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After a Breakup, Who Says Your Feelings Have to Make Sense?

You know that what you feel isn't right, but you can't help feeling it anyway.

When your relationship first ended, you may have been far clearer about why the relationship didn’t work, and why your ex was wrong for you. However, you now find yourself having uncomfortable thoughts about the ex—longing, melancholy, and memories of the good times are seeping back into your psyche. Your once-clear perspective becomes more cloudy: what you are feeling right now doesn’t line up with what actually happened between you and your ex. Yet you miss the relationship; you miss that partner who was so wrong for you. It just doesn't make sense: These are not the feelings you’re “supposed” to feel, yet you feel them anyway, and you just can’t seem to make them go away.

So now what?

First, whoever said your feelings are supposed to make sense? Often, they just don’t. And remember, there is a huge difference between feeling uncomfortable, irrational feelings, and acting on them.

You might wonder how it’s possible to miss someone who treated you badly. The answer is that what you feel is not logical. It's a feeling, not an action. The difference between your internal confusion—and shame for feeling these illogical feelings—vs. the way you know you "should" feel is daunting not only for you, but often for your friends and family as well. When you share your feelings and longings with them, they may respond with: “Are you kidding me? That relationship was horrible! How could you possibly miss that person?” They mean to be helpful, to support you and remind you of your own value. They want you to be safe and to help you move through these difficult feelings into an emotional life that has less space for your ex, so that you can thrive. Unfortunately, because you're already uncomfortable with these nonsensical feelings, friends and family can inadvertently intensify the shame you already feel. You already know that what you are feeling isn't "right,” but you can't help feeling it anyway.

What You Need

Time and distance can serve two functions: They can help you grow stronger in your commitment to your well-being, and create distance from your ex. But as you get further from the relationship, it can also become easier to slip back into longing for your ex, because at that moment, you feel a sense of urgency to be validated that what you had was real—and of course it probably did have its moments of greatness. You may suddenly be swimming in the times that you and your ex did have of authentic connection. When you are overcome with those feelings, it's much easier to overlook all the stuff that was so wrong—at least temporarily.

First and foremost, give yourself a break. Longing for someone you once loved is normal; sometimes it’s inevitable—even when it was you who left the relationship in the first place. You miss the moments that were special between the two of you, but that does not mean you need to run out and act on those feelings.

Register how you feel. Acknowledge it. Your feelings may not be rational, but they are valid, and they are yours. You feel what you feel, and whatever you feel is valid; it doesn’t have to make sense. Feelings happen. Only when you believe your feelings are truth and feel an urgency to act on them do irrational feelings become bad decisions.

Recognize when you are reacting to a trigger about your previous relationship, whether it's a text from your ex, the news that he or she is dating again, or just because you had a sentimental conversation with your ex, or someone else, about some of the amazing times you had when you were together. But just because you feel these feelings doesn’t mean you have to act on them, or that you will. Longing for your ex is not a sign that you are supposed to go back and try to repair the relationship.

Certainly some people do go back to painfully wrong relationships, hoping to get it right “this time." Sometimes this process occurs over and over again. Obviously, this does not typically work out well, because as consuming as these feelings can be, they are just feelings, they are not rational, and they are happening inside your head, not outside your body where you can lose control of them.

If you act on everything you feel, it's because you are choosing to block out the likely consequences, which helps irrational feelings become irrational actions. Instead, allow yourself to experience, respect and move through your conflicting feelings by recognizing and remembering that they don't always have to make sense. You will be less likely to act on irrational feelings when you understand and accept that its normal to feel that way.

When you can tolerate the discomfort of these feelings and understand their humanness, you will be more likely to come out the other side of your triggered emotional experience, and be relieved you didn't act on it.

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