Q: My ex and I broke up about a year ago. I've dated a couple people since then-but I can't help compare them to him, and they come up short. I still think about him all the time (with some social-media stalking thrown in as well). He's dating someone new now, and I feel terribly sad about it every day. How can I stop thinking about it-and stop comparing him to everyone I meet?
A: To put it bluntly: One year is way too long to be harboring such intense feelings for an ex. You're not ready to get into a relationship with someone new until you rid your ex from your life, Exorcist-style.
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If you truly want a satisfying relationship with someone new, you've got to get 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. 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.
Still holding on to strong feelings about 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 him and whom he is dating.
5 steps to exorcise your exShare on Pinterest
1. Discard haunted objects
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. Avoid going to places where you and your ex used to go, like a go-to restaurant or the park where you used to run (at least until you've truly moved on).
Minimize the things in your immediate environment that remind you of them.
Rid your house, car, and office of anything you associate with them; photos, old furniture, even a certain perfume can actually restimulate old wounds and continue to remind you of your ex. Hold a yard sale, sell items on Craigslist, or donate the goods to charity.
2. Snap out of it
Wear a rubber band around your wrist and snap it every time you think about your ex and feel your emotions taking over. This exercise helps you extinguish your thoughts of him. It's also a small reminder-but an effective one-that you are in control.
3. Find positive ways to release emotions or thoughts
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: putting yourself through tough workouts; spending time with friends and family; volunteering (an excellent way to take you out of your self-absorption); or being creative and expressing yourself through art, writing, or music.
Feeling really pissed? Let your anger out by screaming in your car, hitting and kicking a mattress, or writing down your feelings in a letter “addressed” to your ex-then throwing it away.
Blame the relationship or situation-not yourself or your ex.
4. Don't take the blame
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.
5. Share your story with a trusted friend
When you carry old wounds, you behave in the present as if that relationship or situation is still going on. You also date new partners who are similar to your ex (and have the 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 a new love partner in your life, you can't let past hurts linger. Try the above strategies, but 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 counselor or therapist. Another person's perspective can help you see clearly which behaviors and attitudes are remnants of your past.
Dr. Terri Orbuch (a.k.a. The Love Doctor) is a professor, therapist, research scientist, and author of five best-selling books, including Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship. Learn more about her at DrTerriTheLoveDoctor.com.