You can’t stop thinking about him (or her). Your heart longs for the old days when you were so happy together. Though your pain is real, your motivation may be more about avoiding future hurt than simply suffering from a broken heart.
There are two common dynamics that cause people to emotionally hold onto their previous relationship. Some people struggle with feeling that they are not worthy of love. They are likely to be easily overcome with feelings of rejection and long to make a relationship right – even after it has ended. Also, pining for their old love keeps them from risking getting hurt again – which in their minds would surely happen since they feel inadequate or flawed in some essential way.
Other people feel worthy of love, but have an underlying expectation that others will let them down or not be consistently emotionally there for them. So they are committed to being self-reliant. By being preoccupied with a past lover or fantasy partner, they avoid making themselves vulnerable to being let down or hurt (which they expect would happen).
To determine what keeps you enamored of a previous love, consider this question: “What do I think would happen if I allowed myself to truly open up and be vulnerable to someone new – the way I did with my last partner?” Your honest response will tell you whether your struggle is more about feeling unworthy and fearing rejection or believing that you simply can’t rely on others.
If your underlying issue is about feeling unworthy, choose to focus on friends, family or other people currently in your life who value you. Allow yourself to absorb their appreciation of you. Also, allow them to help you reassess your previous relationship—challenging your tendency to rehash all the ways you failed or are flawed. They can help you see that your previous partner was not as perfect as your idealized picture. They can also help you look back and recognize the signs of problems in that relationship. By looking differently at your past, you can prepare yourself to go into a new relationship with a clearer perspective – able to recognize early signs of problems and not so focused on the ways you expect to fail.
If you are the overly-self-reliant type, consider how fantasizing about your previous partner serves to protect you from the possibility of being let down in the future. Then think about the downside of not opening yourself to new relationships. Your self-reliance may sometimes leave you feeling alone or left out. Is this trade-off really okay with you? If you are dating, ask yourself why you are dating. What do you miss about being in an intimate relationship? Do you really want to commit to one now?
Letting go of your fantasy partner is not easy. You’ll need to open your mind and heart to the possibility of having a serious relationship with someone new. It’s true that to have such a relationship, you’ll need to find someone who could truly be a good match. But when you have doubts that you’ll ever find true love again, remind yourself that it’s ultimately up to you to set yourself free.
Entries for the Relationships blog are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.