Not being able to stop thinking about an ex can vary in intensity. It can be a simple annoyance, like a tiny rock stuck in your shoe, to intense emotions of wanting them so badly you can’t sleep at night.
They say time heals all wounds, but these feelings of longing and desiring the ex can last for months or years.
On a rational level, you might even be happy the relationship ended. For some reason though, you can’t get rid of these feelings for the ex, and they now act as an anchor holding you into the past.
At this point, you want to move on and be able to concentrate all your emotions and energies on the good things of your present life, without thinking of the past.
The first, and most important step, is to narrow down the reasons why you miss the ex. Sometimes it’s because the break-up is very fresh and raw. Other times, it could be because you feel the relationship was stolen from you, unresolved emotions, or simply because you’re feeling lonely and the ex seems like a quick solution.
Knowing why you experience emotions for the ex gives you power over them. Once out in the open, you can work to resolve them at your own pace, and heal the wounds that are still open.
5 reasons why you can’t stop thinking about the ex
Break-ups feel like an addiction withdrawal (because they sort of are)
Through brain scans, several studies (such as this one) have revealed that fresh and traumatic break-ups activate the same neural pathways in the brain as a drug withdrawal phase.
These neural pathways regulate the release of dopamine, an important pleasure chemical that both drugs and powerful romantic emotions seem to hijack.
To further spice things up, fresh break-ups also activate the same parts of your brain that experience physical pain. This is why so many forms of culture (music, books, films, etc) associate break-ups with pain, because neurologically, that’s how a breakup feels.
If you’re just out of a relationship, this biological wiring isn’t quite a very fun experience, so why does it exist in the first place?
The answer is pair bonding. Throughout evolution, humans that stuck together survived together. The best example of this is romantic relationships. These allow two individuals to pool resources to keep each other alive and to bring about a new generation of kids and keep them alive as well (even when they do dangerous kids stuff).
The pain you feel when breaking up is a biological failsafe that forces you to think about your survival: is it better to go it alone (for now at least) or should you go back together with the ex?
All of the text can be seen as rambling, so what’s the biggest idea here?
The most important thing to know is that if you’re in deep pain over a break-up, this means you are a healthy person, capable of forming a strong, deep, and satisfying romantic bond with another person.
As strong as these break-up feelings are, they come at a package with your equally strong ability to form a happy relationship with another person.
One solution to this is to just cut off all contact with the ex. Block them on everything, and cut all contact. No messaging, calling, liking pictures, chatting, seeing each other, hook-ups, etc.
It’s the same reason why recovering alcoholics don’t keep a bottle near them – to not tempt fate and risk going down the dangerous spiral once more.
You feel the ex stole the relationship from you by breaking up
The worst break-ups to go through are sudden and completely unexpected. In your mind, the relationship was ok, or even great. There might have been discussions around certain issues, but they never felt like deal-breakers. The other person seemed satisfied, happy even with the relationship.
Then you’re ambushed with the “break-up talk”, which includes a long list of mistakes you’ve made that ruined the relationship. Suddenly it’s over and you have to pick up the pieces.
These break-ups feel like the ex stole the relationship from under your feet because they knew things weren’t right, but didn’t want to fight for the relationship.
You would have worked through issues to find a solution, if only they had been fair to you. But no, the ex kept everything bottled up and gave you no warning about the breakup.
To make matters worse, they recover from the breakup much faster than you because the ex had months or weeks to grieve and prepare for the end of the relationship. Unlike you, they had a sense of control over their destiny.
These types of breakups are the hardest to recover from, and require the most amount of time to heal and move on.
Even if it isn’t obvious at first, it’s the ex here who has lost the most, not you.
“Why should I be sad? I have lost someone who didn’t love me. But they lost someone who loved them.”
By C.J. Hooker
There are unresolved emotions that need processing
Sometimes you don’t truly miss the ex, but have so many emotions attached to them and your past relationship you can’t differentiate between the two.
The most powerful emotion that can cloud your judgment is that of insecurity. The sense that you’re unloved and unwanted, and that the ex was the best you could ever find.
During this time, you might look at every single mistake you made, real or imaginary, and blame yourself for it, and beat yourself up because you couldn’t do more, couldn’t be more attractive, couldn’t be more fun, couldn’t be more intellectual and so on.
In this situation, the true problem isn’t that you lost someone you love, but that you aren’t loving yourself enough. The healthiest way out of this situation is through self-acceptance of your faults (or mistakes, if you did actually make them), followed by forgiving yourself.
Self-acceptance and forgiveness give you clarity in understanding why the relationship ended.
Now that you don’t automatically blame yourself for everything, you can accurately judge who made which mistakes, what the other partner could have done better, or even realize that maybe they weren’t that good of a match for you to begin with.
The relationship doesn’t feel over
A lot of times, breakups don’t truly feel final. For different reasons, the ex-relationship still exists in an in-between state, where the two people are neither together nor entirely separate.
Maintaining regular contact after a break-up will give this effect, but it’s not always a requirement. For some reason or another, the fact that the relationship has ended still hasn’t been fully accepted as the new normal.
As a result, there’s this sense that a simple phone call is all that’s needed to fix everything and get it all back.
At this point, the mind works in overdrive to see the relationship with rose-tinted glasses. All bad things in the relationship are ignored, and the good ones are blown out of proportion. This effect is so powerful, even the one who initiated the breakup (who usually recovers quicker) can end up suffering from “dumper’s remorse”.
The best way to overcome this sensation is through acceptance and self-forgiveness.
Acceptance means internalizing the relationship is over, and that you were a major actor in the break-up. This doesn’t mean your mistakes caused it to happen, but that the other person thought it was the right thing to do and there’s no reward in you investing time and effort to change their minds.
Finally, do your best to forgive yourself. You did everything you thought was right to make the relationship work. Even if you truly feel your actions ended the relationship, forgive yourself and learn from them.
Do your best so that, from now on, the New You doesn’t repeat the same mistakes Old You has made.
You miss life in a relationship, not the ex
It’s possible you’ve healed entirely from the relationship with the ex, and the sensation of missing them is just you being single for a while now. It’s easy to see why you might think of the ex in this situation.
After all, they’re the most recent romantic connection you had, the memories are more vivid, the experience of being in a relationship is more defined.
Perhaps there are even practical reasons for this too. If the two of you pooled resources together, then life was probably much easier and carefree than when you are single. Single or no, rent will be due, groceries must be bought and bills paid.
Combining the practical and the emotional can understandably make you wonder if life was better with the ex than without them.
However, that’s just your brain playing tricks on you because you don’t have something recent to compare the previous relationship with.
How to stop thinking about your ex
It’s not about the ex. It’s about you.
In almost every case, missing the ex is an internal emotional conflict about who you are as a person. The memory of the ex and the relationship triggers this conflict, but you are the one that fights the conflict, and also be the one that ends it.
The healthiest outcome of this internal conflict is that you grow as a person, learn which people are the best romantic partners for you, and how you can be the best romantic partner for them as well.
This includes learning how to draw boundaries, knowing what you need and don’t need from a relationship, as well as what you can and can’t offer.
You’ll be able to distinguish between a healthy and unhealthy relationship, and know when to stop chasing after the unhealthy ones.
In the worst-case scenario, the internal conflict leaves open wounds. Because of these, you’ll be caught up in a cycle where you always move from one relationship to the next because you’re still stuck in the mental pathways that destroyed the previous one – often called relationship self-sabotage.
Don’t go into rebound relationships
Rebound relationships don’t provide closure and healing, and will only delay the moment of reckoning when you have to face the hurt of relationships past.
The biggest risk is that after one hard break-up, you’ll enter a long cycle of broken relationships. The pain from the initial break-up will now be mixed up with the confusion from the rebound relationships. The end result is an emotional mess that will take much longer to overcome than if you had processed the initial break-up at your own pace.
To say nothing of the hurt caused to the other people you enter rebound relationships with.
Don’t stay in contact (if possible)
Sometimes this can’t be helped, such as in the case of people who have a child together. But in general, it’s best to block out the ex and limit all contact. Don’t keep the memory of the relationship alive by looking at their social media profiles or talking with them now and again.
Let it fade into the background and give yourself the space to fully come to terms that the relationship has truly ended.
Lean on friends, family & your support network
Break-ups often have their own strange dynamic, where they sort of become a competition to see who “wins” the separation. The winner is the person who seems to care the least.
For this reason, there’s this unseen social pressure to pretend like everything is fine, even though inside you’re hurting.
Don’t fall for this trap. Lean on your friends and family when you need them. Talk with them about what you’re going through and let them help you process your emotions simply through listening.
The mourning period of every relationship usually ends in the same place for everyone: the hope phase, and looking towards the future.
There are so many people out there with interesting stories to tell, amazing lives to share, and wonderful experiences to create with.
Sometimes the ex is hard to forget because the future is so uncertain and clouded, but they quickly fade into the background of your past once a newer, more compatible experience comes into your life.
At this point, the question isn’t about when it will happen, but rather how you can become the best person you can to live the experience in its wonderful entirety.