5 Ways to Let Go of Your Ex—and Move On!
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.
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? Are you struggling to let go of your ex after a divorce or breakup?
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 are 5 ways to keep strong feelings about the past from sabotaging your success in the future:
- Take your emotional “temperature”
- Let it out
- Get rid of emotional triggers
- Blame the relationship
- Share your story
1. Take your emotional “temperature”
When you think about the past with your ex, are your emotions strong? You can usually feel these in your body in the form of:
- Tensing up
- A sick feeling in your gut
In which case 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
- Writing down your feelings in a letter to your ex 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 remove objects in your 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
- Your engagement ring
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. Why not start by selling the engagement ring?
4. Blame the relationship
My study found that the majority of divorced individuals blamed themselves or their ex for the divorce. Thoughts along the lines of: “He/she did something wrong” or “I am to blame”.
Spouses who shared responsibility or blamed the relationship for the breakup had better emotional healing. Thoughts along the lines of: “We grew apart” or “We were ill-matched”. They experienced less:
- Sleep disorders
- Overall health problems
Think about why the relationship ended. Replace an “I” or “he/she” statement, with a “we” statement. Your emotions about your ex will quickly diminish.
5. Share your story
After a big breakup it’s tempting to curl up on the couch with a pint of ice cream. 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 or family member 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 helps can be an integral part of the healing process. It also gives you a way to get perspective and share your feelings. 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 little or nothing about your ex, you will be emotionally prepared to meet someone new. So forget your ex and move on, it is time for a new beginning.
Why it is important to let go of your ex
Here’s something important you should know. If you have intense feelings for your ex (positive or negative), it will be difficult to start a healthy, new relationship. Importantly, these emotions can negatively affect your health.
That’s a finding from my landmark study of marriage and divorce. It has been following hundreds of married and divorced people for over 28 years. My research has discovered that divorcees who:
- Did not feel much for their ex were more likely to find a successful new relationship.
- Were grieving, held grudges or still in love, were less likely.
- Became emotionally neutral had better physical health and wellbeing.
You may have every reason to feel hurt or angry with your ex. It’s also not realistic to stop thinking about the past.
But to truly move forward in life, you’ll need to let go of your feelings. Once you let go of past hurts, you can start learning to love again.
Emotional baggage is any strong emotion from your past that prevents you from moving on in your life. Some signs that strong feelings about your ex are hindering your health and wellbeing. You:
- Still have photos or mementos from your marriage around the house.
- Wish you were still with them, even if you’re seeing someone else.
- Occasionally “peek” at their social media sites to see what he or she is up to.
- Panic when you discover that they will be at the same event you’re attending.
- Still cry or feel very sad when you think of them.