How To Tell Your Ex You Still Love Them After They've Moved On

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated July 3, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Breakups are not fun and can happen for a variety of reasons. Maybe you had incompatible life goals, you struggled with communication or conflict, or you got to the point when someone’s feelings changed. Whatever the cause of your break up, it’s not uncommon for feelings to linger even after you’ve parted ways. If your partner has moved on but you still love him, you may be grappling with difficult emotions, feel stuck, and be unsure of what to do next. Read on for advice on how to tell your ex you still love him after he’s moved on—plus how to decide whether you should in the first place.

iStock/AsiaVision
Not sure what to do about feelings for your ex?

Do you still love them, or is it something else?

Feelings for an ex are often complicated, especially if they have moved on to a new relationship. Before you decide to act on them, it can be helpful to spend some time reflecting after breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend.

It’s certainly possible that you’re still in love with them, a scenario we’ll cover below. However, there could be other feelings at play that you may be misinterpreting as love. Giving yourself some time to sit with your emotions and come to terms with the breakup first can be helpful, you may reach out to a friend and have a conversation about what happened and what you are feeling now. Research suggests that the pain of rejection activates the same areas of the brain associated with physical pain, so being gentle with yourself and feeling your feelings without judgment can be an important first step. Then, you might consider other possible explanations for what you still feel for your ex—perhaps through journaling or speaking with a therapist—such as:

You’re still adjusting 

In many cases, breakups can feel sudden, and it can be hard to accept the truth. Having a person in your life regularly and then abruptly having them exit can be jarring. This is especially true if you lived with them or saw them most every day, texted often, spent a lot of your free time together, and/or relied on them for emotional support. Noticing the lack of this person in your daily life can feel painful, but it can be important to not confuse the difficulty of this transition with still being in love. Missing someone and the comfort and joy they may have provided is not necessarily the same as still being in love with them. That’s why it may be helpful to give yourself some time to adjust and see how you feel then. It may also be appropriate to try dating and find a new boyfriend or girlfriend before deciding if you still love your ex. 

You miss the good parts

It’s entirely possible to miss your ex and the good parts of your relationship and still hold warm feelings for that time in your life, but to not still be in love with them. If this is what you’re feeling, it can be helpful to adopt a mindset of gratitude for what the relationship taught you and the joy it brought you at the time. You can look back at the good memories fondly even while you accept that moving forward with this person would not have been the right choice over the longer term. 

You fear being alone

As the old adage goes, it’s better to be alone than in bad company. Being single can be scary, especially if you’re used to being in relationships or were with your ex for a long time. However, you can remind yourself that being on your own is generally better than being in a relationship that was unhealthy or with someone who didn’t want the same things that you do. Plus, spending time by yourself can have a host of positive benefits. It can offer you the chance to get to know yourself better, to heal, and to welcome new, enriching connections and opportunities into your life. Feeling nervous about this new chapter and craving the comfort of the familiar doesn’t necessarily equate with still being in love with your ex. It is also important to remember that you can also reach out and talk to friends during this time so that you do not feel alone. 

Getty/Halfpoint Images

Still in love: How to decide whether to tell them

After you’ve reflected on your feelings and given yourself time to process the end of your relationship, you may come to the conclusion that you still are in love with your ex. The question then becomes: What should you do about it? In most cases, you only have two options: Tell him, or don’t. Here are some factors to consider when weighing these two possibilities.

How long has it been?

One study on college students who had recently been through a breakup found that most of them had largely emotionally recovered within three months. Of course, this timeline can vary based on how long you were together and other particulars of the relationship, but in general, you may want to wait at least this long before making any major decisions related to this person. Most people need time to grieve and to process the situation before they can make clear-headed decisions that will be best for them over the long term.

How healthy was the relationship?

Take some time to honestly reflect back on the relationship when you were still together. For example:

  • Was it a dynamic in which you felt safe, both physically and emotionally? 
  • Were you able to communicate openly and calmly handle conflict together? 
  • Did your major goals for the future align? 
  • Did you feel comfortable being yourself around them? 
  • Did they respect your boundaries? 
  • Did you encourage and support each other in your personal growth?

It’s still possible to be in love with someone even if you had an unhealthy dynamic with them and it is important to think about how your relationship ended before thinking about telling them. However, in a case like this, it may be best for you to accept that your relationship with them isn’t what’s best for you anymore and aim to move forward without expressing these feelings.

Are they with someone else?

If your partner’s process of moving on has taken the form of them dating another girl or guy, it may be best to keep your feelings to yourself. Having love for someone usually means you want their happiness and what’s best for them, so disrupting your ex’s current connection with someone else may not be the most loving action and may make them angry. Although it can be painful to see the person you love dating another, letting them go may be the kindest action for everyone involved—including yourself.

Getty/Halfpoint Images
Not sure what to do about feelings for your ex?

How to tell your ex you’re still in love with them

If you’ve reflected and weighed your options and decided to tell your ex that you still love him even after he’s moved on, there are a few factors to consider before doing so. First, it’s generally important to tell him in such a way that you respect any boundaries he set when you broke up. If he requested that you do not contact him, honoring this is usually recommended. If the two of you didn’t discuss any such guidelines, however, you may be able to plan some form of outreach. 

Deciding on your method of contact is next. It might be wise to compile your thoughts in a letter or write an email instead of making phone calls to your ex or meeting him face to face to discuss this topic, especially if you suspect he may not feel the same way about you. Saying, “Hey,” and sending him all the relevant information about your feelings and then giving him time to process and respond instead of expecting an answer on the spot can increase the odds of a more thoughtful, considered, honest reply. It can also show that you respect his space and want him to fully consider the options on the table so he can make the decision he feels is best.

Next, you’ll need to decide what to say. Only you can put words to how you feel, but it’s usually good advice to be genuine and straightforward and to say what’s in your heart. Use the opportunity to communicate your feelings for him and your desires for the future as honestly as possible. Make it clear that you’ll respect his decision either way, so he can respond authentically instead of feeling pressured. 

Finally, it can be helpful to manage your expectations. While you may be hoping to hear that you ex loves you too, telling your ex that you’re still in love with him doesn’t guarantee that he’ll return the sentiment, especially if he seems to have already moved on in the world. Being prepared for him to tell you as much is part of this process—in which case, you should generally plan to respect his decision and let it go. If this happens, it can help to have family and friends to lean on as you come to terms with the end of the possibility of this relationship continuing. You may also find it helpful to focus on self-care and self-compassion as you heal and move forward. Or, if he tells you that he feels the same way and you decide to rekindle your relationship, having an open and honest discussion about how to avoid conflicts or issues that arose in the past can be a healthy way to get things restarted. Regardless of the outcome, talking about how you feel, feels good and can make you feel in control. 

How therapy can help

Dealing with complicated feelings for your ex can be challenging. If you’re finding it hard to sort out how you feel about them or what you should do about your feelings, speaking with a therapist or dating coach may be helpful. They can provide you with a safe, nonjudgmental space where you can express and process your emotions so you can decide how to proceed regarding your ex. The process may even help you form healthier relationships in the future, whether you get back together with your ex or not. In fact, a 2017 study found that “having a greater understanding of the reasons for a breakup” correlated with relative decreases in romantic conflict and relative increases in self-reported relationship satisfaction and “peer-rated intimate relationship competence” in the future.

If you have a busy schedule or feel nervous about meeting with a therapist in person, you might find online therapy to be more convenient or comfortable. With a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp, for instance, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging from the comfort of home or anywhere else you have an internet connection. A review of studies on the topic suggests that online and in-person therapy have “no difference in effectiveness”, meaning that you can typically choose the format that feels best for you.

Takeaway

It is not wrong to still be in love with your ex after a breakup. If you still have feelings for your ex after the relationship has ended and they’ve moved on, it can be difficult to decide what to do. The tips above can help you figure out whether you’re still in love with your ex, whether you should tell him, and how to go about it if you choose to.

Build healthy relationship habits with a professional
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started