How do I stop thinking about my ex?
February 28, 2012 1:44 PM   Subscribe

How do I stop thinking about my ex?

I split with my boyfriend of seven years nearly two years ago. We are now both in new and happier relationships. I don't want to be back with him at all, not even a little bit! The reasons for our split were very solid - we were good friends but not in love with each other anymore and we couldn't give each other what we really wanted. It was a sad time but the relief we both felt at ending things was palpable.

So why do I still think of him all the time? I am stupidly jealous of the relationship he has with his new girlfriend and how she has essentially taken over my place in our old social life and with my old friends. We tried to remain friends, but after he entered this new relationship he stopped contact with me. I can't avoid seeing him ever again, because even though we are not on Facebook or Twitter our friends in common are and sometimes things slip through the gap.

I don't want to think of him all the time. How do I make this happen? How to I get closure when closure isn't possible? I'd be happy if the only time I thought of him was fondly, when looking at an old photo, and then not thinking of him again. Instead he enters my thoughts at least once a day and I miss him. I thought I was fine, because after the first six months I didn't really think about him much, but then in the last three or four months it's started all over again.

So, TL;DR: how do I stop thinking about my ex? Is this completely normal?

I know the stock answer in here is therapy, but we don't really have that culture in England, and definitely not in the tiny rural corner of England I live in. Or is it? What free or cheap resources are available to me now? I can't talk to my friends about it. All advice welcome!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Seeing a therapist will help you, regardless of what the "culture" is.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 1:49 PM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Short answer is: you don't.

Slightly longer answer is that with time it will matter less. Over the course of seven years, you build quite a few connections, and those connections will fade and disappear with time, but apparently two years isn't enough time for you.

It's perfectly natural, if a little disconcerting/frustrating. Understand that it doesn't make you less of anything good or more of anything bad. It's just human.
posted by Mooski at 1:51 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I try to remember the bad things about former relationships when exes creep back into my mind. Time will help, but it will help more if you could totally sever all ties. Also Nthing therapy.
posted by getawaysticks at 1:51 PM on February 28, 2012

Two years is a long time. The expectation of friendship is a bit much; the energy he put towards being your "friend" is now being put towards another. You can't and shouldn't expect his friendship.

The only non-therapy advice I have is to simply feel what you are feeling, process it, and move on. Also, it helps if you are doing stuff to get back to the person you were before you met your ex.

Eventually, seeing or hearing about your ex won't elicit any sort of feeling.
posted by PsuDab93 at 1:53 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Part of the problem is resisting the thoughts - you spent 7 years together and you were friends so it stands to reason that you will still remember and think of this person to varying degrees over the course of your life.

Therapy will help with this.
posted by mleigh at 1:57 PM on February 28, 2012

And I say that because the other option here is journaling but I really don't think you want your current partner to accidentally come across it.
posted by mleigh at 1:58 PM on February 28, 2012

This happens, and though it's not precisely normal I'm not sure it's therapy-necessary on its own (though it wouldn't hurt if you did find an amenable resource). Even good breakups have grieving processes, and seven years together is a long time. It sounds like you're grieving some old friendships, too, so it's not just the one thing.

My general advice is to be busier. Give your brain something better to do - learning something (knitting, Spanish, watercolors, shoe repair, magic tricks) forms new connections in your brain and takes up energy, and it's acquisition of a skill that has nothing to do with him/them.

When it does happen, acknowledge it and then redirect. "Hello, pang. Now move along." Time will help, but you can make it easier on time by not dwelling on it when it happens.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:59 PM on February 28, 2012 [10 favorites]

The stock answer for breaking bad habits is a rubber band around the wrist that you snap whenever you find yourself tempted to indulge. Try a little negative reinforcement and you might find your mind learns to quit it.
posted by Scram at 2:02 PM on February 28, 2012

I know this sounds trite, but to stop thinking about your ex, you don't allow yourself to think about him.

By that I mean that when he pops up in your head, instead of dwelling on the past and following your thoughts into your memories, make a conscious effort to halt the process.

I made a comment in a similar thread a while ago and applies here: It's like worrying a sore tooth with your tongue: it's always in the back of your mind and it feels good to poke at it, to remind yourself of it. But you'll feel better if you don't allow yourself to reminisce, to muse over what happened. Resolve to distract yourself. The poking is wasted energy and only draws your attention to the things you can't change.

On preview, this: When it does happen, acknowledge it and then redirect. "Hello, pang. Now move along."
posted by Specklet at 2:12 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

The book How to Break Your Addiction to a Person by Howard Halpern is actually quite helpful.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:22 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Did this start about the time he got a new girlfriend? If not (or maybe even if so) think about what about this situation is bothering you. You may be thinking about him to keep from thinking about something else scarier/more difficult. Or he may just be coming to mind a lot lately because of the season or random reminders, but a bit of self-examination might help.

That said, I agree with the advice to remind yourself of things you dislike about the ex. I find it a lot easier to stop ex thoughts when I'm a little angry. I consider a bit of anger at exes healthy and self-protective.
posted by momus_window at 2:23 PM on February 28, 2012

Any thoughts as to why this started? Are you comparing ex to current? Missing your old life because you're uncertain about something in your future?
posted by Lesser Shrew at 2:25 PM on February 28, 2012

Of course you're going to feel bad when he has a new girlfriend and you don't. That's just inevitable, unfortunately. Especially if you don't find a replacement as quickly as he did.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:25 PM on February 28, 2012

The advice I've heard about breakups is that it takes half as long as you were in a relationship to really get over the breakup (this presumably has to do with the connections Mooski was talking about). So yeah, this is normal, and parallels my experience with a 9-year relationship.

My suggestion, which may be difficult given your comments about being in a small corner of England, is to find some activities that he and your current friends aren't involved in. That won't kill the pangs but it will distract you, and possibly put you in the way of meeting new people.
posted by immlass at 2:27 PM on February 28, 2012

I think getting him off your Twitter, even if it means you have to quit, would help a lot. The less contact the better. It would help.
posted by devymetal at 7:08 PM on February 28, 2012

You can't just stop thinking about someone or something; it's easier if you replace the unwanted thoughts with thoughts of things that you're interested in or enjoy. For me, that usually means finding something new to pay attention to, or renewing my involvement in something I used to enjoy. I like to cook, and recently I dealt with persistent anxious thoughts by selecting one of my old cookbooks cookig things I hadn't tried before. Not much of a project, but sometimes one can be distracted by minor changes, if they're engaging.
posted by wryly at 7:13 PM on February 28, 2012

What strikes me about your question is when you say your ex's new girlfriend took over your place in your old social life. Is it possible you're missing the friend group you used to have, more than you miss your ex? Can you take steps to join up with that group again?
posted by mlle valentine at 7:52 PM on February 28, 2012

The book Getting Past Your Breakup might help. It describes grief as a repeating cyclical process, not a linear one as people often imagine, and it also offers numerous strategies for dealing with mutual friends and family.

Simply knowing that throughout your life you are going to repeatedly encounter some form of grief over the end of a relationship can be extremely helpful and comforting. It makes sense that his having a girlfriend will sometimes trigger older feelings. I wouldn't hold yourself to an arbitrary time limit about it.
posted by luckdragon at 8:26 PM on February 28, 2012

Sort of an add-on to what Specklet said...

When I couldn't stop thinking about someone to the point that it was interfering with my work, I discovered that though I couldn't stop thnking about *her* specifically, I was able to stop thinking about women entirely (for a while, as long as I needed to), and that covered her too.

I've been able to generalize my thinking in this way several times since, when there have been other situations that are similar - IOW, if I can't stop picking at a mental wound, I can avoid a wider area, and thus avoid the paths that lead me there. It winds up being less of a challenge to my mental discipline.

Meditation can be a huge help with ths sort of thing, allowing you to detach your emotions from your various trains of thought, whether they be intensely pleasurable or disturbing
posted by Calibandage at 6:00 AM on February 29, 2012

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