Breakups are among the most painful transitions that we endure. The pain of losing someone you have loved and still love — someone with whom you shared your heart, your dreams, and your life — can be devastating.
Breakups also activate old wounds from past losses: other breakups, early losses, your parents’ divorce, or betrayal from friends. That’s why they can be profound opportunities to heal, if we approach them as such.
Yet all too often, people remain stuck on their ex and can’t seem to move forward. They find themselves caught in a negative spiral of trying to figure out what went wrong, feeling angry at themselves or at their ex, or stuck in a depressed or anxious state. They may also be in a new and healthy relationship, but still ruminating on a past love.
If this describes you, here are three reasons why you may be stuck on your ex:
1. You haven’t let yourself grieve to completion.
In a culture that’s addicted to the happy face and has little tolerance for people struggling with life, it’s easy to internalize the message that “you should be over him or her already,” even if the breakup only happened a few months ago.
There is no timeline on grief. One person may grieve fully and feel complete after a few weeks and another person will need nine months or longer to fully process the pain of a breakup. Attending to your heartbreak with compassion and curiosity, instead of trying to “get over it” or avoid it through distractions, is the single-most important action you can take in the aftermath of a breakup.
Grieving is the medicine for loss. We grieve through crying, through expressing anger responsibly, through writing letters to the ex that we never send, through processing memories, and through talking with a trusted friend or counselor. When the grief is truncated, it stagnates in the body, damming up your natural flow of energy and prohibiting you from moving forward with joy.
2. You’re stuck in the blame-game or the guilt-game.
A breakup, like all transitions, is an opportunity to learn about yourself and grow. Unfortunately, because most people have a difficult time tolerating emotional pain, the ego steps in and turns to obsessing about why the break-up occurred, either blaming everything on your partner or yourself.
While staying stuck in blame or guilt does achieve the ego’s goal of keeping you in your head and thus, separate from your pain, neither of these negative mind maneuvers are productive toward the ultimate goal of a breakup, which is to grieve the loss to completion, and learn whatever you can about yourself. By doing these two actions, you till the soil that will prepare you to receive your next relationship on healthy ground.
3. You’re idealizing your ex or using him or her as a distraction.
If you’re in a healthy new relationship and suffering from relationship anxiety, your mind may turn to thoughts, dreams, and even obsessions about your ex as a way to erect a comfortable wall around your heart that serves the purpose of keeping your new partner at bay.
You may have believed you were completely over your ex — and you probably are — but if you’re prone to anxiety, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that thoughts about your ex mean that you still have feelings for him or her.
If you’ve grieved to completion and learned what you need to learn, you have done the good, hard work of your breakup. Now it’s time to address your anxiety and learn to work with the fear walls that are trying to protect you from taking the risk of loving again. In other words, your idealization or obsession about your ex have nothing to do with your ex and everything to do with your ego’s way of trying to keep you safe.
For we all know — and those who’ve been through a break up know it better than most — that with love comes the risk of loss and the risk of being hurt. And we also know that we’re wired for love, that no matter how many times you’ve been hurt, you’ll likely try again at some point.
It’s so much better to try again with a clear heart, which means taking the time to attend to your pain from your break-up and learn your lessons so that you can welcome in your new partner without the past impinging on the present.