I’m Still In Love With My Ex, But They Don't Know

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated February 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Free support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Months and even years after the end of a relationship, you may still find yourself thinking about an ex. In some cases, you might still hold strong feelings for them.

If you feel like you’re still in love with your ex, it may help to remember that that your feelings are valid and that it can take time for romantic feelings to subside. One study even found that after participants viewed photos of their ex-partners, their brains lit up in areas associated with physical pain.

Research confirms that many people experience intense feelings of pain, love, and desire for an ex-partner. However, these feelings often fade over time, especially when you’re investing in activities and relationships that enhance your mental health.

If you’re looking for direction in the wake of a breakup, you might consider some of the following tips to help you process your lingering feelings for an ex and begin the next stage of your life with confidence.

After the breakup: Why is it so difficult?

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Trying to move on from a past relationship?
After a breakup, it’s not unusual to experience both physical and emotional pain. Researchers have found that after a breakup, many people experience the symptoms of bereavement associated with the loss of a loved one.

These symptoms may include:

  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia and dreaming or thinking about your ex
  • Intrusive thoughts about your ex and past relationship, described as a physical pain in the chest or heart, often experienced as a result of physical or emotional stress 
  • Reduced immunity, potentially caused by elevated stress hormones
  • Symptoms of depression and anxiety, including loss of appetite and irritability

While these symptoms are common, every breakup can be unique. As you move on from your former relationship, you may encounter entirely different challenges. Also, in some cases, breakups can offer a sense of relief and freedom, even if you still love your ex.

Regardless of how your mind and body feel, there’s no one “correct” way to get over your ex. By acknowledging that breakups can affect your entire body, you may find that you can begin processing your experiences and determine how you want to stay in contact with your ex, if at all.

Should I talk to my ex? Questions to consider before revealing your feelings

Depending on the nature of your parting, you may feel like you need to talk to your ex about your feelings and goals for the future of your relationship. It may be useful to first take some time to reflect on what you’d like to say and how you’d like to communicate it.

If you’re feeling deeper feelings for your ex and unsure how—or if—to express them, here are some questions to consider before reaching out.

1. Is it safe to reach out?

Before reaching out to a past partner, consider whether it’s safe to do so. If there is any history of abuse or harassment, it may not be safe or healthy to communicate with your ex, regardless of your feelings for them.

2. Can you stay friends?

Maintaining a friendship with your ex may or may not help ease the pain of a breakup. If you’re considering this possibility, you might take time to honestly reflect on your reasons for pursuing a friendship. A 2017 study published in Personal Relationships found that when people choose to remain friends with an ex, they most commonly cite one of the following four reasons:

  1. Security
  2. Practicality
  3. Civility
  4. Unresolved romantic desires

This study found that when exes formed friendships based on assurance or practicality, the outcomes were typically more positive. While this is just one study, it can serve as a reminder to consider your motivations for friendship and outline them clearly for yourself, as well as your ex-partner.

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3. What are your dating goals?

Right now, you may not be thinking about the prospect of dating, especially if you’re still feeling love or desire for your ex.

If some time has passed and you’re still wondering whether you should talk to your ex about your feelings, you might ask yourself, “Do I want to try dating this person again?” Ultimately, you can decide whether you want to pursue your feelings and give the relationship a second try or instead invest energy in dating new people—or remain single without actively pursuing a relationship.

If you’re thinking about dating other people while staying friends with your ex, you may want to consider the following scenarios:

  • How comfortable would I feel talking about my ex with a new partner?
  • How would I respond to questions from a new partner about my ex?
  • How might discussing my feelings affect my ex-partner’s healing process and mental health?

By anticipating and answering these questions beforehand, you can assess your feelings and how they might affect your dating goals, as well as your ability to maintain a friendship with your ex.

4. How much time has passed since the breakup?

If you’re wondering how long to wait before reaching out to an ex, the answer may depend on the circumstances of the breakup and your mental health needs. Some people wait at least 30 days before reaching out. Others may need a few months or a year or simply choose to end communication, especially if there are safety concerns.

If you’re contemplating whether to express feelings for an ex, it may be helpful to enforce a “no-contact” period so that you both have an opportunity to reflect on your emotions and goals for further communication. One study found that by reflecting on a past relationship through research on breakups, participants were able to process the breakup better and develop a stronger self-concept.

Therapy may help you heal from a breakup

If you’re experiencing feelings for an ex, you may benefit from connecting with a licensed therapist. If you feel hesitant about going to a therapist’s office this time, you might consider online therapy. Numerous studies have demonstrated online therapy to be just as effective as in-person therapy. 

For example, a 2021 study assessed an online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) program designed to help young adults improve their self-esteem and forgiveness levels after a breakup. After the eight-week CBT program, which was delivered online in a group therapy setting, the participants reported greater self-esteem and capacity for forgiveness.

With online therapy at BetterHelp, you can connect with a therapist from the comfort of your home or anywhere with an internet connection. You can communicate with your therapist by phone, live chat, or videoconferencing at a time that works for you. You also contact your therapist at any time via in-app messaging, and they’ll respond as soon as they can. This feature may be especially useful if you have questions or concerns about your feelings for your ex in between sessions.

Getty/AnnaStills
Trying to move on from a past relationship?

Takeaway

Research confirms that breakups can present numerous challenges and that they can take a toll on your mental and physical health. Whether you’re still in love with your ex or confused by mixed feelings, therapy may help improve your sense of clarity and confidence. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist who has experience helping people navigate their emotional experience after a breakup. Take the first step toward emotional healing after a breakup and reach out to BetterHelp today.
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