A Digital Guide to Breaking Up: How to Reclaim Your Online Accounts After a Relationship Ends

Social media and streaming accounts can serve up painful reminders of relationships that have ended. Here’s how to ease the burden.

Vintage PC warning pop-up message that says: Warning: Heartbreak ahead. GIF: Lacey Browne/Consumer Reports, iStock

Ending a romantic relationship can be painful on its own, but today’s always-connected lifestyles can make it particularly difficult to move on. Social media algorithms may resurface old photos of an ex-partner for years after a breakup, for instance, and even video streaming services can play a hurtful role by making recommendations attuned to a former partner’s tastes. 

Those reminders can deepen feelings of loss, says psychologist Lilli Friedland, an expert in couple relationships who has a practice in Beverly Hills, Calif. “It is hard to go through breakups. It’s emotionally hard. It also triggers other possible losses that we’ve had or other mistakes we think we’ve had in romantic relationships,” she says.

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Friedland says there’s no quick and easy fix to emotionally recovering from a breakup. However, there is a lot you can do to cut back on or eliminate unwanted reminders of a relationship. You can hide or delete photographs that pop up in your photo albums, change social media settings to keep your ex-partner’s posts out of your feed, and adjust your streaming preferences.

While you’re at it, it’s important to figure out all the accounts you may have shared with a former partner, so you can remove them from those accounts, too. That can be especially important if you’re sharing location histories or connected devices like indoor security cameras or video doorbells.

The tips below can help just about anyone, but if an ex-partner is making you worried about your safety online, or if you’re facing domestic violence or stalking, you need further resources. The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers expert support 24/7 at 800-799-7233, by texting “START” to 88788, and through a live chat option. You can also consult our information on how to lock down your devices and eliminate stalkerware

Make a List of Shared Accounts

You may have created more joint accounts or shared more log-in credentials with your former partner than you realize, especially if you were in a long-term relationship or were living together. 

You and your ex could both have access to your Ring Doorbell, Amazon Echo account, connected speakers, thermostats, indoor security cameras, and your WiFi network, in addition to online accounts for smartphones, email accounts, social media accounts, and shopping sites. You might be sharing location data on mapping apps, and you may have also shared your bank and credit card PINs and log-ins.

Take some time to create a list of all those accounts, so you can start changing passwords as needed. Even if your ex is a trustworthy person, there’s no reason for them to be able to look at your home-security video footage or read your direct messages. Once you change the password on an account, remember to go into the settings and also remove access to any of the devices where they are already logged in. 

Long-term couples aren’t the only ones with intertwined digital lives. Newer romantic partners sometimes share the keys to their online lives early on, but Friedland recommends going slowly.

“I know a lot of people who are very liberal with sharing those things and then go back and hit their head and say, ‘Oh my God. Why did I ever?’” she says. “Netflix accounts, passwords, a whole host of things.”

Laptop computer opened with Conan the Barbarian playing with a blinking warning on the screen.

GIF: Lacey Browne/Consumer Reports, iStock GIF: Lacey Browne/Consumer Reports, iStock

Adjust Video Streaming Services

Smart home, email, and social media accounts can affect your security and privacy in meaningful ways. By contrast, a streaming service is a lower-stakes matter—but it can still pack an emotional punch. If you’ve been sharing a streaming account with a former partner, you may be paying for their entertainment. Beyond that, you’ll each be able to see what the other one is watching, and even if you remove your ex-partner’s access, you may keep receiving streaming recommendations tailored to their viewing preferences. 

Regardless of your feelings about your ex, it can be a good idea to give them a heads-up before you start kicking them off of these platforms. “You still want to act in a thoughtful, respectful manner even if the other was not, because you still have to live with yourself,” Friedland says. “You want to know that you’re handling it in a way that you’re okay with, that you won’t regret.” 

We’re just covering video streaming services below, but some of the same challenges arise with music streaming services if you have family plans. Amazon Music’s Unlimited Family Plan lets you remove members, as do Apple Music Family Sharing, Tidal, and Spotify.

Here are instructions on how to log other devices (like your ex’s laptop) out of some of the most popular video streaming service accounts. 

Amazon Prime Video. After changing your Amazon password, go to the Prime Video settings page on your laptop or desktop computer to deregister any devices that don’t belong to you. If you’d like to remove someone else’s profile on your account, you can do that from the profile page.

Apple TV. Change your Apple ID password, then open Settings on your Apple TV. Go to Users and Accounts, click on the name of the account, and select “Remove User From Apple TV.” 

HBO Max. After changing your password, log on to HBOMax.com if you’re on a computer, or on the HBO Max app on your phone. Tap the Profile icon in the upper right if you’re on a computer, or the Profile icon and the Settings icon if you’re on a phone or tablet. Select “manage devices” and “sign all devices out.” Be aware that it can take up to four hours to sign all devices out of your account.

Hulu. Change your password, and then log in to your account on a web or mobile browser. Go to Watch Hulu on Your Devices > Manage Devices and remove any devices that aren’t yours.

Netflix. Change your password, then go to the “manage devices” page and click on “sign out of all devices.” 

Adjust Streaming Recommendations

Once you’ve taken care of all that, you can tweak user profiles or delete parts of your viewing history so that future recommendations reflect only your preferences. The process varies a bit by platform. On Amazon Prime, for instance, you can remove shows you’ve previously viewed from your watch history. On Netflix, you’ll want to go to your profile, hover your cursor over your name, select “Your Account” from the dropdown menu, then go to My Profile > Viewing Activity. Click on the X next to each movie, show, or series you want to remove.

Vintage PC warning pop-up message that says: Remember that time you went hiking in the Catskills with your ex?

Illustration: Lacey Browne/Consumer Reports, iStock Illustration: Lacey Browne/Consumer Reports, iStock

Handling Digital Photo Albums

In conversations and emails with multiple people in various stages of breakup aftermath, we’ve heard about a number of ways that technology serves up unwelcome reminders of the past. One common problem is stumbling into pictures of exes, even years after the end of a relationship. “I’m still dealing with reminders in my social media and photo backup apps,” says a person who asked to remain anonymous. “And my current sweetie and I have been hesitant to post things because we were both going through the same thing of dealing with constant reminders of our exes.”

You can delete photos that include your ex-partner from Facebook, Instagram, and other digital photo albums, or just change your settings to make them harder for others or yourself to stumble across.

Facebook Photos

If you’d rather not have photographs of your ex show up on your Facebook account at all, you can delete them individually by clicking the three dots next to or above each image and then choosing “delete photo.” You can delete an entire album by clicking on Photos > Albums, clicking on the album, and then selecting Edit album > Delete album. 

In some circumstances, you may want to keep your photos to preserve memories of an important relationship, or because you can’t get rid of all the pictures of your ex without erasing every group birthday dinner and softball game. You can keep these images on Facebook but adjust your settings to make them more private, so they can only be seen by you, or just you and your friends.

On your desktop, click on a photo, then select “edit post privacy” and change the setting. In the app, you’ll need to click the three dots on the right of the screen after selecting the image. You can make the photo visible to the “Public” (anyone on or off Facebook), “Friends” (your Facebook friends), “People tagged” (anyone tagged in the photo), “Friends of tagged” (anyone who’s friends with a person tagged in the photo), or “Only me.” 

To change the privacy settings on an entire photo album, click on Photos > Albums and select the album you want to change. Click on the three dots in the top right corner, then click “Edit album.” From there you can click on the current privacy setting and select a new audience, such as “Only me.” Then, click “Save.”

Finally, you can save a photo on your phone or computer before deleting it on Facebook in case you’d like to have it in your personal archive without seeing it while looking through your Facebook photos. Just click on the photo you’re about to delete, select the three dots in the top right corner, then click on “save photo” on your phone or “Download” on your computer. It’s possible to download entire albums on your computer this way as well.

Instagram Photos

You can delete or archive photos of your ex on Instagram, too. After you’ve found the photo you want to remove or change the settings for on the Instagram app, click the three buttons above it. From there, you can click “Archive” if you’d like to keep the image in the Archive folder that only you can see, or click “Delete” if you want to remove it altogether. 

Photos Memories

It’s easy to delete photos from your MacBook or iPhone: Just hit the trash can icon on the bottom of the image you want to remove on your iPhone, and Ctrl + Click to select the photo or photos you’d like to remove from your laptop or desktop computer, and then click on "Delete."

You may also want to adjust your settings to keep certain photos of yourself and your ex from appearing in Memories, which is a feature on iPhones and Apple computers that groups old pictures and videos into specific memory collections. It even turns some collections into Memory Movies, complete with titles and theme music.

To see your Memories, open Photos and click on “For You.” You can tap a Memory thumbnail to see all the photos and videos in that particular Memory, or you can click “See All” to scroll through all your Memories. You can also see the people included in each Memory, a list of related Memories, and a map showing where the photos and videos were captured.

To remove one photo in a Memory, click to select it, then press delete. This will only remove the photo from your Memories. It won’t delete it from your album.

Google Photos

Like Apple’s Photos app, Google Photos lets you store and share images across devices—and the service uses them to make slideshows, which may show up above the photo grid on your Android device, iPhone, or iPad. 

If you’d like to hide photos from your Photos view, you can move them to an archive. They’ll remain in the albums that you added them to and any folders on your device, and they’ll still be available via search, but Google Photos won’t include them in the movies or animations it creates.

Open the Google Photos app if you’re on your phone, or go to photos.google.com if you’re on a computer. Then, sign in to your account, select the photo you’d like to archive, and click on “More” > “Move to archive.”

You can hide photos of your former partner in the People section by clicking on the three dots, and selecting “Show and hide faces.” Then click the person you’d like to hide. 

Finally, you can delete photos from albums by clicking on them, clicking on the three dots, and selecting “Remove from album.”

Laptop computer opened with a broken heart blinking on its screen.

GIF: Lacey Browne/Consumer Reports, iStock GIF: Lacey Browne/Consumer Reports, iStock

Adjusting What You See on Facebook

One man I spoke with, a law student who was just a couple of months past a generally amicable breakup, pointed out how tough it can be to see a former partner looking happy in a social media post.

“If you’re sad and see an ex doing a bright and sunny Instagram story, that can hurt,” he says. “It’s the feeling you get when you’re hurting and you know they’re hurting about what you both went through, and yet you’re still seeing them smile while you don’t feel like you can yet.”

Your Timeline

To stop seeing someone’s public feed, go to their Facebook profile and click on the three dots next to “Message.” Click on “Following” and select “Unfollow” on the left. The person you’re unfollowing won’t be notified of this change, and you’ll still be able to see their feed if you are Facebook friends or if their feed is public (unless either of you blocks the other person). It just won’t show up on your timeline.

In some cases, you may want to post Facebook status updates that your ex is less likely to see. If you’re not Facebook friends with them, that’s easy—just create a friends-only post. Or you can change the settings to exclude just your ex from seeing a post. This doesn’t mean it’ll be impossible for them to see it—a mutual friend might show it to them—but it won’t pop up in their timeline. To change the audience for a Facebook post, click on the box underneath your name and select “Public,” “Friends,” “Friends except…,” “Specific friends,” “Only me,” or a customized list.

Facebook Memories

Even if your ex isn’t showing up in your timeline, they could appear in Facebook’s Memories feature, which resurfaces posts you shared on the same date in previous years. The platform will also dig up photos on the anniversary of you and your ex becoming Facebook friends. One person told us their “breakup was actually three years ago, and I’m still dealing with reminders in my social media and photo backup apps.”

You can remove each Memory as it comes up, but there’s a more efficient way to filter them from your feed. Go to the Memories Home page > “Hide Memories.” Then enter the name of your ex (they will not be notified), or choose a range of dates you just don’t want to be reminded of.

Adjust Your Instagram Settings

If you have a public Instagram account you don’t want your ex to see, but you don’t want to block them, you can change your account to private by clicking on “Privacy.” That way, only your followers will be able to see your photos and videos. Then, you can remove your ex from your follower list. 

Use the Restrict or Block Settings

You can block your ex on Instagram, which will stop them from being able to comment on your posts. Or you can also use the “Restrict” setting. That will stop them from seeing when you’re online or whether you’ve read their messages. While your ex will still be able to comment on your posts and stories, their comments will be visible only to them unless you hit “See comment” or approve it so that it’s visible to others. To restrict someone’s account, click on the three dots by their name and click “Restrict.” This is where you can find the Block button as well.

Hide Your Story

If you don’t mind your ex seeing your public posts but want to stop them from viewing your Instagram stories, you can either click on their name and then select “Hide your story,” or can remove them from the customized “Close friends” audience you send stories to. Click on Camera Settings > Story, where you can change the “Hide story from” and “Close friends” settings. You can also change the sharing settings for who can share your story on Instagram or in a message.

Social Media Messaging

Friedland says many people experiencing the intense feelings that come with a breakup think to text or message their ex right away—and that is something she advises against.

Instead of hastily texting and messaging your ex when you’re feeling angry, defensive, sad, hurt, or guilty, she recommends turning inward and taking care of yourself to tend to those emotions. For some people, journaling or writing a letter—not one they necessarily intend to send out—can be helpful in expressing their feelings, she says.

Friedland says people can feel defensive or guilty when going through a breakup, and they may feel grief or doubt as well. “When we react out of this strong emotion, we tend not to be thoughtful in what we say and do,” she says. “Most people—nearly everyone—when they look back on it, wish they had said it differently or not said anything at all.”

The law student we spoke with says it was helpful for him to decide in advance how he’d respond if his ex-girlfriend texted him or if he encountered her online again. “Some of it is creating a reasonable boundary between you and that person, and you and your memory of that person,” he says.

Rather than writing off communication with his former partner completely, he says he preferred to create an intermediate step between open communication and blocking her altogether. “One of the problems with relationships, in general, these days is the immediacy,” he says.

It’s sometimes possible to do this through settings. For example, in Facebook Messenger you can click “Mute” within a conversation on a computer or below their photo on the phone app to hide notifications from that person for 15 minutes, one hour, eight hours, or 24 hours, or you can click on “ignore messages” so their messages get sent to your message requests, and you won’t receive a notification when they message you.

But you can also make a conscious decision to not read or respond to messages right away and to set aside time to look at them when you’re in a better mental space to do so and less likely to be reactive. 

Headshot of Electronics freelance writer, Yael Grauer

Yael Grauer

I am an investigative tech reporter covering digital privacy and security. I'm the lead content creator of CR Security Planner, a free, easy-to-use guide to staying safer online. Prior to Consumer Reports, I covered surveillance, online privacy and security, data brokers, dark patterns, clandestine trackers, security vulnerabilities, VPNs, hacking, and digital freedom for Wired, Vice, The Intercept, Slate, Ars Technica, OneZero, Wirecutter, Business Insider, Popular Science, and other publications. Follow me on Twitter (@yaelwrites)