The Love Doctor

Making your relationships healthier and more fulfilling.

How to Exorcise Your Ex

5 steps to help you move on and find new happiness.

Do you find yourself still aching from—or still angry about—a past relationship? Whether you're on the market for a new partner or are already in a new relationship, when memories of an old love are triggered—by anything from the corner deli to a favorite CD—you may find that it's troubling at best, and destructive at worst.

If the ghost of an old lover is haunting you, it's essential that you take some steps to let go and move on, because one of the signposts of a healthy love relationship is a partner's ability to be present and emotionally available. When you start obsessing about an old wound, it can wreak havoc on your and your partner's happiness. My research shows that negative emotions—regardless of their origin—are contagious. You may not intend to project the bad feelings meant for your ex onto your current relationship, but it happens anyway.

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With that in mind, here are 5 steps you can take to exorcize your ex:

  1. Discard haunted objects.
    Photos, a perfume, or even furniture can actually reopen old wounds and continue to remind you of negative emotions associated with your ex. Clean out your house, car, and office of all mementos and objects you associate with your former partner.
  2. Purge your anger.
    You may still have unresolved anger at your ex. That's okay, but if you don't deal with this residual anger constructively, you can't let go of your past. Try writing a really honest and angry letter to that person—and then throw it away. Or get inside your car where no one can hear or see you and yell at him or her at the top of your lungs until you've said absolutely everything you need to say, and have gotten it all off your chest.
  3. Don't take the blame.
    Regardless of why you broke up, don't blame yourself. Instead, blame the relationship or situation. Removing the blame from yourself—or your ex—helps you rebound more quickly from past hurts. It's helpful to use language such as, "I/we were really young," or, "We did the best we could at the time."
  4. Don't repeat the pattern.
    Sometimes when we carry old wounds, we behave in the present as if that relationship or situation is still going on. Your partner may find him or herself in a relationship with "the old you" rather than the improved, evolved person you've become (or are becoming). Be in the present, examine your current relationships and situation, and change your behavior to fit the way things actually are right now.
  5. Ask for help.
    If you are really feeling distressed, angry, or upset, or if you feel as if the past is preventing you from moving on, I strongly encourage you to enlist the assistance of a counselor or therapist. Another person's perspective can help you see clearly which behaviors and attitudes are remnants of your past.

Don't let old feelings from a former relationship spook your current one. Once you let go of past hurts, you will open yourself up to experience many fresh, new, positive emotions with a new partner in your life.

Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., is an Oakland University professor and research professor at The University of Michigan. more...

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