other video we could make on what to do in that situation that may not involve immediately saying “okay.”

But if someone is sending you any less than I’ve made a mistake, can we talk, it’s a selfish text. Anything less than that text is just someone else’s way of soothing their pain. Breakups are hard for both parties. If you’re the one who broke up with someone, you’re still going to have doubts most likely. And even if you don’t have doubts, you may not have doubts but you may still miss them. You may still be in pain, you may still feel a sadness. And sometimes reaching out is driven by your own sadness of missing someone and sometimes the reaching out is driven by guilt. Neither one holds hope for you, neither one is a statement of intent, it’s just an expression of pain. And they’re making their pain your problem at a time when you’re going through the ultimate pain, the rejection of a breakup, the anguish of a breakup, the weight of this decision that was not your own, that you had no part in, that you now have to live with.

When someone is reaching out, it feels like hope. But 9 times out of 10, it is a selfish act. A selfish act that by the way should be a kind of turnoff. It should be something that repels you not something that you grab onto. And this by the way is where character is built. Character is not built in holding to a standard when it’s easy. It’s like being kind in life, it’s easy to be kind when it’s with someone you want something from. But character is being kind when someone can’t do something for you. Character is being kind when no one is watching, character is being kind when it’s difficult. Or it’s the same in a breakup. Character is built when we uphold our standard at a time when more than anything in the world we want to run to someone’s door and bang on it until they answer.

And the standard has to be that if this person is reaching out and giving you little bits of attention, essentially bread crumbing you post relationship, our standard has to be, “Hey, I appreciate you’re in a tough place, I appreciate you miss me. I appreciate that this is painful for you, but I need a break from you so that I can heal and move on. And these little messages are inappropriate given that you’ve made the decision for us not to be together.” What you are really saying to someone is, “Hey, look, this wasn’t my call, this was your call. You decided this, but you keep messaging me.” And if you keep messaging back, all you’re going to do is create a feeling of safety for that person that if the intention is but by messaging back we could rekindle something and it could go somewhere. The responding actually makes it less likely that that will happen because we’re creating safety for that person.

And safety makes people relax. Safety makes people stall and stay where it’s comfortable. Oh, this is comfortable right now, I know you’re still there, I know you’re in pain. And though I may not wish for you to be in pain, there is a safety in knowing that you’re there and in pain and I can reach out to you anytime I want. Because I know for as long as that’s true, you’re probably not going anywhere. And as long as I feel you’re not going anywhere, there’s no real motivation for me to decide anything. I’m just going to maintain a status quo right now. I’m not going to get back with you, I’m just going to keep doing this because you’re still there. I’m not saying that people think about this from some kind of, there’s no evil mastermind here trying to make all of these calculations, it’s unconscious.

There is an unconscious feeling of if I feel safe, I’m not moved to action in either direction. We cannot give that to someone during this time. You’ve made your decision, it is not my job to make you feel better about that decision. My job is to go and heal myself now, my job is to pick up on that forward momentum in my life. The exact kind of forward momentum that when you realize it’s happening for me might make you question whether you really do want to lose me after all. It’s also worth noting that while we may think that messaging someone back constantly or picking up the phone when they call will keep us top of mind for them. That may backfire because what it may allow them to do is actually heal themselves and get stronger all from a nice, soft launchpad.

There’s no steep healing curve for them, it’s just, oh, you’re still there, I’m going to move on and do all of the things that I need to do to build up my life and move on and meet other people and do all of those things. But you’re still there, so I’m still getting my fix from you. I’m still getting my safety from you while I’m building my life over here. Meanwhile, you’re maintaining your attachment to them while putting your life on hold in the hope that this contact is going to make them come back. It is a terrible bet to make.

This isn’t necessarily a literal no contact rule. I’ve already suggested reaching out a few days later to send that goodbye message or the I’m taking you seriously on this decision message. And I’m also saying that when this person does reach out, you can get back to them. So that’s not no contact. But what you are really doing there in your response is reinforcing that no contact is what has to happen right now, unless this person wants to come back with a different decision. But what we’re saying is you reached out to me, that’s not okay because you’re not reaching out with a different decision. You’re staying true to your decision, which is fine, great for you. But if you’re staying true to that decision, then I don’t want to hear from you. That’s beneath my standard. 

If I hear from you, it’s because something has changed. I don’t mean your feelings, I don’t mean something’s changed because you miss me a lot today. I don’t mean something’s changed because you are experiencing a lot of confusion this evening. I mean something has changed in your actual decision. If nothing has changed in your decision, then this is unfair and inappropriate for you to be reaching out to me right now. That’s what needs to be communicated. And that is the essence of the no contact period. What the no contact period is in essence is a time where you are maintaining the ultimate standard, the ultimate act of self-love in a time when every cell in your body is screaming to violate your standards because you want this person back more than anything in the world and you feel like you’ll do anything to make that happen. And that instinct is the dangerous one.

The no contact period is when the walls go up. And during that time, the only thing that gets through, the only thing that is worth your time as a conversation is a genuine expression of intent from your ex to make it work. I want to direct anyone who is going through this right now to a free guide I have called Move On Strong, it’s at MoveOnStrong.com. And it is a video that I did just for my members where I talked about how to heal in the wake of a breakup in a way that also serves the relationship if it is ever to come back together again.

I am huge on this message that nothing you do after a breakup that is intended to try and win someone back should be at odds with what you should do to move on from them if they never come back. In other words, the strategy for rekindling a relationship and the strategy for moving on with your life and being happy again without them are actually the same thing. Go to this video at MoveOnStrong.com, I’ll explain more about what this means. I’m sorry if you’re in pain right now, it’s the worst feeling ever, but we’re here together and the healing by the way starts now.

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18 Replies to “The “No Contact Rule” Explained”

  • Hello Matthew
    I decided to respond to your video .Every word you said echoed in my mind as I’m going through this very confusing situation of breakup-forgiveness-back together cycle for a while.
    I usually only read your mails or watch your videos but I have decided to reply to it as you have been able to explain exactly the kind of reasoning and thoughts going on in a man’s mind.
    The guy I have been with, (we both work in the education sector) frequently goes through his ( what I think his 40’s crisis) and during his ‘ crisis period’ or ‘conscious period’he says he wants the best for me and that we remain good friends instead of life partners. I’m usually much hurt by his words and try to understand his reasoning and try to persuade him that he’s the one I want.
    The situation has been going on for like 5 years now. And each time he breaks up with me, the next day, he sends a text asking how I am doing and how much he is in immense sadness. After some few texts exchange , I go back forgiving him.
    But nothing changes after all.
    And though I try to stick to no- contact rule. I find myself drawn to his texts or calls and can’t keep him away by fear of losing him. I have put him on a pedestal where I find it hard to let him go.
    Help me Matthew.

  • Hi Matthew. I’m a therapist and definitely advocate the no contact rule for clients going through a break up. I’m so happy you made this video — I’ll use it as a resource for clients when they need a pep talk!

    Another reason breakups are so hard is that we’ve become *attached* to a person, not only emotionally but biologically! (Sex is a very powerful attachment building tool that is unique to romantic relationships.) That ripping feeling in your heart and gut after a break up is literally the attachment bond breaking. Instinctually we try to soothe that gut wrenching, heart searing pain by reengaging and repairing the bond. This is where our human mind (and conviction to uphold our standards) needs to step up and remind our animal brain that if we want to heal we need to stay strong within ourselves, practice self-love, and avoid reaching out to our ex to repair the bond before we’re fully healed. Having the loving support of other people we are attached to — family, friends, a therapist or coach — and getting the physical comfort of a hug or some quality time can be so essential to helping heal the severing of a romantic relationship attachment bond.

    Thank you for the work that you do to help people navigate relationships!

  • Another excellent video Matthew. You’re a legend.
    My situation is that I have had to walk away from a toxic relationship and it’s killing me too walk away. He is now suicidal and hasn’t left me alone properly for 6 Months. I’m grieving too and it was both of us that didn’t get on ….! But I had to be strong and say NO. It’s just as hard for the one who finally says no and sticks to it.
    Now he has finally left me alone after he’s begged me to go back 2/3 times and we just argued…. And now I’m hurting so much yet he’s acting like the victim. ! … awful for everyone sometimes not just the one who says it’s over.

  • Hi Matthew. Thanks for ur video. In my case it was me who decided to walk away and have no contact but honestly I am wishing him to call for coming back. I would like to understand how he might be feeling.

  • Hey
    I am now in this no contact period and trying to focus on self love ..the thing is this before the no contact I did some mistakes , I sent him Celine Dion’s song “look back”..classic hah :) . Exchanging songs about different situations was one of our things !! My email response to his breaking up email also was not that reasonable or understanding , it wasn’t angry either ..it was short and kinda proud .. Do you think the same rules apply or have I just pushed him away forever

  • I am going to take your guidance through MY next chapter.
    I’ve been the one waiting for so long, and being my sons father the “saftey” person.
    I want nothing more for us to rekindle and nurture our relationship but I can’t keep waiting, I need to take care of myself and utilizing the no contact will be hard since we share a child together but I am willing to set up strong boundaries.

  • Hey Matthew, well, first of all always love seeing your new posts & videos, and second of all I have a very extravaganza situation in my life. Honestly, I don’t know what to do. I fucking love her, but i keep SCREWING IT UP every single day with her. Excuse me for my language. She loves me too, I know that much, but the problem is I honestly don’t have the guts to meet her. I cannot admit to her to what have I done. And still when I kiss kiss her I feel more than I could ever imagine. My heart just stops for a while & the whole world with it.
    She’s the most precious thing in my life. And yes I’m married. And yes I cheat. And yes I really did hurt her feelings & yes… lawyers are involved, but still, let me stop you right there, I don’t act like her previous ex does. He “loves” her, but fucked her half-sister, he “loves” her, but explains that 2 k salary after all of this should be enough & basically like in the outlines of “Why aren’t you just willing to die?”
    He secretly has the money, loads of money & yet she’s doing the biggest pro bono -case in her life so far & nada concrete, in her opinion. A lot of people screwed her over, A lot. There’s 4 Meet Google Events that explain all of this. & I honestly I know I screwed up BIG TIME, but I want to make it up to her. I love her, please help me, Matthew, I really do care for her, I really do.
    Thank you in advance, Matthew, my heart just flushed, but I trust you.

    With best regards,
    J.

  • This was a great video! This is definitely something I am going through currently. However I did the breaking up bc I found my ex emotionally cheating on me. Does he still deserve a goodbye letter?

  • Hi Matthew
    Im looking for advice on how to break up kindly with an emotional immature man with abandonment issues.

  • He broke with me and I have been doing the no contact rule for 15 days … am I still on time to send him the goodbye email ?? although at the end of the 3 hours broke up videocall I told him that I did not agree with his decision but that I respected it and before we hung up I told him that I loved him very much and that I thanked him for everything I had lived by his side.
    Should i send the goodbye email letter ? ‘Cause I feel like I should have said more… or i continue with the no contact time?

  • This could a 20 page text so I will stick to the facts. I ended it with a narcissist however yes he was the love of my life, reasons I ended it he cheated, lied, gaslighting, ghosting, blocking, would bait me into arguments then I defend myself he would flip the script back on me and ghost me, he belittled me, bashed me, degrade me but as crazy as it sounds we do not choose who we fall in love with, I was always there for him, helped him, drove him all over, cooked, cleaned, I did not cheat or lie no reason I had nothing to hide, it was all one sided I gave he took, when he would block me after he baited me into a argument I would go into over drive and blow up his phone because I loved him did not want to lose him, I am not perfect by any mean but I was good to him, I am going no contact have been but there is a atv that I financed in my name he is making payments that is the connection but will not pay is off as agreed he is dragging out payments, he already gave another woman a ring after only a month of us being broke up, if things did work out and he did contact me how should I go about breaking my no contact, I do still love him but I know my worth and my value, and I have self love that is why I ended it with him. As my pastor said if you can see worth and value in other people and love them you already have those things because you can’t give from a empty bucket. He did not value me or see my worth or respect me those are the reasons I left not because I did not love him, I seen the good in him he just was not good in how he treated me, so if he contacts me how should I handle no contact or if I did want to test the waters if the opportunity presents it self how should I go about that to see that he has made any changes of value.

  • Hello Mr. Hussey,

    I have been broken up for 6 months. We didn’t really have a large amount of time not contacting each other. We are both aware of our red flags and how things aren’t always acceptable behaviour. I recently shared information that I had withheld which he now feels that I was never truly open with him and that I am sociopathic. (Very inaccurate, he knows me personally and intimately more than any other person). He says that’s the nail in the coffin we are broken up for good and is relieved we don’t have to be partners again. I thought this was all very odd for response. I am not regretful for keeping the information I had for the length of time that I did, but I want to make amends while I do not understand his perspective I want to show respect. I am not sure what to do with my other feelings of worrry/concern/love for him as he seems to be struggling the past while with depression.

    I hope to hear back
    Have a good day,
    Blessings & Well wishes,
    A M C S

  • Hi Matthew, help! What happens if you’ve sent the goodbye message and this person has not contacted you for almost 3 weeks since but he views all your social media stories? Should I restrict him so he doesn’t see them? What about his friends who also follow me?

  • Matthew! You helped me through my breakup round 1 a year ago and I decided to revisit you because things got super confusing and “grey” recently… thank you for your content. Love your insights and wisdom…

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