When you imagine a ghost, you probably conjure an image of a white apparition with rattling chains, one that spookily glides over attic rafters. But when it comes to romance, there is another potentially sinister influence afoot: it’s called an “ex.” There’s a reason why scores of men and women endorse a no-communication/no-friendship rule once a relationship ends, and that’s because trying to maintaining a connection rarely works well.
A few conditions should be met for anyone who wants to try to have a friendship with an ex: the relationship did not end spitefully; neither wants to be romantically together any longer; and each person has moved on and inhabits a happy new relationship. If your past relationship doesn’t meet these conditions, it’s probably a good idea to throw some cold water on your face and start accepting the reality that maintaining a connection can hurt you and prevent you from moving on.
Maintaining a connection with an ex can causes harm in four major ways:
1. Talking to an ex can create false hope that the two of you could one day get back together. Even if you know your ex isn’t right for you, talking to your ex can cause serious problems. After a relationship ends, loneliness, confusion and anger often come in fits and starts. When any of these emotions come, they can hit you like a cross-town bus. After the past relationship ends, you are going to feel vulnerable and will be susceptible to getting into an emotional or sexual situation with your ex to self-medicate and make you feel better. The problem? Each communication can tear the scab off and start the healing process all over again. When you’re lonely or upset, try as hard as you can to resist the urge to reach out to your ex.
2. You might compare any new love interest to your ex. I don’t care how strong you are: The day will come when you compare someone new to your ex, and that day will come a lot sooner and more frequently if you are still talking to your ex. Come on, give a new relationship a chance! You and your ex gave the last relationship a chance and it failed. Period. Now, it’s time to forgo stubbornness and rigid thinking: Try your hardest to give up the ghost and move on!
3. You might start romanticizing the past relationship with your ex, forgetting the bad stuff and focusing on the good stuff. Hands down, the tendency to forget the bad and focus on the good is one of the most common problems men and women face after a breakup. But instead of falling into that all-too-predictable trap, prepare in advance for the mental tricks your mind can play on you. You can try all kinds of techniques to thwart foolish thinking: leave positive voicemail messages for yourself; write a helpful mantra on a note and keep it in your wallet; paste a “Don’t you dare!” message on the refrigerator; or ask a friend to remind you of the bad stuff when you start focusing on the good stuff. My favorite? Keep repeating, “It didn’t work for a reason!” until it starts to click. During the transitional period that follows the end of the relationship, it can also be extremely helpful to pick up a good self-help book that you can keep by your bed and read when you feel most vulnerable. My book, Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription, could help, as could any number of other good ones at the local bookstore. Whatever you do, be proactive and remember to draw firm boundaries with yourself.
4. A new boyfriend or girlfriend might feel uncomfortable with you talking to your ex. Keeping it real, dating stresses everyone out to some degree. There are so many unknowns in the beginning when you meet someone: whether they have online dating profiles; whether they are seeing anyone else; and not knowing their true character and level of integrity. Given all the uncertainties, don’t complicate things by giving your new love interest a reason to think you might still have feelings for your ex. If you have an ex with whom you have a truly healthy friendship, wait a while to introduce your new flame to your ex. You need to establish a strong foundation before introducing the ex factor.
The ex dance can be extremely tricky to navigate. After a relationship ends, it is usually wisest to avoid communication with your ex in order to let the wounds heal and start positioning yourself to meet someone better for you. Delaying gratification during this transitional period will result in rewards later, including the ability to move on!
The difference between people who move on and people who don’t is that people who successfully move on sit with the sadness in the beginning, instead of acting out on it, which allows them to truly process their feelings and move on later. People who don’t move on continue to engage in behaviors where they delay the pain and gratify themselves immediately (calling or hooking up with the ex), realizing later that each reunion episode starts the healing process all over again.
Learn more about Dr. Seth Meyers and his book Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.
Have you tried to maintain a relationship with an ex? Did it work or not work?