There’s a wise saying about how to get over an ex — and begin anew. The essence of “un clavo quita otro clavo” (a nail takes out or replaces another nail) sounds good in principle. But does it work? Is the secret to getting over an ex for us to replace them? The “You must not know about me” generation would seem to think so. But in reality, it’s not all that simple.
Even in some of the worst breakups, it’s natural to have feelings of affection and yearnings for reconnection bubble up once on a while. We might be “over and done” with someone but we don’t always just get over them. The process of uncoupling and falling out of love is not always cut and dry. Losses rarely are. Special songs, movies, restaurants, travel destinations and poems that once filled our hearts are stored as memories, and these memories are bound to get triggered.
And when they do, we have a choice. We can hide, deny and repress our thoughts and feelings behind a wall of shame, belittle ourselves for being so weak and pretend it didn’t happen. Or we can accept the fact that we are human and once loved our ex and not make a big deal of it.
If we go into denial, the feelings we are doing everything in our power to avoid may even grow stronger. What you resist, persists. Facing how we feel is most often the smartest approach. And the feelings do begin to dissipate over time.
But what if these thoughts, even fantasies, begin to become intrusive, disruptive, distracting and even dangerous? What if they are strong indicators that we’re still in love with our ex? Our heart is not ready for another door to open. And we’re better off dealing with it sooner than later.
If you have gone through a breakup with someone you once loved and suspect that it might be interfering with a current start up, here are a few suggestions and considerations:
1. Acknowledge the fact!
If you’re still holding a place mark in your heart for an ex, be honest enough to admit it. It might not make any sense, especially if they hurt or betrayed you. And you might want to deny these “inappropriate” thoughts and feelings coming over you, asking yourself, “How can I possibly be feeling this way? What’s wrong with me?” In a minute, we’ll assess whether you’re holding on for all the wrong reasons or genuinely still in love. But for the moment, let’s just acknowledge that residue of the lovin’ feelin is still there.
2. Assess the Interference.
List the ways your secret feelings are interfering with your current relationship. This self “audit” will help you begin to take responsibility for the consequences of allowing “harmless” memories, lingering feelings of affection and fantasies to persist. Comparisons of old lovers to your “current” are an example of this.
3. Assess Your Actions.
Have you allowed your feelings to affect your actions? How? Once again, self-deception and saving face may temporarily shield you from shame and embarrassment. Being truthful with yourself is the best, long-term strategy for great results. Admit it to yourself! You’ll begin trusting yourself more. And trust is the basis for restoring integrity.
4. Decide: “What Do I Want?”
Time for a reality check! And to decide. Beyond all the memories, drama, short-term relief of a fantasy, idealization of the other person, rationalizations, addictions and distorted assessments of the past is the deep wisdom you possess about what’s best for you. Get your head out of the clouds, tap into this deep wisdom and make a good decision for your life.
If your heart strings are being pulled because ending things with your ex was a mistake, then think about scenarios for going back for a “redo.” Do an honest assessment of why things did not work out. And go from there. If, on the other hand, your “chooser” made a sound decision to end things despite a deeply disappointed, despairing heart, stay the course.
5. Take Some Time With Yourself.
If this whole dating thing just isn’t feeling right, and you are tied up in knots about reentering “the game,” take some much-welcome time to become reacquainted with yourself. How might you have changed? What things do you want now? From yourself? From a partner? Strengthening your relationship with yourself is often the most significant investment you can make in either a new and promising relationship or a future “I just haven’t met you yet” one. It is also insurance that you are not just filling the void by plugging a new man or woman into an empty, lonely or needy space.
6. Are You Playing With Fire?
If you’re in a new relationship, and are secretly or not-so-secretly crossing the line with an ex, you may be putting that new relationship at risk. Holding on, even unconsciously, can be treacherous. Trying to rekindle an old flame is playing with fire. Setting clear boundaries is a must. Things like excessive physical affection (kissing on the lips), telling off-color stories and private jokes, making uncomfortable comparisons, talking badly about an ex and using children to spend excessive time together are all inappropriate and potentially destructive. New relationships need and deserve their own priority space, security and protection.
7. It’s OK to Move Forward: You’re a Work in Progress.
It’s only natural for us to have flashbacks, memories, moments of both gratitude and regret for those who have been a part of our lives. It’s all part of making peace with the past, healing old wounds, recalling special times and trying to be a better person. Sometimes, things from our past become so big and daunting that they require considerable (even professional) help and attention. We struggle to let go, can get to the root causes and get ourselves back on track.
And sometimes, we discover that letting go yields to a new season of gratitude. A spontaneous greeting card to an ex-wife on a son or daughter’s birthday thanking her for bringing such joy into her ex-husbands life can help heal an old wound.
The emotional heart each one of us possesses does not simply shut off like a faucet when relationships end. Certain people touch us so deeply they occupy a place in our hearts forever. The bonds of love may fade, and new love may take seed, but they never completely disappear. And that’s OK. Those who have lost husbands and wives to death, and who learn to love again – and those whose families have become happily “blended” – show us all that with time, faith, courage and respect for our newly beloved, we possess the ability to heal and move on. New and wonderful chapters of life await us.
Ken Druck, Ph.D., founder of The Jenna Druck Center in San Diego, is a renowned resilience expert, organizational consultant, and award-winning author of several books including, The Real Rules of Life (Hay House). Follow Ken’s blog or find him on Facebook.