Why People Crave Physical Contact With Exes — Even When They're Bad News

We desire a sense of connection, more so when hurting from a break up.

Ex couple craving connection with each other mimagephotography, Mikhail Nilov, photology2000, Sergey201982, Dean Drobot | Canva 

Jennifer came in late for her appointment, looking like she had little sleep. She stumbled over to the coffee pot, poured a cup adding lots of cream and sugar and then sat down heavily at her desk. The first thing I heard was a deep sigh.

"Bad night?" I asked quietly.

She couldn’t even speak and just nodded "yes".

"Want to talk about it?" I asked.

She came into my office and closed the door. "I stayed at Mike’s house last night," she said, looking ashamed.


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Why people crave physical contact with exes — even when they're toxic

Mike is Jennifer’s ex-husband. Their relationship ended when the police had to be called to her home after he hit her hard enough to break her nose.


"How did you end up at Mike’s house?" I asked.

"He asked me to come over to go over financial stuff. First, I said "no" and said we could go over stuff on the phone. He pushed and so I said we could meet at a coffee shop and he said that there wasn’t enough privacy. After arguing for almost 10 minutes, I just gave in," she said.

"How did you end up spending the night?" I asked.

Jennifer blushed crimson and said, "I am really not sure. We were sitting close together, and the next thing I knew were we kissing."

I hear this story all the time. People come in feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and angry at themselves for being intimate with their exes. Often, renewed physical contact with their exes causes lots of confusion and emotional turmoil.


Sometimes it causes ongoing problems. Other times it leads to a short-term reunion. But I'd estimate that 90 percent of the time, the couple breaks up again with more animosity than the first time.

People seem to know these reunions are doomed, but, somehow, when I talk with people, they often talk about craving physical contact with their exes.

Many talk about being lonely but not wanting to get to know a new person. Some talk about simply craving physical touch and say physicality wasn’t an issue in their relationship.

Here are six reasons it's perfectly natural to crave contact with your ex:

1. You have a desire for deep connection with someone.

This is the main reason for many. Though for some, it is a desire for simple physical touch. Touch is essential to our well-being and physical contact increases overall life satisfaction and happiness.


We release small amounts of oxytocin, which is the bonding/love hormone, when we touch someone. Touch is the first sense to develop and one of the primary ways a baby learns they are loved and safe.

2. You desire closure.

This happens for a lot of people when their relationships were ‘complicated’ and ended in a storm of confusion. The desire for closure is the need for certainty rather than ambiguity at the end of a relationship.

For some, physicality can bring a sense of closure. For others, it simply confuses things further. Closure is often impossible to gain because relationships end for a variety of different reasons, and the people involved don’t always agree why the relationship ended.

3. A way to have soften the harshness of a breakup.

This is particularly true in cases of a long relationship ending. We often want a slower, more gentle separation to ease us into the change. It feels too strange to have someone who has been part of our lives for years suddenly disappear and cease all contact.


4. You're simply lonely.

Exes feel familiar and safe and creating a new relationship takes time. It takes time for someone to get to know you — emotionally and physically. Often, it feels easier to simply go back to your old familiar people. It takes less effort.

Sharing close physical time with your ex may assuage our loneliness for a short period time. However, in the long run, it delays the inevitable. Eventually, we have to move on and face being on our own, even if only for a short time.

When we are craving physical contact with an ex, we could be emotionally vulnerable, angry, or feeling lower self-esteem. Our ex can provide temporary relief. Occasionally this can bring closure but, usually, it brings more pain and makes it harder to move on.

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5. You have a biochemical reaction to your ex.

Here comes oxytocin again. This bonding hormone accompanies shared physicality and women produce more oxytocin than men. So, they are more susceptible as a result.

6. Because the relationship is over, you fool yourself into believing it's stable.

After all, the story has already been written and we know the ending. We know the ups, the downs, the plot twists so it seems like we can predict everything about the present as well.

We can’t. If it feels good, people often feel a need to re-write the past and start to believe that the relationship was better than it was or that they have made a mistake by ending the relationship.


While we all do make mistakes, we tend to err on the side of staying too long rather than leaving too soon.

Is it ever healthy to maintain physical contact with your ex?

If you don’t look clearly at what you are both doing, it certainly isn’t. You need to be clear on your motives and explicitly state any expectations. If you aren’t careful, you can drift back into a relationship that didn’t suit you in the first place.

If you are still tied up in your relationship with your ex, you are not properly available for new relationships. In fact, the only time it is really healthy to renew physicality with your ex is if you are both emotionally stable, over the breakup, and you find you are still interested in each other.

If you can wait this long, and you are still into each other, then be clear about what you are doing and what you want and go for it.


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Dr. Lori Beth Bisbey is a psychologist and intimacy coach who helps individuals, couples, and polyamorous groups create their ideal relationships.