Still In Love With Ex, But They Don’t Know
Months and even years after the end of a relationship, you may still find yourself thinking about an ex – and, in some cases, you might still hold strong feelings for them.
If you feel like you’re still in love with your ex, it’s important to remember that your feelings are valid, and that it takes time for romantic feelings to subside. One study even found that after viewing photos of their ex-partners, participants’ brains lit up in areas associated with physical pain.
The science of letting go confirms that many people experience intense feelings of pain, love, and desire for an ex-partner. Yet promisingly, the research also suggests that these feelings 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 aftermath of a breakup, we have tips to help you process your lingering feelings for an ex, heal from past relationships, and begin the next stage of your life with confidence.
After The Breakup: Why Is It So Difficult?
If you’re recovering from 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 include:
Sleep disturbances, including insomnia and dreaming or thinking about your ex
Intrusive thoughts about your ex and past relationship
“Broken Heart” Syndrome, described as a physical pain in the chest or heart after losing someone
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 is unique. As you move on from your old relationship, you may encounter entirely different challenges; and in some cases, breakups 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 “correct” way to get over your ex. By acknowledging that breakups affect your entire body, 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. To defend yourself and your healing process, it’s generally wise to 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?
When reaching out to a past partner, safety is always the top priority. 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.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, available 24/7, at 1.800-799-SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. Live chat is also available on the National Domestic Violence Hotline website.
2. Can You Stay Friends?
Maintaining a friendship with your ex can help ease the pain of a breakup. If you’re considering this possibility, take time to honestly reflect on your reasons for pursuing a friendship. A 2017 study found that when people choose to remain friends with an ex, they most commonly cite one of the following four reasons:
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 serves as a reminder to consider your motivations for friendship and outline them clearly for yourself, as well as your ex-partner.
Your ability to preserve a friendship with an ex might also be affected by your community and friend group. For example, in the study mentioned above, people of the queer community reported more friendships with exes. These participants were more likely to remain friends with exes to preserve their larger friend groups, which offered a sense of assurance.
3. What Are My Dating Goals?
Right now, you may not be thinking about your future partner or 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, ask yourself: do I want to try dating this person again? The answer also depends on your ex’s feelings and goals, and whether it could help or hurt them to know about your residual emotions. Ultimately, you’ll have to decide whether you want to pursue your feelings and give the relationship a second try, or instead invest energy in dating new people.
If you’re thinking about dating other people while staying friends with an ex, relationship experts also recommend thinking about 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 sharing 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’ll 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 depends 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, 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 you both have an opportunity to reflect on your emotions and goals for further communication. One study found that by reflecting on the relationship shortly after a breakup, people will able to process the breakup better and develop a stronger sense of themselves as newly-single people.
Therapy Can Help You Heal From A Breakup
Whether you choose face-to-face or online therapy, a licensed therapist can offer the insight and support you need to move on from a breakup. Today, many people choose online therapy, which is often more accessible and affordable than traditional in-person options. Online platforms like BetterHelp feature thousands of board-certified and highly trained therapists, many of whom have years of experience working with recently-single people.
More research is needed to understand the value of online therapy for recent breakups and other relational challenges, but current studies are promising. 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 breaking up with a romantic partner. 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.
Research confirms that breakups are tough, and that they can take a toll on both your mental and physical health. Whether you’re still in love with your ex or confused by mixed feelings, therapy can help improve your sense of clarity and confidence.
As you enter the next stage of your life, lean on your support system and prioritize your self-care. Allow yourself time to reflect on your past relationship, process your feelings, and take comfort in the knowledge that better days are ahead.
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