Why Can I Not Stop Thinking About The Person Who Left Me?

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated May 1, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Breaking up with someone is one of the most painful things a person can do. It's pretty obvious that no matter how long you dated someone, whether you ended things amicably or not, or whether the relationship was healthy or rocky, it hurts to lose someone who was such a presence in your life. For the next few weeks or even months, you might be regularly asking yourself “why can't I stop thinking about him?” You might wonder if your ex thinks about you and if you are crazy for caring so much.

Give yourself the space and support you need

This can be a natural part of processing the grief that comes with this kind of loss. We can't expect ourselves to turn our feelings off and on like a lightbulb, so it’s important to be patient with yourself if you still don't know how to stop thinking about someone. With the right mindset and some self-love, you can head in the right direction after a breakup. 

If it would help you to know why we continue to think about former romantic partners after a breakup, read on.

Feelings of questioning and self-doubt

Why did they leave me? If your partner broke up with you, they likely told you why, even if it was vague.

Still, you may not be satisfied with the answer. It's easy to start questioning what you could have done differently with them or to start dissecting your every memory from the words you to the way they acted toward you. All the “what ifs” running through your mind can be stressful for you and make you feel like you did something wrong. Sometimes, we don't get the kind of closure we hope for, which can lead us to try and fill in the blanks.

If you believe the relationship was going well, the factors which caused your ex-partner to end the relationship may have been out of your control. We are only in control of our own thoughts and our actions. This is particularly true when it comes to relationships. Accepting this fact may help you accept things you can’t change and live a more fulfilled life.

Research suggests that for most women, open, transparent communication is a fundamental need in any relationship, particularly in romantic partnerships. Your partner may not have been able to communicate their problems with the relationship to you, so you were not given a chance to work on the issues together. If this is the case, then they may simply not have been ready to be in a relationship. It is important to remember that every particular person’s love life is different and at a different stage; you might not have true love with every person you date, and this is okay.

It's also important to remember that most relationships are a process of trial and error and self-improvement. Every time we open ourselves up to someone emotionally, we are making ourselves vulnerable, which is important for a balanced and healthy relationship but does run the risk of us getting hurt. Most often, we are trying to find someone who fits into our lives and matches our goals and values. The best way to know whether this will happen with any given person is by dating and seeing how you both feel as you grow in the relationship.

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo

You shouldn't feel the need to change a core belief or the fundamentals of who you are to fit into someone's life, nor should your partner have to change themselves in the same way to fit into your life. When things aren't working, as painful as it is, it may be best to re-evaluate the relationship and decide whether you want to continue. While it doesn't feel good to have someone break up with you, remember that you deserve to be with an individual who wants to be with you as much as you want to be with them, who realizes your value in their life, and who you value in return.

But why can’t I stop thinking about it?

When experiencing the emotional fallout from a breakup with intense attraction, you may feel that your ex has taken something from you. They may seem to have taken away your relationship, and in turn, a part of your happiness and/or self-confidence.

Getty/AnnaStills
Give yourself the space and support you need

This reaction is normal as you come to terms with the absence of both your ex and that relationship from your life. It's not a dissimilar process to grieving; you may mourn the future you envisioned with this person, and feel in some ways that it is made more difficult by the fact that you know your ex is out there living their life without you. Often, your imagination will concoct the worst-case scenario whenever your ex crosses your mind, such as them being with other guys (or girls). You may assume that because they broke up with you, they don’t care or maybe never cared at all.

This pattern of negative thoughts and assumptions is known as rumination and is a part of particularly strong grief reactions. It is, however, more often than not a series of false assumptions. Your former partner is likely to be facing similar stress and pain about the loss of the relationship that you feel. They, too, are dealing with the absence of something and someone that added value to their life. Just because they decided to end the relationship does not mean they will not feel the repercussions, too.

If for whatever reason, they do not have any feelings about the breakup, they likely weren't the right partner for you from the outset.

How will I cope?

In the wake of a breakup, it’s important to try your best not to judge yourself for having completely normal emotions and to practice self-love. Appropriately grieving the loss of your relationship is healthy and can help you realize that the relationship is over and prepare you to move on. It may be difficult, especially when you continually find yourself asking, "Why can't I get over my ex?", but you can slowly build up your self-esteem over time through self-care and by thinking about what a healthy relationship means to you. It can also be important to limit contact with your ex in order to spend time with yourself and develop your own independence. 

Right now, it may be that the fear of a life different from the one you're accustomed to is causing you to be constantly thinking of your ex-partner. We are creatures of habit, so going from being with someone regularly to not having them in your life at all is a shock that should be expected to cause stress, constant thoughts, and intense emotions.

To stop thinking of them and your relationship, it can be helpful to immerse yourself in the things that enrich your life. Spend some time taking care of your mind, body, and spirit. Focus your attention on your hobbies, friends, family, needs, and passions. Devote time to the interests in your life and try to avoid falling into social media or other unproductive addictions. If you feel sexually attracted to someone else, don’t feel guilty, this is natural. In time, the hold your previous relationship has over your thoughts should fade, and you'll be able to resume your normal life and feel attraction without judging yourself.

Takeaway

If you feel that your rumination on the circumstances of your breakup is greatly affecting or interfering with your daily life, then having a therapist in your corner is a good idea. Reaching out for help is healthy, safe, and can help you to invest in your future and give you a valuable perspective.

Nowadays, getting the chance to talk to a professional and get the assistance you need is made even easier by the presence of online therapy. Recent research has found that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy for those who are looking to manage symptoms of depression, relationship anxiety, and other mental illnesses, as well as for those who are looking to manage their mental health more generally.

With online therapy from BetterHelp, you can speak with a qualified counselor from the comfort of your own home. You can meet on a flexible schedule that matches your lifestyle and allows you room to process and heal between sessions without the imposing prospect of making an in-person visit. Beyond that, with BetterHelp, you can message your therapist at any time, so you have an outlet whenever your ruminating thoughts flare up.

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