I recently hosted a group coaching call for single women to ask me any question about their dating and relationship challenges. One of the questions really stood out to me. The sister asked me if she really had to stop all communication with an ex-boyfriend. When I asked her why she was holding onto a man from her past who made it clear he wasn’t ever going to commit to her, she said this: “He provides companionship for me. Besides, he told me I’d never meet anyone else like him. He’s right! I compare everyone I’m dating to him, and no one measures up.”
I told this sister that by convincing herself she had a real connection with an emotionally unavailable man, she was driving her future partner away!
Do you have a similar story? If you’re still talking to your ex or holding onto items that remind you of him, then I have some news for you: You aren’t over him, and you’ll continue to struggle with dating until you do this one important thing: Deal with your ex-factor.
How to Get Over Your Ex
My personal experience of moving on from a broken engagement —along with insight from psychologists—leads me to this conclusion. I held on to the engagement ring for years after my relationship came to an end. I kept the ring, along with a pile of cards, letters and old journals, in which I’d written about my ex-fiance, in a plastic shoebox and hid it under my bed. Whenever I was lonely, I’d take out the keepsake box, flip through the papers and try on the ring. The happy memories of what I once had with him would overshadow the truth about the very real problems we experienced. These trips down memory lane would trigger a longing for him, which would cause me to reach out and rekindle a relationship. As a result, I let an old flame burn me more than once! I found closure when I was able to let the ring go.
Delete Your Ex Files
Holding on to gifts, text messages, photos and other memorabilia from a past relationship is a big sign you haven’t dealt with your ex-factor. In his book, Your Ex Factor: Overcome Heartbreak & Build A Better Life, psychologist Stephan B. Poulter defines your ex-factor as, “the accumulation of lost dreams, broken promises, disillusionment, regret, emotional setbacks, disenchantment with past romantic partners, and unrealistic expectations.” He continues, “Your unresolved emotional history will always repeat itself in your romantic relationships.” In other words, until you deal with the unfinished business you have with the past, your future relationships could be doomed to the same disappointing endings.
Purge Phantom Exes
You could also be haunted by what psychologists Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller call “The Phantom Ex Phenomenon.” In this situation, your ex becomes larger than life. He becomes an idea you place on a pedestal because you only focus on the good times and you conveniently forget about the reason why you broke up in the first place. Whether you try to resume the relationship with your ex like I did, or you secretly compare someone new to your past love like my coaching client did, your phantom ex is always there, preventing you from getting closer to anyone else.
From Wounds to Memories
Sometimes the past relationship wasn’t bad, but things just didn’t work out. Now you’re afraid to let go because those memories represent a dream that never manifested. Deleting a photo or throwing away a gift he gave you feels so permanent because you’re officially saying, “It’s over. I’ll never experience a relationship like this again.” Closure feels as final as death, and you’re afraid of grieving the loss of what could have been. But as psychologist John Townsend notes in his book, Beyond Boundaries: Learning To Trust Again In Relationships, until you truly grieve the past, you can’t embrace the future. He writes, “Grief helps you redirect your energies and focus on what you can have and what is good in your life. It provides a way to clear out regrets and hurts as a way to make room for the new. And grief converts a wound into a memory.”
If you’re struggling with closing the door on your past relationships, ask yourself this: If you met your future spouse tomorrow, how would he or she feel if you still had a strong emotional connection to your past? Your answer to that question could set you free.
Delete the text messages. Give the old gifts to charity. Purge your phone contact list. Let the past go, before it ruins your future.
Question: Have you dealt with your ex-factor or are you still holding onto items from a past relationship?