Relationship Articles

5 Ways to Let Go of Your Ex—and Move On!

May 8, 2015 - Relationship Articles
New Life

Do you still have photos and mementos from your former marriage around the house? Do you have a strong negative reaction when your ex’s name comes up in a conversation? It can be difficult to bounce back after a long-term marriage ends, at any age, for both men and women. There will be grief, anger, and sadness. You might even miss your ex and doubt whether you made the right decision.

 Here’s something important you should know. As long as you’re harboring intense feelings for your ex—positive or negative—it will be nearly impossible to find a satisfying relationship with someone new. Even more importantly, these strong emotions connected to your ex can adversely affect your health and wellbeing.

That’s a finding from my landmark study of marriage and divorce, which has been following hundreds of married and divorced individuals for more than 28 years. My research has discovered that divorced individuals who were able to say “I don’t feel much of anything for my ex” were more likely to find a successful long-term relationship than those who were grieving, held grudges, or worse—were still in love. Also, those divorced individuals who became emotionally neutral had better physical health and wellbeing.

 Now don’t misunderstand me. You may have every reason to feel hurt or angry with your ex. It’s also not realistic for me to ask you to stop thinking about the past. But to truly move forward in life and in other relationships, you’ll need to face your feelings and let go of the hold your emotions have on you. Once you let go of past hurts, you will open yourself up to experience fresh, new and positive emotions.

Emotional baggage is any strong emotion from your past that prevents you from being fully present in a current relationship or in your life overall. Everyone has some emotional baggage, but it can’t weigh you down. How do you know if you’re holding on to strong feelings about your ex that hinder your health and wellbeing? Here are some signs:

  • You still have photos, mementos, and favorite tchotchkes from your marriage around the house.
  • You find yourself wishing you were still with your ex, even though you’re seeing someone else.
  • You occasionally “peek” at your ex’s social media sites to see what he or she is up to.
  • You panic when you discover that your ex will be at the same event you’re attending.
  • Or, you still cry or feel very sad when you think of your ex-relationship.

When you’re ready to neutralize your attachment to the past, here are 5 ways to keep strong feelings about the past from sabotaging your success in the future and helping you stay healthy and strong.

1. Take your emotional “temperature.”

When you think about the past with your ex, are your emotions strong? If you have unusually positive feelings, memories, and associations, you may be over-romanticizing the relationship. On the other hand, if you have unusually negative responses to the past (you can usually feel these in your body in the form of tensing up, frowning, or a sick feeling in your gut), then you’re lugging around emotional baggage that may be affecting your current behavior. In both cases, an excess of emotion toward your ex isn’t good for you; it needs attention and healing.

2. Let it out.

Like a suitcase that’s too heavy, an excess of negative emotions about your ex will weigh you down. Instead, find constructive ways to let go of your anger, frustration, grief, resentment, or bitterness. Some positive ways to release emotions associated with your ex are: engaging in vigorous physical activities, making an effort to connect with others socially, doing volunteer service that takes you out of your self-absorption, participating in creative activities that allow you to express yourself, and writing down your feelings in a letter to your ex—for your eyes only—and then tossing it in the trash.

3. Get rid of emotional triggers.

You can’t rewrite history and completely wipe out all memory of your ex, especially if the two of you share children and friends. But you can take action to minimize objects in your immediate environment that remind you of your ex. Discard or box up objects around you that trigger negative feelings. These might be anything from a dress he bought you, photographs of your vacations together, or a diamond wedding ring and other jewelry (WP Diamonds is a fast and safe way to sell these diamonds, jewelry and watches). You’ll find these emotional triggers in your house, your car, and even your office. Freshen up your surroundings with items that you love and are meaningful to you.

4. Blame the relationship.

My study found that the majority of divorced individuals blamed themselves or their ex for the divorce (He/she did something wrong; I am to blame). But spouses who were able to share responsibility for the breakup or who blamed the relationship itself (“We grew apart,” or “We were ill-matched”) fared better in terms of emotional healing and experienced less anxiety, depression, sleep disorders and overall health problems. If you think about why the relationship ended, and you can replace an “I” or “he/she” statement, with a “we” statement, your emotions about your partner will quickly diminish.

5. Share your story.

After a big breakup, it’s tempting to curl up on the couch with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and wallow in your misery–and then to sleep all weekend with the shades down. It’s okay to grieve, but don’t do it alone. Ask for help. Read a self-help book. Find an empathetic friend who would be willing to hear your entire story, starting from when things went wrong, through your present-day feelings and situation. Telling your story to others not only helps you feel better, but also gives you a way to get perspective and share your feelings, which speeds up the healing process. If you’re feeling really distressed, by all means see a therapist or counselor. A compassionate, neutral perspective can really help.

Once you are able to feel nothing, or very little, about your ex, you will be more mentally and emotionally prepared for meeting a new person, choosing new patterns, and discovering a new life. So forget your ex—and move on!

Bio: Dr. Terri Orbuch (aka The Love Doctor®) is an author, speaker, therapist, professor at Oakland University, and research professor at University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research. She is also the director of a landmark study, funded by the N...

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