“I can’t stop thinking about my ex” – this isn’t the phrase people like to attach to a breakup.

Breakups are almost always painful, even the ones that end bad or toxic relationships. In these cases, you’d think a person would finally be happy for cutting contact with a negative element in their lives.

You mind knows the breakup had to happen. And yet, something within pulls your hearstrings: “Did it really have to end?”, “Maybe I should have tried more?”, “What if things would have worked out in the end?”.

Sometimes these feelings are so overpowering, you go back to someone who makes you feel pain or frustration or disappointment.

But not all relationships that end are toxic. Maybe the people involved were good people, kind to each other, compatible. But a breakup still happened.

It’s strangely easy to justify a breakup when you’re inside a relationship. But what if you breakup and then get hit by that overwhelming moment of clarity where you just know a catastrophic mistake has just happened.

Can you recover that person? Can you find somebody like them again?  Can things go back to how they were?

Do you want to give it another chance?

Many relationships that are happy today have had a tumultuous past – that included breakups. Thinking about an ex constantly could be a sign that maybe the relationship had life in it still, and it’s worth giving it another chance.

On the other hand, most breakups happen for very good reasons. Chances are yours is one of these too and all you have to do now is find the strength to cope with the post-breakup pain.

The 7 reasons you can’t stop thinking about an ex and how to fix them

1. You think the ex was “the one that got away”

For one reason or another, you think your ex is the best you’ll ever get and that everyone else that will come after them will be an overall downgrade. The next partner(s) may be better than the ex in some aspects, but not enough as a complete package.

Is there any truth to this? No, it isn’t. The problem isn’t that your ex is irreplaceable, but that you believe you’re unworthy of a better partner and a healthier relationship.

This problem becomes even more acute if you held the ex on a pedestal and blinded yourself to their flaws and weaknesses.

Because you overestimate the value of the ex and underestimate your own, you can’t accurately measure yourself and others in terms of romantic partners. As a result, you will always undershoot yourself and go for people who aren’t right for you.

Perhaps the greatest quality of the ex was that they didn’t overinflate their worth and didn’t diminish yours. They saw what you couldn’t: the two of you were equally matched as romantic partners. It just so happened that the relationship couldn’t work in the long run, because reasons.

That being said, is an exception to this possible? Yes, in a way.

If your relationship with the ex was relatively long, and stretched out over a critical period of your life (think high-school, college), then it’s quite possible the relationship is indeed irreplaceable.

Even if the relationship or the ex were kind of bad, it’s impossible for you to think of that part of your life without invoking images of the ex and your past relationship.

For better or worse, the ex was there when you became who you are now. Unfortunately, no person you’ll ever meet can beat that because no one can turn back time.

2. You miss life in a relationship

People’s romantic preferences comes in all shapes and sizes. Some don’t like long term commitments and prefer to keep their romantic adventures short and sweet. Break-up feelings for them are like a cold: annoying for a few days and then they go away. Permanently.

On the other extreme, you have the “one and done” kind of people. They enjoy the stability and trappings of a relationship, the routine, the companionship, planning for the future, fixing things as they go along. A break-up for these people takes a large toll and being single isn’t something they naturally enjoy.

Perhaps you’re more of a “one and done” kind of person. The reason you can’t stop thinking about your ex isn’t because of the ex, but because you’re still in the in-between moments from one relationship to the next.

You’re looking forward to the next relationship, but your fantasies drift to your past relationship with the ex. This is because it’s fresher in your mind, more real than a fantasy since it actually happened.

These fantasies become even more acute if the relationship was overall decent or pleasant (while not spectacular). You had your routines, inside jokes and shared memories.

3. You’re afraid the break-up was a mistake

The traditional relationship advice you get is that break-ups happen for a reason and that you should never look back once they happen.

But this is short-sighted and ignores the fact that humans are complicated and relationships even more complicated.

Some people just “click” and reach the happy couple stage right away. Other couples aren’t so lucky and need to navigate through some difficult storms and rough patches to get there.

Maybe the reason you can’t stop thinking about the ex is because deep down you know the relationship had real potential. Fundamentally, you’re both good people that respected and complemented each other well.

However, the timing wasn’t quite right. Maybe you weren’t ready or wise enough for a relationship at the time to make it work. Maybe the ex wasn’t ready or wise enough.

Perhaps there were other obstacles that stood in the way, such as longer distances, job requirements or other obligations.

If this is the case, then maybe it’s worth trying to reconnect. Maybe this longer break-up has cleared the air and helped both of you see what mistakes were made and how you could fix them.

While unlucky and unpleasant, maybe it was part of your journey to reach the happy couple stage.

4. You’re socially lonely and don’t have many friends

Maybe what you need right now isn’t your ex, but a friend.

Breakups are painful and disruptive to a person’s life. Often times it can be hard to cope, so we lean on our friends to help get through the pain.

But as it so happens, life is complicated. Maybe you’ve moved across the country and have no friends at your new location. Maybe you lost touch with your friends and have a hard time reconnecting. Perhaps the friends you have now happened to be ex’s friends first, which can be a bit awkward.

In this situation, thinking about the ex brings you a certain nostalgia, both for the ex and for a time when you felt connected to others.

If you believe this is you, the real challenge isn’t getting over the ex, but reconnecting with your social life.

5. You’re feeling lonely (or horny)

It’s possible you’ve actually healed (or nearly healed) from your breakup. For one reason or another however, you’ve been on a dating dry spell since then and haven’t gotten to meet other people.

In other words, you’re either romantically lonely and/or horny and your ex is the closest thing in your mind that can fulfill one or both of those needs.

This one is hard to differentiate from the others, but one surefire way is to get out of your comfort zone: ask someone out on a date or allow yourself to be asked on a date.

Even if your return to dating isn’t that successful, you may end up getting a crush on someone. If you’re able to have a crush, then that’s a clear sign that you’ve subconsciously moved on from the breakup and can channel your dating energies in other directions.

Most of the times, simply having a crush should be enough to get your hopes up and help completely forget about the ex as you gently obsess about somebody else.

6. The ex didn’t give the relationship a chance

Sometimes you meet a person and know straight away that they’re everything you’ve been looking for.

You’ve started dating, and things seem to be going better than you expect. You understand each other well, have similar interests and personalities that complement each other.

Unfortunately, they don’t feel the same and after only a short while end the relationship.

Depending on how invested you were, your reaction could range from painful to devastating.

The real pain however comes from your belief that you found that “special someone”, only to have the dream snatched away from you.

Love is complicated, but predictable in a way. Sooner or later you would have come to a point where you would have seen this “special someone” for what they really were: a normal human being, but with flaws you could tolerate and strengths you admired.

Unfortunately, the relationship ended too quickly for you to get there. You’re now left with the image of a near-flawless ex.

To make matters worse, because of nostalgia you now see them through rose-tinted glasses that magnifies their qualities even more.

What’s worse, you may be stuck inside your head imagining mistakes you didn’t do, thinking what you could have done differently to win them over, how to change your personality to better suit them or how you can get back together with them.

Unfortunately, this won’t do anything except prolong the pain. That person had their chance with you, and they believed the two of weren’t compatible for a long-term relationship.   

Perhaps this might turn out to be a good thing, since neither of you will waste time on a relationship that isn’t going anywhere.

7. You’re still grieving the relationship

Some break-ups can be as painful as losing a loved one. This is especially true if the break-up happened suddenly and you didn’t see it coming.

Unlike the death of a loved one however, breakups don’t feel permanent. Even if it’s unlikely, the possibility of getting back together with an ex is always there.

You’ll stay awake at night thinking how to get the ex back, or analyzing your relationship again and again trying to find a “why”. Why did the breakup happened? What did you do wrong? Can you fix it?

Is it worth fixing?

Ultimately, even if a break-up is harder to go through than losing a loved one, they both follow the same 5 steps:

  • Denial: “They’re just upset, it will be over tomorrow.”
  • Anger: “I hate him/her. They’ll regret leaving me.”
  • Bargaining: “If only I had tried more, they would have stayed.”
  • Depression: “I’ll never love someone again.”
  • Acceptance: “The breakup made me a better person.”

Depending on your circumstances, the quality of the ex, the relationship and how the breakup unfolded, you would best be served by going through all the steps of grieving, no matter how painful they may be.

Don’t try to get back together if you know (on a rational level) that the relationship was bad for you or that a makeup is impossible.

Feel the pain, no matter how hard it is and go through all the steps.

This too shall pass.

Persian proverb