Is It Normal To Still Love My Ex?
Updated January 02, 2019
Reviewer Ema Jones, LCSW
Let's face it, breakups suck and there's nothing worse than not being able to move on after things have ended. Even if your relationship was brief, you'll likely experience a period of grieving, a time you have to go through to get the relationship out of your head and heart. Most likely, you'll miss the person not just because of their conversation skills, but because your body became used to the dopamine and oxytocin chemicals produced when they were around. You felt something for them.
Love is often an umbrella word that can mean lust, attachment, obsession, and even just attraction; it isn't necessarily true that you're in love even if you use that term. Nevertheless, it can still feel painful when they're no longer a part of your life.
What Is Normal?
Breakups include two of the biggest challenges for us - withdrawal and grief. In many ways, we go through the same experience as a drug addict decides to get sober. You'll feel like the world is falling apart and can be neatly divided into a before/after situation. Simply put our reality has changed.
Whether grieving a death of a loved one or a loss of a relationship, the underlying symptoms and stages of grief are the same, which is why it's important not to discard or dismissyour feelings after things have ended. Unlike death, your ex might be only a phone call or a stop-in at a local business away. While it's likely that you are better off not staying in direct contact with your ex the pain can make it feel like you have to have them back just to make it stop.
Withdrawal can feel relentless and getting that "fix" by sending a text or calling even to hear their voicemail can help lessen the pain, but it won't help you move forward in the grieving process.
A normal grieving period where we suffer through withdrawal and begin to rebuild our new reality takes about six weeks according to Dr. Ramani Durvasula. However, this can depend on many different factors including who did the breaking up and whether your view of yourself is positive or not. If you stay mired in worrying about the other person instead of focusing on yourself, this process can be much longer.
A normal grieving period has seven stages.
1. You'll start by feeling a little irrational, and you'll fixate on your ex a lot because this is the most painful time. You'll want to know the why of what is going on.
2. After this, you'll start to think that it can't be happening. Denial that it can't be over sets in,. Your hopes are crumbling, and you're postponing the actual grieving while trying to adjust to the new reality without the relationship. This is often what causes us to hang on to our ex, we don't want to lose that hope of a future, but it is necessary to break it if we want to hope for a different and more successful future.
3. This is followed by a bargaining period where you try to reason and find a way to fix things or to make them work again. You do this to try and keep the illusion that things aren't over. If your ex is struggling you may even be able to convince them to get back together, but it may only be a temporary band-aid, and you'll have to start the process again if it fails.
4. This is followed by anger. You're angry and afraid because you don't understand this new reality. You may be angry at them or even at your behavior.
5. Finally, you'll start to accept that things are over. You may make it all the way to this sixth stage while still in love with your ex, so it's certainly not hopeless if you're feeling that it's hard to detach while still trying to move on.
6. The final stage is that you'll start to hope things will get better. During the earlier stages, it can feel like things will never improve and that you'll never move on. Once you have hope for the future, you'll be able to create the distance needed to fall out of love with them.
Love Is Chemical
At its most basic, love is a combination of different chemicals and hormones within the body which cause us to act a certain way. When we are in love dopamine (the reward chemical) rises so that we feel happy and euphoric. As we become more attached to the person, oxytocin and serotonin create the same need that a drug addict hasto get a "fix" (we need to see them again) and when we don't the feeling of loss is very acute. It is normal to crave and try to fulfill that fix in order lessen the pain of withdrawal. While you may believe that it is love which keeps you coming back to them it is likely just that your body is not reacting well to the withdrawal or that your willpower to stick it out is weak.
Getting over the chemical side of love merely takes time. You may feel like you're not over them which may be a mental state instead. It's important that you separate your biology from your feelings as the feelings can be harder to tackle.
Try and identify where the feelings about your ex-are are coming from. Is it a deep-seated internal need related to the pain of missing them or is it something specific? If you can identify what it is specifically that is causing the pain, or what is keeping you attached then it's much easier to figure out a suitable replacement. For example, if you're missing their company then spending time with friends and family instead will help keep you social even if you don't feel like it and fill the need for their companionship.
While this works on a short-term basis, it's a theory that works well to get over someone - by faking it.
Part of what makes love, well, love is that you want the best for the other person. If you're solely concerned with the pain their absence is causing, then it isn't love, its obsession. If you can be happy for them and honestly wish them the best while dealing with the pain of their loss, then you're more likely to be able to move on. Love is not a self-gratifying experience it is about wanting the best for the other person in spite of your pain.
Can You Still Love And Move On?
Yes. Loving someone while no longer being with them is entirely possible. You shouldn't think that the two are exclusive. You may continue to love them for the rest of your life even if you're not together but the feelings of longing and attachment will eventually fade so that you're left with fond memories which evoke the feelings rather than the person. In this way, we can move on, but unfortunately, this is simply something that takes time. When you feel ready to move on its normal to be hesitant, but it's important not to try and rush the grieving process by jumping into a new relationship too quickly just to try and speed it up.
The first step in moving on is accepting that they're gone. When you've tried fighting for things, or you've determined with no uncertainty that they're finished then you need to take the next step. What can help is believing that if things are meant to be, they will come back someday. This lessens the pain while allowing your chemical levels to die down enough that by the time you realize it's likely a lie the attachment has faded enough to be manageable.
Start distracting yourself by doing other things, avoid social media and situations where you might inadvertently bump into each other. You want to avoid being alone with your feelings or talking about your ex as much as possible so that you can let the attachment fades but don't feel pushed to rush into something new to replace it as once the old relationship fades properly you'll likely not want the new one - hence the term "rebound relationship".
Can I Stop Loving My Ex?
Also, yes. While most people will eventually fall out of love and get over their ex, the time it takes might be longer than they want. In order experience love again, the current relationship needs to be transmuted to remove the attachment element that the person creates. You may still care for them and still be attracted to them, but you no longer feel attached. If it has been more than six weeks and you feel that the attachment isn't going away then consider getting help. A qualified therapist or counselor may be able to talk you through these feelings and help you figure out what is stopping you from moving on.
To find the right counselor, start by looking at who is available to you locally. Sites like BetterHelp allow you to browse therapists and find someone who has experience with relationships like yours so that you can move on. A licensed psychologist may be a better route if you've tried to replace them with other more positive activities and still can't let go. They may also be able to deal with any self-esteem and self-construct issues created by the break up (there's nothing worse than a sour parting with thoughts about never being good enough for anyone else to ruin your ability to move on) that are preventing you from being able to let them go.
When you first break up, it's important to focus on yourself and self-care. This can help the process of moving on because it gives you somewhere positive to direct your energies. Instead of thinking about the past relationship start by looking to the future instead.