6 Ways to Forget Your Ex--So You Can Move On
Adapted from Dr. Terri Orbuch's new book, Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship.
After your big divorce or breakup, do you still have photos and mementos from your marriage around the house? Do you visit your ex's social media sites to see what he or she is up to? Do you have strong negative reactions when his or her name comes up in a conversation?
If you can't let go of your ex, it will be impossible to find love with a new person. That's one of the findings from my long-term study of marriage and divorce, ongoing since 1986. Divorced singles 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.
Here are six ways to forget your ex so you can move on with a new partner.
1. Dial down your emotions.
If you have unusually positive associations with your past, there's a good chance you're over-romanticizing the relationship. On the other hand, if you have unusually negative associations with that relationship, then you're lugging around emotional baggage that may be affecting your current behavior. For instance, you harbor anger, you refuse to ask anyone to avoid getting hurt again, or you shun commitment or closeness. An excess of positive OR negative emotions toward your ex is a sign that you need to work on letting go.
2. Find healthy ways to release those emotions.
Like a suitcase that's too heavy, an excess of emotions will weigh you down and slow down your progress toward reaching your destination of a new healthy relationship. Some ways to release an excess of stressful emotions are: engaging in vigorous physical activities; making an effort to connect with others socially; volunteering; engaging in creative activities that feed your spirit; screaming in a safe place (like your car); and writing a totally truthful letter, for your eyes only, to your ex--and then tossing it in the trash.
3. Share your divorce story with a friend.
In my long-term study, divorced singles who didn't talk about their relationships were less likely to find love. On the other hand, 80 percent of divorced singles who talked through their emotions found new, healthy relationships. Find an empathetic friend to whom you can tell your entire divorce story, starting from when things went wrong, through your present-day feelings and situation. A seemingly simple strategy, telling your divorce story 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.
4. Blame the relationship, not your partner.
Over 65 percent of divorced individuals in my study blamed their spouse for the divorce. (He/she did something wrong.) And women blamed their ex more than men did. But spouses who shared responsibility for the breakup or blamed the relationship itself (We grew apart, or we were ill-matched, for example) fared better in terms of emotional healing and were more likely to find a new partnership. When you replace the "I" or "he/she" statement with a "we" statement, your emotions about your partner will change.
5. Recast the past in neutral language.
Instead of saying "He left me for a younger woman," find a way to rephrase this in a neutral way: "He's moved on and so will I." This technique of "flipping the switch" from negative to neutral actually helps to reshape your thoughts and perceptions. You are rewiring how your brain processes information. Shifting your thought patterns away from negativity builds new neural connections, and replaces feelings of pain, self-doubt, and distress with feelings of calmness and serenity.
6. Change the present.
Do yourself a favor and remove emotional triggers from your life. Scan your home for items that remind you of your ex--then have a tag sale or donate them. Avoid places where you and your ex used to go--at least until you've truly moved on. Keep contact with your ex, in situations of shared custody of children, for example, to a bare minimum. Set boundaries with your ex's family--again, avoid contact as much as possible at least until you're completely healed.
My study supports the idea that 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!
Psychologist and bestselling author Terri Orbuch PhD, known as The Love Doctor(TM), is director of the longest-running study of married and divorced couples, ongoing since 1986 and funded by the NIH. A practicing marriage and relationship therapist for more than 20 years, she is a well-known love advisor on radio, TV, and OurTime.com, most recently seen on NBC's Today, and a popular blogger for Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and Next Avenue. Based on the breakthrough findings of her landmark 25-year study, her new book is Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship (Sourcebooks, June 2012). Her previous book was 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great (Random House). Learn more at www.DrTerriTheLoveDoctor.com.