Discover the reasons why you can’t stop thinking about your ex, according to researchers, mental wellness experts, relationship experts, and many more.
Here are their insights:
Drew Rabidoux, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker | Licensed Psychotherapist, Counseling with Drew
The process of working yourself through a breakup is much like losing someone
The process of working yourself through a breakup is much like losing someone; there is a grieving process. During this time, you’re going to think about your ex a lot.
The best advice is to allow yourself to have all the feelings, and believe me, you will live through this. You can do hard things. Hopefully, knowing what might come is helpful.
It is natural to miss your ex after you break up, especially if the breakup wasn’t your idea. When you change your relationship with someone, especially if you were frequently together, it can be like losing someone.
Grief is a normal part of the process. With grief come the following stages and may vary in order:
Denial: It may feel so difficult that the relationship is over.
Even if it was not that enjoyable in the end, you might forget about how bad it was. You may even be in denial about your experience of what wasn’t working for you.
It’s called a breakup because it’s broken, there were real reasons why the relationship ended. Write them down and keep them for the moments you might slip back into denial (believe me, it’s going to happen).
Anger: Why couldn’t this have worked out? If only he/she/they were different, it would have worked out.
If only I had done (fill in the blank), it would have worked out. It didn’t work out because it didn’t work out. Period.
Bargaining: You miss your ex. Why can’t you just be together?
This is the stage where you are going to need the list of why the relationship ended because bargaining is all about trying to talk yourself back into the relationship.
Depression: This is when you might have difficulty finding joy in things you had before.
Or you might be so sad you can’t eat or get out of bed. This is depression. Breakups are hard, and it’s totally normal to be sad. This is also the time to get help. Therapy, self-care, and spending time with supportive friends are good idea here.
Acceptance: I know it feels like you won’t ever stop thinking about your ex, but you will.
There will be a day that you accept the end of the relationship. You will be ready to try again. You will be ready to put yourself out there. It’s so hard to believe you will get here, but you will.
Dr. Deming (Adam) Wang, PhD
Research Academic | Personality Psychology and Biological Psychology Teacher, Singapore Campus of James Cook University
Ironic effects of thought suppression
When trying to stop thinking about an ex, individuals often engage in thought suppression. Unfortunately, research has shown that thought suppression is often futile and can often make people ironically more preoccupied with the thought.
Although in my latest research on thought suppression, I show that this ironic effect is contingent on cognitive load or some form of mental burden, the reality is that in life, we are always under ‘some form of burden.’
For instance, any form of stress, acute or chronic pain, physical or psychological discomfort, or simply being engaged in a demanding task (which could be most of our work hours) could be considered a form of a mental burden.
The omnipresent nature of mental burden means that thought suppression is simply not an ideal strategy to use when trying to forget an ex, not only because of its futility in the short term but also the possibility of rebound effects in the long run.
Unwanted thought might come back harder
A well-known outcome of thought suppression is that the unwanted thought might come back harder.
An analogy we could use is to imagine the thought of your Ex as a spring, and thought suppression is the act of compressing that spring. When thought suppression is actively applied, the spring stays compressed.
However, the moment we stop compressing, the spring goes back into its original shape very rapidly.
Exacerbated by cues in the environment
To make matters worse, preoccupations are often exacerbated by cues in the environment that can serve as reminders of the very thought we are trying to avoid.
For instance, our ex’s favorite song may come on the radio, their activities may be visible on social media, and the sofa in the living room may still have their scent. These items may be mentally so strongly associated with the thought of our ex such that we feel that “everywhere I look, I see him/her.”
This is also another reason why thought suppression could be counter-productive – when we suppress the thought of an ex, we often distract ourselves using objects around us, such as our desk, computer, or lamp.
Over time these distractors would be labeled as ‘not our ex,’ and in a room full of objects labeled with ‘not our ex,’ our stream of thinking will inevitably be brought back to our ex more and more easily.
A lack of closure
Sometimes when the relationship is terminated abruptly, the individual on the passive end could feel a lack of closure. Much like the feeling we get when we are forced to stop a movie at the three-quarter mark, finish a meal without dessert, or go to New Zealand without visiting Hobbiton.
Research has shown that we tend to become more fixated on tasks that we have not completed than those that we have.
In such cases, taking an acceptance-based approach or mindset may be a wiser choice. This is because suppressing incomplete thoughts would only perpetuate the feeling of incompleteness.
So what can we do to hasten the speed with which we move on? First, try to change the environment around you.
People anecdotally report that a change in environment helps them forget their ex more easily, which is supported by the research findings. Go traveling, live in a different place, buy new clothes, get a new haircut, whatever it takes.
A second strategy is that instead of effortfully suppressing the thought of an ex, try to focus on something proactively, such as work, a video game, or an addictive drama series, etc. This allows you to achieve the goal of thought suppression – that is, diluting the salience of ex-related thoughts in your mind, but in a much more effortless way.
Finally, try not to forbid yourself from thinking about your ex. Labeling things as ‘forbidden’ will only make you more obsessed about them, such as ice cream, chocolates, and old flames.
Dr. Mary Gay, PsyD, LPC, CPCS
Evening Program Director, The Summit Wellness Group
We experience cravings for our ex-partner that mimic the feeling of drug withdrawals
The time we spend thinking of our ex-partner after a breakup can be attributed to the way our brain processes loss and rejection. Traumatic events like unwanted or unexpected breakups cause intense psychological distress that can lead to physiological discomfort.
Related: Why Do People Break Up?
Studies show that romantic partners stimulate our brain’s production of dopamine, creating feelings of euphoria, and oxytocin which increases feelings of well-being and motivation.
When these feelings cease following a breakup, we experience cravings for our ex-partner that mimic the feeling of drug withdrawals.
This often leads to rumination or incessantly consuming thoughts. We may find ourselves obsessively thinking about the good times, as well as shared activities and details surrounding why the relationship began to decline.
It’s critical we don’t pressure ourselves into immediately moving on or healing quickly and realize the process will take time.
It’s important to acknowledge that these thoughts and feelings are valid.
During this time, people, places, and things associated with our ex-partner may trigger these negative feelings. It’s best to try to avoid these triggers when possible until we’ve had more time to heal. Social media can be especially triggering for many of us.
As such, it is perfectly acceptable to unfollow our ex-partner in order to protect our mental health. The best way to ensure we move through this time in a healthy way is to talk about our feelings and redirect our focus towards positive self-care activities.
Suggested self-care activities include journaling, meditation, yoga, and exercise.
Licensed Mental Health Counselor | Registered Art Therapist
Your brain has become accustomed to your ex being categorized in the ‘happiness’ section of your mind
There’s a reason why we entered into a relationship with our ex in the first place. There were positives about them that made us feel good. There was physical attraction and aspects of their personality you felt good about.
They were appealing to you as a life partner, and they did fill some need in you, even if only temporarily.
When the relationship ends, you might be feeling sad, vulnerable, rejected, lonely… the list goes on. And what have we used as part of our strategy to make us feel better? Your partner.
Up until this point, your partner was probably someone you would turn to when feeling sad, vulnerable, rejected, or lonely, and they would typically be the ones to remedy these feelings for you. They were stop numero uno on your emotional express train.
You’re shifting into independence, again. So, it’s natural to think about someone you’ve used as a support system during a time of emotional need.
Our brains learn from experiences and store information to try to help us be better prepared for similar situations in the future. That’s why someone that reminds you of a bully in elementary school might receive a seemingly unwarranted cold response from you.
Your brain tells you, “WARNING: this situation is similar to one where you got hurt. Back away slowly.”
The same goes for positive experiences and emotional experiences, too. Your brain has become accustomed to your ex being categorized in the ‘happiness’ section of your mind. This is a confusing time, and your mind hasn’t yet transferred all of the info into the ‘past relationships’ section of the attic.
So, when you’re feeling upset or confused, your brain brings back things it’s learned have helped in the past. ‘Hey! Remember this guy? He used to cheer you up!’ Your brain doesn’t realize, yet, that it’s not helping.
With all of this turmoil and confusion going on upstairs, let’s not forget just how easy it is to shove all the reasons the relationship ended under the rug. Our brains store that information from the past to try to make our lives easier and protect us.
Our brains do some pretty crazy things in order to protect us, sometimes even providing an illusion or alternate reality for us to live in.
It’s easy to reflect only on the positive stuff from the relationship or the person because it provides an easy solution to the problem. We minimize the negative stuff and intensify the positive stuff because then the choice is clear.
The moral of the story is that our brains are tricky and smart, and innovative, but that doesn’t mean we have to listen to them all the time. When we know the mechanisms at play, we can take a step back and think logically.
Sometimes, it’s enough just to know that you’re definitely not the only one that’s struggled with ruminating thoughts about your ex after a breakup. It makes sense, and, in fact, it probably means you’re more okay than you thought.
It is difficult to stop thinking about someone when you feel like you are missing out
It’s important to identify positive reasons the relationship ended. Find areas of growth, knowledge gained, or strengths you acquired in the relationship.
Once you can find these attributes, it will be easier to realize that you are not missing out by not being in the relationship, but instead, you were able to get everything you needed in that time.
Purge gifts or other material things that tie you to the person
Detach yourself from the person emotionally and psychologically by purging gifts or other material things that tie you to the person. It is very cathartic to get rid of belongings, gifts, or other objects that remind you of the person.
When you can find ways to let go of physical objects, it is easier to release the energy you hold that binds you to the relationship.
Identify if you are missing that person because you feel lonely, abandoned, or feel rejected
We often hold on to unhealthy attachments with others because we don’t want to be alone versus being in love. It is important to explore if you are longing for the relationship for these reasons.
If so, seeking social support, journaling, and even therapy can help you work on these areas. Which can help you find more positive relationships and leave toxic ones.
Psychiatrist in Virginia Beach, VA
Don’t beat yourself up overthinking about your ex. There is something symbolic about the person that’s causing you to have these feelings and thoughts, and you need to pay attention to that.
Your body and mind will tell you when you’re ready to move on. Give yourself the time and space to go through all of the emotions. Give yourself protected time.
Protected time means a set-aside time with no distractions; this could be 15 minutes or an hour, whatever works best for you. Set this time aside, put it in your calendar, and wallow in your emotions. Wallowing is our way of getting the emotions up, out, and dealt with, so it will pass.
This will help you get up and learn how to move on. There is a scientific study that shows there is an endorphin rush when you socialize. You may not feel like socializing, but you have to treat yourself and get back on your feet; emotionally.
If you’re more of an introvert, you can do this online through support groups, chat rooms, and online therapy.
Stop seeing them
This seems very hard for some people to understand. They seem to think they can’t stop seeing them; they’re compelled. We’re all grownups; we can control ourselves.
Do whatever you have to do to set that up, and stop seeing them.
It’s so important because seeing them is a painful stimulus to you, and by continuing to allow that in your life, you’re just hurting yourself. It’s like having a splinter under your skin, and it’s getting infected, and you won’t have it removed because it’s from something meaningful to you.
It really is that strange to keep exposing yourself to something so painful.
Some people think there will never be a chance if you stop seeing them. It’s important to understand that this is not true. They’re healthy adults who can hold on to the memory of you, and if something changes in their life, they’ll find you.
It is not a matter of, “If I stay in their life, I have a chance.” Or, “If I get out of their life, I don’t have a chance.”
The point is to get the pain out of your life. Cut that off some way by seeking help from a friend, a coach, or rearrange your schedule that way; you don’t run into this person. Certainly don’t stay friends.
Moving on is often signaled by meeting someone else. There’s a lot of pop psychology about the length of time you should take to move on to somebody else; this does not exist.
I hate the term rebound in relationships. I don’t think it is real.
Finding somebody who is healthy is a treasure. If that happens to come one week or two months after a relationship, that’s okay. There is no specific time frame; there is no point in questioning a good relationship because somehow it’s not the right time.
I promise you there is no right time. If there is someone else who interests you, go ahead and get involved again. This is a good thing!
Emily Griffin, MA, LCPC, LPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Clarity Through Counseling
Your world revolves around the romantic relationship
Some people define their life based on their romantic relationships. This means that the main source of engagement, fun, and focus is on this other person.
When we prioritize our partners, especially more than ourselves, our self-worth is now based on them. This external source of self-worth makes us feel loved and cared for, but when the relationship ends, it makes our self-worth crashing down, and it becomes harder to build ourselves up afterward.
It is important to maintain your own hobbies, friends, and activities separate from your partner for a healthy relationship balance.
You are grieving
If you are thinking about your ex a month, year, or even five years later, you may still be grieving the relationship and its ending.
Relationships make us feel excited and accepted by someone. When they end, it makes us question the relationship, our part in the relationship, and what might have “gone wrong.”
Sometimes nothing “went wrong,” and this can make it especially hard to grieve because there is nothing to blame it on. Take the time to look at old photos, remember memories, and do not forget to grieve, cry, miss them, and be angry.
This is all a part of a healthy grieving process. If you just move on to the next person without grieving, you could be staving off intense emotions that will inevitably build up over time.
Remember that you cannot outrun grief.
You are anxious
If you are an anxious person, you may be preoccupied with what your ex is doing because you are checking to see if their life is doing better or worse without you.
Your anxiety is looking to have control over knowing if you or the ex made the “right choice” by ending the relationship. Unfortunately, finding out information about an ex may feel important, but it almost always ends up hurting us in the end.
We may also become obsessive about checking, which means a lot of time and emotional energy is being invested with no actual return in finding fulfillment. Do not fall into this checking trap because it is self-sabotage.
Relationship, Intimacy & Personal Empowerment Coach | Co-founder, Practical Intimacy
You have a wound to heal or a lesson to learn
If you’ve made the decision to let go of your ex and move forward with your life, but you can’t stop thinking about them, your mind might be trying to tell you something.
And no, it’s not, “Get back with them.” (You’ve already made the decision to move on, right? Back yourself.)
But when you’ve been through a separation, there’s usually a lot of grief, hurt, and loss to resolve. And as you process those heavy feelings, you’ll likely come across some empowering learning opportunities.
Beneath the hurt, there’s a pile of self-development gold. So how do you dig your way through to the good stuff?
Find the heart of the issue
Get curious about your thoughts and feelings and find where you’re stuck.
- Is it that you never felt appreciated, and you’re stuck in anger and resentment?
- Is it the rejection you felt because of the breakup? Are you feeling unlovable?
- Do you miss the way you felt when your Ex was around? Did you feel validated, seen, important, intelligent, beautiful, funny?
- Are there things you regret from your relationship? Mistakes you made, hurtful things you said, or how you handled (or didn’t handle) certain situations?
These are powerful insights, and they’re the first steps of an important healing journey and there’s one really important thing to remember along the way…
It’s not about them
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your Ex has the solution. You have everything you need to heal your wounds and re-empower yourself.
Let’s look at the examples from above.
If you never felt appreciated in your relationship, that’s an important reminder that you know your worth, and you need a partner who can see it too. Make the commitment to appreciate yourself moving forward, and only say yes to a next relationship if you know they really value you.
If you feel unlovable because of your separation, realize that you don’t need your Ex to fill that void. Find the people in your life who celebrate, love, and adore you, and make a commitment to be that person for yourself too. (This might mean reconnecting with people you’ve recently lost touch with, but don’t be afraid to reach out. The best friendships are always there, no matter how long it’s been.)
If you miss the way your partner ‘made you feel’, then it’s time to start prioritizing that feeling for yourself. Get back into that hobby that made you feel talented and creative. Read the books that make you feel intelligent and inspired. Care for your body – inside and out – so you feel beautiful. Hang out with your friends and make each other laugh.
If you have regrets, remember to be compassionate with yourself, even while you commit to doing the personal work to grow and strengthen your relationship skills. Everything is an opportunity to learn and grow – but self-compassion is important too.
Reclaim your personal power
Once you’ve found the lessons hidden behind your repetitive thoughts of your Ex, you then have a road map for how to move past them. You reclaim your power from your past relationship and put it squarely back in your own hands.
Any time your thoughts go back to them, remind yourself that it’s not about them, and recommit to your own priorities, wellbeing and growth. You’ve got this.
Dating Expert, Datingscout
You keep obsessing over what you could have done
You need to stop playing those breakup moments in your head over and over again. Yes, you could have handled things better or maybe chosen better words to describe what you felt.
You keep replaying the conversations in your head and drown yourself in endless if only’s.
You need to accept that you reached the breaking point as a couple, not because of that one massive fight you had that night. There are things in the past that triggered you as a couple to reach that point. You have done your best, and that is enough.
You can’t let go of the “what ifs” and “if only”
Because you keep on obsessing over what you could have done to prevent the breakup, you also keep on clinging on to the other what-ifs and if only that you could have done even before the breakup.
You think about not being good enough for your ex, and you end up blaming yourself for the torn relationship. You keep thinking that it was your fault why the two of you separated, when in fact you shouldn’t.
Remember: it takes two to tango — so whatever the reason for your breakup was, the blame is on both of you, not just you.
The changes scare you
Especially with people who spent a relatively long time inside a failed relationship, moving on is hard because of the massive changes it brings to their routine.
After a breakup, a lot of things change, whether it’s the small things like weekly schedules or the traditions you have created as a couple. Change naturally scares or overwhelms people, and breakups are no exception.
Just remember to take baby steps, but make sure that you keep going.
Your environment reminds you too much of the memories
It will be a hard path for you to move on if you keep holding on to your “good” memories with your ex. Holding on to these memories can manifest in the way you treat material things related to your ex.
Do you still those anniversary gifts displayed in your room, even if it reminds you of your relationship so much? “Cleaning” your environment helps you to move on.
Throw all that triggers painful memories away. It will surprise you how much a refreshed environment can impact your outlook.
You still keep communicating with your ex
Even if you know that it has to end, you keep all lines of communication open because it gives you hope that there is still a chance to rebuild that broken relationship.
If you are putting it that way, you are not opening up a chance to rebuild something; you just want to continue where you left off. This will not help you either individually or as recently separated couples.
If you don’t cut it for real, you are letting something toxic to continue the cycle that has brought you up to this breaking point.
Personal Development Coach | Author, “Recover From Your Divorce in 4 Steps: The No-Fluff guide for Divorced Men By A Divorced Man“
The subconscious part of the mind is not able to easily accept the abandonment or rejection
While breakups and divorces have, unfortunately, of recent times, become ubiquitous, they are very traumatic. Recovering from them can be a long and arduous journey. One particularly challenging aspect is the difficulty that many experience when attempting to move forward with their lives and getting their exes out of their thoughts.
Who struggles the most with thinking about the ex?
The ones who typically have trouble thinking about the ex are the ones who were broken up with, as opposed to the ones who did the breaking up (or the ones who were divorced as opposed to the one who made the decision to divorce).
Why does one struggle with thinking about the ex?
When someone was a part of a person’s life for a period of time, especially a large part (such as my case in an 18-year marriage), although they are physically no longer present, the mind has already conditioned itself to being nurtured by the person.
In a sense, the person’s subconscious part of the mind is not able to easily accept the abandonment or rejection and attempts to reconcile the reality with what it has become used to.
Conversely, the one initiating the breakup or divorce has come to terms with the fact that he/she no longer wants the boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse in his/her life and therefore is able to move on without a second thought.
What can one do to help him/herself stop thinking about the ex?
In my experience recovering from my own divorce and in coaching other men in divorce recovery, there are a number of actions one can and should take to help get the ex out of his/her mind.
The most obvious one is to avoid all contact with the ex, but this is not possible in cases where there are children involved, and one must coordinate with the ex.
Here are a few suggestions that can apply to all breakups whether between boyfriend and girlfriend or in divorce with children:
Avoid extraneous contact
While those with children must be in contact, one can still stay away from the ex as much as possible by avoiding all social media contact or following such as on Facebook or Twitter.
I recommend that those struggling with thoughts about the ex immerse themselves in personal development, such as by getting in shape with fitness and diet, meditating, and reading books on personal development.
The key term here is personal. The purpose is for the one struggling to think about the ex to focus on themself and away from the other person.
Share with the right people
By “right” people, I break this into two categories:
Friends are valuable for being there to listen while one shares his/her challenges, emotions, pains, etc. However, they are not there to help one understand what is really going on inside.
I recommend seeking a therapist to share one’s thoughts about the ex-spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend and help one understand why he/she is constantly thinking about him/her and how one’s upbringing, conditioning, influences, etc., play a role in that thought process.
The right therapist will help one reach a level of awareness such that one’s thoughts will, with time and nurturing, reach a healthy place where he/she is focused away from his/her ex and on his/her recovery.
Breakups bring their share of trauma, not the least of which include the challenge of getting an ex out of one’s mind. It is completely normal, and awareness is the first step in recovering.
By taking the right actions, one can, with proper time and attention, stop the ex from constantly taking up “free rent” in one’s mind so that he/she can move on with his/her life in a positive and impactful manner.
Alex Terranova, PCC
Published Author | Performance Coach | Host, The DreamMason Podcast
You can’t stop thinking about your ex for a variety of reasons.
We are afraid that our ex will be the “one that got away”
Most of the time, most of us are motivated by fear, whether we realize it or not. Should we buy this or that, can we afford it, do we have the money, should we ask that person out, will they say yes or no, can I handle the rejection, should I ask for that raise, will my boss say no, will I get fired, will it impact my job… all fear behind the scenes.
We are afraid that our ex will be the “one that got away,” something that we believe is true because of media, tv, music, movies, and poetry portraying our lives as almost predestined.
If we lose that person, then we will be single, sad, lonely, and lost forever because there might not be anyone else to fill that void in our lives and hearts. So we hold onto our ex almost with hope keeping those fears at bay.
We haven’t been trained or taught in life to process our feelings
Most of us have poor experiences with sadness, anger, and loss growing up, we saw these emotions expressed in our parents and didn’t like what we saw, or maybe it scared us, so we avoid, rejected, overexpressed, or suppressed those emotions in ourselves.
This being said, when we go through a break up most of us are not doing the healthy work to process our feelings, the fears, and the emotions that come with the loss and grief.
We bottle it all up, it doesn’t come out in a healthy natural way, and this energy has to go somewhere, so it goes into anxious thought patterns, fearful thoughts about making the wrong choice, nightmares, and body sensations like neck pain or stomach aches.
All these unprocessed feelings keep us in the thought loop and tied to that person.
Your lives were intertwined
Depending on how long you two were together, you have things in your house they gave you, and you have songs and shows that remind you of them. You two did activities and went places together.
Your life can be a living museum of sorts to your ex, so everywhere you look reminds you of them. When we go through a breakup, not only do we need to do the work to release and process the emotions in a healthy way, but we also need to let go of the photos, trinkets, stop listening to the songs and hide the reminders.
I’m not saying you have to burn or throw out everything, but you might have to put a certain blanket that you both used to use while watching movies away for a while.
You might have to set up a new Netflix profile, so you see different shows, or delete your ex’s profile. You might have to burn the photos or hide them out of sight. You need time without constant reminders so you can start generating new thoughts separate from that relationship.
Certified Divorce Coach, Happily Better After
You’re not in touch with yourself
When you can’t stop thinking about an ex, try to shift the focus to you. People who can’t stop fixating on an ex typically aren’t looking within to examine what is best for them.
There’s a reason this relationship didn’t work out. Do the work to uncover what really went on. At the moment when you’re frustrated that you can’t figure it out, make a list of all the things you want in your next chapter to ensure you continue focusing forward, not back.
You think you’re in control
When you can’t stop thinking about an ex, commit to surrendering to the universe. You cannot control how your ex feels about you or whether or not the relationship will work out.
Surrender control to the universe, to the higher good, and a larger plan for your life. Image the universe is clearing the space in your life your ex once occupied so you have room for something even better.
Remember, it is not what happens to us, but how we react to it, that really matters in life.
Relationships Expert | Author, “Love Avatar: Unleash Your Divine Feminine Superpowers & Awaken the Goddess Within“
Most people desire a partnership to feel complete through their relationships
Some people can’t stop thinking about their exes because most people desire a partnership to feel complete through their relationships, instead of feeling whole before they get into a partnership.
Two people who are attracted to each other to fill a need or heal a wound is what I call a “wound mate” relationship. For example, a person who is looking for a savior because they are insecure or needy will certainly call in a partner who is looking to be a savior who wants to feel needed or valued.
This would be the perfect environment for unconscious wounds to eventually come up to challenge the relationships.
Unfortunately, a partner to fill a hole is only an external bandage that will temporarily cover a need. The relationship will certainly trigger any unhealed wounds that are often the triggers that lead to difficult breakups.
People who cannot stop thinking about their exes after the breakup has shown that their source of happiness comes from another partner instead of within themself.
Self-worth and self-love is an inward journey.
So if you are still obsessed with your partner, it would be a great practice to understand what part of you they were fulfilling and start becoming that very attribute you are missing.
Dating Expert and Editor, Mantelligence
When you just came from a breakup, the normal reaction is to feel depressed and angry that the relationship came to a close. But most often than not, people tend to think about their ex for months, even sometimes years, after the breakup.
Here are some reasons why you’re still thinking about your ex:
You miss the friendship
When a relationship ends, it could often feel like you are losing a friend too. This is particularly true among couples who had built a strong friendship before entering into a relationship. The good news is, you can still be friends, just allow time to heal the wounds.
You liked the thought of being in love
If you’ve only had one relationship that ended, it’s possible that you enjoyed being in love. You don’t necessarily miss being in love with your ex, just the thought of being in love and how it made you feel too.
You liked who you were when you were dating
You enjoyed how the relationship changed you and turned you into a mature person. But once you get over the breakup, you’ll realize that you can still be a better person, and you can use that experience to grow.
You actually just miss the happy days
It might be a time in your life when you felt happiest since you had someone who loved you. But when you start to rediscover yourself and find your happiness, you begin to feel that joy once again. And this time, learn not to depend your happiness on how someone makes you feel.
Related: 8 Must Read Books on Codependency Recovery
It’s normal to feel nostalgic about an ex. Just remember that they are your ex for a reason. And this is so you can learn from the experience and grow from it. Don’t worry; let time heal all things. Things will be better soon.
President, Select Date Society
Your memory is better than reality
Many singles have a difficult time moving on after a break-up. Thinking about your ex is completely normal to some extent. Understanding why you can’t stop thinking about your ex will make it easier to recognize your own behavior and make changes in order to move forward.
Here are some of the reasons you’re still thinking about your ex:
You were genuinely in love. When you are truly in love with someone and find yourself heartbroken, you will need time to heal. Seek out a good therapist to help you work through things.
The hormone cocktail in your head have you thinking about them. When you have chemistry with someone, your brain releases dopamine and other chemicals that are extremely powerful.
Your ex had influence over you. You may have looked to your ex for advice or to make decisions, and you have to get comfortable doing things on your own.
You miss the sex. When you had a great sex life that is suddenly gone, you miss it!
Your memory is better than reality. When you think about your ex, your memory may be selective. You remember the good things but forget about the bad.
Your future looks different now. You may have planned your future with your ex as a major part of it, and now you need to start re-imagining what the future holds.
You tend to overthink things. You are analytical by nature, and you have a hard time not playing things over and over in your head.
You had a great relationship. You may have felt like it was the best relationship you have ever had, and you’re afraid you will never find someone that great again.
You had a toxic relationship. When you are in an unhealthy relationship that involves a roller-coaster of emotions, it can cause you to miss the chaos of the relationship.
You are afraid to move on. The idea of dating again is scary, and you don’t want to let go of your last relationship and put yourself out there again.
Certified Life, Relationship, and Recovery Coach, The Modern Mr. and Mrs. LLC
There is a multitude of reasons why when a breakup happens, your focus is on your ex. Depending on the length of the relationship and levels of emotional intimacy you guys had, suddenly losing a relationship in your life is a shock to your whole system.
Below I’ll address why you can’t stop thinking about your Ex from an emotional and logistical perspective.
If your relationship has gone through trauma together, intense life events, and you guys had a strong bond, that alone can have you thinking about your Ex for months after the breakup.
If you and your partner went through something traumatic and you guys leaned on each other for support, you might be experiencing a trauma bond. That can also happen when there is abuse in a relationship, where the victim is trauma-bonded to their abuser, which is why it’s so hard to leave.
If you and your partner were very emotionally connected and supported one another, and suddenly that support is gone, that is devastating and even scary.
You now are facing life on your own without your partner by your side, and you could be thinking about how life would have been easier with your Ex by your side, or about the times you won’t be experiencing with them anymore (like buying a house, getting married, having kids).
Another possible reason you could be still thinking about your Ex is that you have no idea why the breakup happened.
There are times where people break up without the person explaining what went wrong in the relationship, and so you’re plagued with scenarios of “what if’s” and can drive yourself crazy trying to get the answer.
If you and your partner had taken time to build a life together and you made plans for the future, and suddenly they’re gone, you might be left to cancel that vacation or figure out a new place to live.
For pure logical reasons, your Ex is on your mind as you have to settle all these details out, and depending on the commitments you may have made together, there might be a lot of things to cancel or rearrange.
Another reason you could still be thinking about your Ex is if you work with them or live in the same town, and will most likely see them regularly. It’s not uncommon for people to date in the workplace, and when a breakup happens, having to see them every day can be agony and keep them on your mind longer.
My rule for breakups in the past before I got married was at least a 30- day no-contact with an Ex to essentially “detox” my system from that person (if it was logistically possible).
No texts, no social media, no getting coffee. Nothing.
Breakups can feel like a detox; it can feel like you’re in withdrawal because you’re no longer experiencing all the chemicals that used to be firing in your brain when you were with that person.
Those endorphins and chemicals dropping suddenly can make you depressed and crave your Ex.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I work on myself after a breakup?
Working on yourself after a breakup can be a powerful way to heal and move forward. Some steps you can take include practicing self-care, setting boundaries, and focusing on personal growth.
Self-care can include things like exercise, meditation, or engaging in activities you enjoy. Setting boundaries can mean limiting contact with your ex, saying no to things that aren’t good for you, or putting your own needs above the demands of others.
Focusing on your personal growth can help you learn new skills, pursue hobbies, or set goals for your future.
It’s also important to seek support from others, whether it’s talking with friends and family or seeking therapy.
It’s a process to work on yourself after a breakup, and taking it one step at a time is okay. Remember to be kind and patient with yourself and prioritize your own well-being throughout the process.
How do I handle seeing my ex with someone new?
It can be a difficult and emotional experience to see your ex with someone new, but there are steps you can take to manage these feelings.
One important step is to focus on your own healing and self-care. This may mean pursuing activities you enjoy, spending time with friends and family, or seeking support from a therapist or support group.
It’s also important to limit your exposure to your ex and their new partner as little as possible. This may mean unfollowing them on social media or avoiding places where you’re likely to run into them.
While it can be tempting to seek information or news about the new relationship, this can prolong the healing process and make it harder to move on.
When you do encounter your ex and their new partner, try to stay calm and collected. It’s okay to acknowledge your feelings and take time to process them, but avoid lashing out or making assumptions about the new relationship.
Remind yourself that you aren’t defined by your past relationship and are worthy of love and respect.
Finally, it’s important to remember that healing takes time and everyone’s journey is unique. Be kind and patient with yourself, and focus on your own growth and well-being as you navigate these difficult emotions.
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