How Can I Start Moving On When I Am Still In Love With My Ex?

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated June 28, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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The end of a loving relationship often leads us to look back on our experience, or even to dwell on it. No matter how a relationship may have ended, it is human to experience lingering feelings for an ex. Sharing your life with someone can lead to a true love that is hard to move on from after a breakup. You may find yourself still thinking about your ex, such as, "I still love my ex", wondering why the relationship ended, or questioning why your feelings for them still linger. You may have even realized that you still love your ex. Many people continue to experience feelings of love for an ex after a breakup, even after some time has passed. It can be challenging to move past a relationship that has ended; read on for some tips on how to start the healing process and stop loving your ex.

Moving on from relationships and attachment theory

When reflecting on past, loving relationships and how you handle breakups, seeing them through the lens of your personal attachment style can provide some insight. British psychoanalyst John Bowlby originally proposed his attachment theory in the 1950s, positing that as humans, we're all born with the need to form close emotional bonds. He theorized that the first bond will typically develop during the first six months of life if a child’s primary caregiver is appropriately responsive. According to Bowlby, our relationship to that first attachment figure forms our behavioral attachment system for our future love relationships.

In 1987, psychologists Cindy Hazan and Philip Shaver formally applied Bowlby’s theory to adult romantic relationships. They proposed that these loving relationships are part of the same attachment system and can also impact a person’s attachment style over time.

Understanding your own attachment style—whether it’s based on your childhood or other attachments throughout your life—can give you insight into the way you typically form and end romantic relationships.

Note that not every experience will fit neatly into the categories presented in the attachment theory. However, if you examine your past relationships from this perspective, you may notice patterns that have occurred with more than one ex. This may help you approach future loving relationships from a more informed place.

For example, someone with a secure attachment style may be better able to reach out for support in dealing with difficult emotions or negative thoughts following a breakup and limit negative self-talk in its wake. Someone displaying the avoidant-insecure style may not reach out to anyone and have a tendency to bottle up their emotions instead of feeling or addressing them. While every relationship and individual is unique and complex, knowing more about your attachment style can help promote awareness that you can use to restructure your thoughts and perspective on relationships and exes.

Grief after a breakup with your ex

Grieving is a natural response people may have to loss. We often associate grief with the death of a loved one, but it can actually be experienced after many different types of loss. It’s normal to feel grief at the end of a friendship or loving relationship, for example—even if things were difficult or the relationship was unhealthy. Allowing yourself to grieve a past love can let you feel and acknowledge its gravity and importance in your life, and then free up the energy you need to move forward.

There’s no one way to experience or move through grief. It can look different for every person and situation. However, considering some of the following points as goals to work toward may be helpful in moving through the process:

  • Accept the finality of the loss
  • Acknowledge and healthily express all feelings you experience. By allowing emotions to come and go, you gain control over them rather than them controlling you
  • Adjust to a new life in which your ex is absent, and focus on how you enrich your own life going forward
  • Find your own form of peace, and say goodbye to your ex

When moving through grief, it can be helpful to be patient with yourself. It's not a linear process, and some days may be more challenging than others. As you work through the aftermath of your breakup, you might still try and treat yourself with the care and compassion you’d give a close friend in the same situation. It can also help to spend time with friends and family. Your friends and family members are likely aware of what happened and understand how painful it was for you to part ways with your ex.

Below are a few additional tips that may help you if you still feel love for your ex after a breakup.

Healing from past love

It's not always simple to know how to get over an ex-boyfriend, ex-girlfriend, or former partner. When a loving relationship ends, some people feel like they can’t move on until everything is resolved. They may want to talk to their ex to discuss why the relationship ended, get answers to questions they have, or receive an apology. While this is possible in some cases, it isn’t always. It may not be safe to continue discussions with an ex-partner, they may not be willing to talk, they might not be truthful, or they simply might not provide you with what you want. In cases like these, you may need to provide closure for yourself.

When the thought, "I still love my ex" arises, one approach you might try is to take up journaling, so you can express your thoughts and feelings regarding your past love through writing. This type of reflection can be an insightful exercise in illuminating your most authentic feelings and helping you make sense of the situation with your ex. You might intentionally reflect on ways that the relationship helped you to grow rather than focusing on the negative aspects of the breakup. Another strategy might be to seek professional support to process your love for and breakup with your ex, which we’ll discuss more below.

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Pay attention to your self-talk after a breakup
Self-care and self-compassion can be crucial following a breakup. Providing yourself with love can help alleviate the hurt you may feel due to a broken heart while also bolstering your self-esteem. You can practice self-love by being mindful of the way you’re talking to yourself. There are two ways this idea can be helpful as you work toward moving on from a relationship that has ended. First, it may be useful to separate your sadness or frustration at the situation from your sense of self. Negative self-talk can make you feel worse and usually isn’t constructive overall, while positive self-talk can actually help you move forward. Focusing on thoughts like “I still love my ex” or “I still think about them," for example, may not be the most helpful.

In fact, recent research suggests that positive self-talk can actually result in less anxiety and a greater ability to develop effective strategies to cope with emotions and mental stress. Focusing on your strengths and good qualities in this way can help you love yourself through this difficult time and still produce better mental health outcomes.

Second, American psychologist Carol Dweck found that people tend to have one of two views regarding their personal traits: that these traits are fixed throughout life (fixed mindset), or that they can be changed and improved with effort over time (growth mindset). The narratives we tell ourselves can significantly affect the choices we make and how we’re able to move forward, so challenging them can be helpful.

If you convince yourself that you’ll always be in pain and won’t ever be able to move forward, for instance, it could hinder your efforts to do so.

Set healthy boundaries with your ex

First, if you’re still in contact with or have to see your ex-partner (like at school, work, or in the neighborhood, setting boundaries to promote your healing may be helpful. You might ask your ex to refrain from contacting you via phone or social media for a few months as you heal from this love, for instance, so you can prioritize your own space and emotional well-being. Or, you might make a “no flirting” rule if you have to see each other in person regularly so that the non-romantic nature of your relationship going forward is clear.

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You can practice setting boundaries when any new relationships come along, too. A boundary is simply an establishment of what behavior you will accept from others or what behavior they can expect from you. Boundaries can take many different forms, such as:

  • Physical. These relate to your personal space and your body
  • Sexual. These relate to your expectations concerning intimacy and touch
  • Intellectual. These relate to your thoughts and beliefs. Your intellectual boundaries may not be respected if someone constantly dismisses your ideas and opinions, for instance
  • Emotional. These relate to your feelings and how you express them. For example, your level of comfort with expressing your true feelings or the timing of this may differ from your ex's
  • Financial. These relate to money. For example, you may set limits around how much you want to spend eating out with a partner

Maintaining healthy boundaries with your ex or new partners may seem difficult at first. Like many other skills, it’s something you can get better at when you start small, stay consistent, and give yourself a bit of grace along the way.

Loving more than one person

Though it can be hard to move on when relationships end, meeting new people can be a healthy step forward when you still love your ex. Dating can be an exciting and enjoyable aspect of the process of self-discovery that often accompanies the end of a prior relationship. If you’ve decided to start dating, you may be concerned about lingering feelings for an ex interfering with a potential relationship with a romantic partner. 

It’s completely normal to love your ex even as you get to know a new love interest. It can be hard to stop loving a person with whom you share real love. Your ex may have been a large part of your world. However, taking the above steps to process the loss of your past love can help ensure your new relationship is healthy and your partner is not impacted negatively. Additionally, while you will likely want to tell your new partner the truth, you may also want to avoid discussing your ex frequently.  

Below, we’re discussing how talking with a mental health professional can help you process strong feelings for your ex.

How therapy can help with the healing process

Speaking with a therapist can give you the space and guidance to process your emotions about the end of a relationship and your ex. If you experience feelings of hopelessness or are still overwhelmed about the situation—including about still being in love with your ex—seeking professional support may be especially helpful in gaining perspective and moving toward healing. Online therapy can be a convenient way to get started. Since research suggests that online therapy may be no less efficacious than in-person sessions in many cases, virtual therapy can represent a convenient and effective alternative to in-person sessions.

Takeaway
Feeling like you’re still in love with your ex even after you’ve broken up can be a difficult and confusing experience. To help yourself find closure and healing, you might practice journaling, create healthy boundaries with your former partner, and treat yourself with compassion as you move through the grieving or adjustment processes. Speaking with a therapist could also help you manage any difficult emotions related to your former partner.
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