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Imagine this scenario: You and your ex broke up about a year ago. You’ve dated a couple of people since then, but you can’t help comparing them to your ex — and they always come up short.
In fact, you still think about your ex all the time (with some social media stalking thrown in as well). Your ex is dating someone new now, and you feel sad about it every day. How can you stop thinking about it — and stop comparing them to everyone you meet?
To put it bluntly: You’re not ready to get into a relationship with someone else until you rid your ex from your life, Exorcist-style.
If you truly want a satisfying relationship with someone new, you’ve got to get to a point when you feel totally neutral. That’s a finding from my landmark study, which has followed hundreds of couples for more than 30 years. You can read about it in my book “Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to A New and Happy Relationship.”
My research shows that people who were able to say, “I don’t feel much of anything for my ex” were more likely to find a good relationship than those who were grieving, held grudges, or worse, were still in love.
Are you still into your ex? Here are some signs that point to yes: You still have photos, mementos, or you frequently “peek” at your ex’s social media. You have strong negative reactions when their name comes up in a conversation. Or maybe your thoughts are consumed by them and they’re dating.
You can’t rewrite history or completely wipe out all memories of your ex. But you can minimize the things in your immediate environment that remind you of them, as well as settings or people who upset your equilibrium.
Rather than avoiding all your old haunts, create new memories in places where you and your ex used to go together, like that go-to restaurant or the park where you used to run. Visit those places with friends, family, or solo with a good book or podcast.
For now, it may be a good idea to rid your house, car, and office of anything you associate with your ex: photos, mementos, and items that re-stimulate old wounds and continue to remind you of your ex. You can even hold a yard sale, sell items on Craigslist, or donate the goods to charity.
An excess of emotions about your ex will weigh you down as you travel down the path of seeking a new partner.
Some constructive, positive ways to release these emotions include getting some exercise, spending time with friends and family, volunteering (an excellent way to take you out of your own head), or being creative and expressing yourself through art, writing, or music.
Feeling really pissed? Write down your feelings in a letter “addressed” to your ex. Don’t send it though! Instead, read it to a therapist, burn it, or throw it away.
Regardless of why you broke up, don’t blame yourself. Instead, blame the relationship or situation — not yourself or your ex.
It’s helpful to use language such as, “We weren’t right for one another…” or “We had very different goals and dreams for the future.” By changing your perspective on why the relationship ended, your emotions about the relationship will change too.
When you carry old wounds, you behave in the present as if that relationship or situation is still going on. You might also date a new partner who is similar to your ex (and has the same qualities that didn’t work for you).
Ask an empathetic friend if they would be willing to hear your entire story, starting from when things went wrong through your present-day feelings and situation. Telling your story not only helps you feel better, but also gives you a way to get perspective, which speeds up the healing process.
You may not remember all the problems in your previous relationship (or your ex’s faults), but your friend surely does. You might be surprised at how you feel after you’ve talked things through with them.
If you want to move on and find a new love partner in your life, you can’t let past hurts linger. Try the above strategies to help you get to a neutral place about your ex.
If you still feel distressed, angry, very sad, or as if the past is preventing you from moving on, I strongly encourage you to find a therapist or another mental health resource. Another person’s perspective can help you clearly see which behaviors and attitudes are remnants of your past.
Terri Orbuch, PhD, is also known as The Love Doctor. Orbuch is a professor at Oakland University, therapist, research scientist, and author of several best-selling books, including “Five Simple Steps To Take Your Marriage From Good To Great.”