How to get an ex off the mind.
January 17, 2013 8:51 AM   Subscribe

How much thinking about your ex is too much, and how do you control it?

Simple question, but it doesn't feel so simple. I'm very happy with my girlfriend. I'm the happiest I've even been in a relationship, and it's the healthiest relationship I've had. The times I'm most content is when I'm laying in bed with her, just talking. This isn't about her, at least that my conscious mind knows of.

And yet, I think about my ex a lot more than I think I should. About little things, like her smile, or hugging her. The goofy stuff she does. Or I suppose, did, since I haven't seen her in a year. Last night I even had (another) dream about her.

I don't want to be with my ex, at least consciously. It was an awful relationship. We're friendly now, and agree that even though we enjoy each other's company we were bad at dating each other.

So my question is: Does this mean I'm a bad girlfriend, or I don't love my current partner? And how can I get my ex out of my thoughts.

Throwaway email is
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It really is a simple question with a simple answer. Stop thinking about her. Every time your brain drifts in that direction, consciously start thinking about something else. Go read or watch TV or surf the web or think about kittens with tiny little hats. Contrary to popular opinion, you can actually control what you think about, it just takes discipline and, at first, constant vigilance. The more you let yourself go down a thought path and worry about what kind of person it makes you etc., the more you're going to think about her. So just nip it in the bud when it happens until you don't have to do it consciously anymore.
posted by Kimberly at 9:08 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sometimes you can't get someone out of your head. To fight against it is exhausting, and at least in my experience, makes you feel worse in two ways - why am I thinking about my ex AND how much I miss him or her.

The only advice I can give is to let yourself realize that eventually you WILL stop thinking about her. Of course it's hard to believe when you're stuck in the quagmire of obsession, but I absolutely guarantee it. It's a function of time and enjoying new experiences with your current girlfriend that will leave no room for other than the occasional thought of past loves.
posted by elisse at 9:10 AM on January 17, 2013

I think that good/long/meaningful relationships are part of us, and it's natural to occasionally revisit them in the same way you might think about college, or a great summer abroad, but of course more charged emotionally. In my experience, such things gradually tail away, but sometimes, even 20 years out, something reminds me of somebody I once cared about. It doesn't make you a bad person, as long as it doesn't get in the way of your Moving On and your new relationship. Give it time before you worry about it.
posted by acm at 9:10 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

When it becomes detrimental to your current relationship.

You will encounter things in your life that will remind you of your past. You'll hear a song that used to be "your song", you'll smell a fragrance that smells exactly like she did, and so on. There's nothing wrong with inviting that memory into your head for a little bit and reminding yourself of a good or bad time gone by.
posted by Diskeater at 9:41 AM on January 17, 2013

Do you know what's funny about the awful relationships we have - they're often the MOST intoxicating ones, and I mean that in all senses.

The sex is fiery and awesome, the "this-could-all-implode-anytime" feeling spurs you on to do crazy and awesome things together while you still can, the faint desperation that they will suddenly become right for you forces crazy gestures and actions from you which feel oh so romantic at the time. It can feel like you're living the plot of some film like true romance, only you know in your heart that the happy ending is pretty goddamn unlikely.

Anyway, this can all come back to haunt you in future relationships because the best ones are usually a long way from all that (sadly, sometimes including the sex!). But this leaves a longing for the times when you had all the drama, even if that isn't what you think back to.

This is my long way of saying, I've been there. What worked for me? Realising that the reason for my uber-nostalgia was nothing to do with anything lacking in my current relationship, but something lacking in my life - direction, excitement, drive. Finding out more about where I really get those things from meant that there was no room for thoughts of times past anymore!
posted by greenish at 9:51 AM on January 17, 2013 [16 favorites]

Behavior mod--wear a thick rubber band on one wrist. When you find yourself thinking about the ex or the good old days, snap it hard. Takes about two weeks, usually, to learn that those thoughts = pain. Not a fun method, but it can work in a number of situations.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:55 AM on January 17, 2013

I think that using a sort of meditation technique is helpful. Don't attempt to "control" your mind, but observe what it's doing. If you're thinking about your ex, learn to just recognize it. Say "hey, I'm thinking about my ex again". Sometimes with obsessive thought you can get so carried away with them that you kind of momentarily lose yourself. So just be aware and be able to say "hey, I'm doing this thing. I wonder why I'm doing it?"

Doing this isn't really a solution, but it's a good first step to interrupting the thought process and just observing what you're doing before you figure out how to change it.
posted by GuyZero at 10:18 AM on January 17, 2013

How do you control it? In my opinion and very relevant experience... Practice. Practice, practice, practice.

You obviously can't practice *not* thinking about something but you can practice not indulging in it.
posted by ftm at 12:30 PM on January 17, 2013

It's possible that you can't stop thinking about her. The literature on thought suppression is pretty compelling, it's virtually impossible to stop thinking about something. People *are* able to successfully distract themselves for a time, but it appears that doing so sets you up for a rebound effect, where you end up thinking about the object more.

Experientially, it seems clear why this is - in order to stop thinking about something, you need to think about it first, so trying to stop thinking about something may actually have a paradoxical effect of making you think about it more.

So, what to do?

The short answer would be, stop struggling about this. If you have a thought about your ex, approach it as you would in a mindfulness meditation. Acknowledge the thought, say something like "Oh, I see, I'm having a thought about my ex again!" Or, "Aha, I notice I'm having a thought about my ex!" Welcome the thought - watch it for as long as it's there, and then let it go.

Some thoughts are kind of sticky, they invite you to think about them more (like sexy thoughts, traumatic thoughts, thoughts about injustices that have been put on you, etc.). Also evaluating the thought makes it sticky (e.g., "am I a bad person for having this thought?") When you start going there, don't fight it - that's like struggling in quicksand. See if you can gently and compassionately pull yourself back into noticing that you had that thought, and that you entered into it.

Take a deep breath and move on with the rest of your life.
posted by jasper411 at 12:52 PM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Picture her being happy and romantic with her soulmate.
posted by discopolo at 2:25 PM on January 17, 2013

I've got this!

This type of thing used to REALLY bug me until I figured out that your brain just naturally wants to make associations. So like, there you are having awesome romantic times with New Partner, and your brain instantly harkens back to: Similar Scenario with Past Partner.

Our brains make associations all of the time. That's how they work. Look it up!

Once I realized this dynamic, I stopped feeing like it was such a big deal every time an ex (usually one inparticular) popped into my mind.

It's natural. Place absolutely zero weight upon the phenomenom, other than to note, "Oh. This must remind me of that in some way. Meh." And move onto thinking of something else.

You're not obsessed. It's just a feature of the way humans process experiences and information.

You are not a freak:))

Carry on...
posted by jbenben at 5:25 PM on January 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Don't think you are confused or stupid. This is totally normal, and there's nothing wrong with it. Just because you love a new person doesn't mean that there was absolutely nothing good about other people you used to love.

Just accept it, not in the sense of "I must endure", but in the sense of, yeah, I think about food I'm not eating but I used to enjoy, or I think about a place I used to go to that closed down. It's not a big deal.

Then go do something cool with your girlfriend.
posted by 3491again at 6:11 PM on January 17, 2013

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