Why Can’t I Get Over My Ex? Part 1
There might be a lesson yet to learn.
Posted Sep 28, 2019
Many of us have gone through a breakup only to find that we are still thinking about our ex. The relationship is long over. There is no hope of reconciliation. We aren’t even in contact. And yet, our ex is still on our minds.
Our inability to get over an ex may be a sign that we have a relationship lesson yet to learn. Sometimes, the lesson is that we need to learn to appreciate our own worth better and to celebrate our ability to be loving.
We often feel that we should rid ourselves of thoughts and feelings about exes as soon as possible. When they remain in our thoughts after the break-up, we can feel confused and ashamed—and even guilty.
Confused: We think that as long as an ex is on our mind, we must still want to be with them.
Ashamed: We are thinking about someone who no longer wants us or with whom we ended a relationship.
Guilty: We might feel we are emotionally cheating on our current partner.
What makes it worse is that we often feel alone with these feelings. Our friends are tired of hearing about our ex. They were there for us through the relationship and the breakup, and now they are ready for us to move on.
Often enough, we think it means we should get back together. Sometimes, this is absolutely right. But often, after a reunion, we realize that being with our ex doesn’t feel as good as we expected. The loving feeling was more pronounced when we were alone with our thoughts and memories about them.
In the heat of romance, we blur the distinction between enjoying our partner and appreciating how we experience ourselves—the way we love—when we are with them. Often, we focus more on our partner as the object of our desire and affection than we do on ourselves. Thus, we associate our loving feelings with them. After all, being in their presence gives rise to those feelings.
Nonetheless, when we attribute our love for our ex to something intrinsic about them to the exclusion of crediting our own ability to love, we overvalue them and undervalue ourselves. When we are more grounded, we can appreciate both—our partner and our ability to love them.
Remembering Our Loving Selves
Learning to distinguish between our memories of an ex—our internal image—and the actual person can help us appreciate our capacity to love. While we may feel consistently injured or angry when in the presence of an ex, in our inner world, we may feel love and compassion for them—that’s a loving self. We love remembering them because it reminds us of how we loved them.
Accessing a loving self through an internal image of an ex can be powerfully reassuring. It is similar to imagining a parent being proud of our accomplishments, long after they are gone, or like a child getting comfort from a teddy bear. The teddy bear is just a stuffed animal; it is the child who gives it the ability to soothe when they are upset, and the child who is exercising a loving self.
Past Loving Selves
Three years after his breakup, Jack confesses that, though he is engaged to a wonderful woman, he occasionally thinks about his ex. Though he feels guilty about it, thinking of his ex helps him revisit the intensity of the love he felt during their turbulent relationship. The internal image reminds him of a particular way he is capable of loving despite being content with his current, more stable partnership.
Jane continues to revisit memories of her rebel ex. As he struggled to make it in the adult world, she admired his free spirit. His vulnerability caused her to care deeply for him. Though she ultimately decided that she needed to be with someone who was more mature and could help her provide for the family she wanted, recollecting her ex’s vulnerability allows her to remain connected to the protective way she loved him.
Our Loves Reveal Who We Are
Life is full of loves and losses. And yet the losses can feel so painful that we want to avoid repeating them. We may even choose who to date based on avoiding the failures of previous relationships. Perhaps instead of focusing on what didn’t work with former loves, it might be better to focus on what did—how we loved them.
The internal images of past lovers make for a richer inner life—they represent distinct loving selves. We are revealed to ourselves through our relationships and evolve through the variety of ways in which we can love. Since we never fall in love the same way twice, all loves are important in allowing us to experience ourselves as loving.