Is it normal to still love your ex?

German relationship coach Emanuel Albert, known as Date Doctor Emanuel, helps you understand why it is so hard but also valuable to let go of an ex.

A client during our first assessment coaching session:

“I know it’s been half a year since we broke up but I can’t help it… I still love my ex and I just can’t get over her.”

Thoughts about your ex can be very confusing. Perhaps you have spent the last few weeks getting over your ex and it’s not quite working. Maybe it’s already been months and you have to admit to yourself that you still have feelings for him or her. 

Or things are not quite so clear and you find that you still have a physical desire for your ex and you are not quite sure what that means. The fantasy of having sex with your ex is messing with your mind and your body…

There is no “normal” path to letting go of the feelings you have for your ex. Falling out of love can occur before two people break-up, after going through the painful experience of a break-up and sometimes you do not fall out of love at all. My team and I work together with so many people who want to fall out of love and every case is different. Some of our coachees let go and move on, some rediscover a new and improved love with a former partner. 

Why are you still in love with your ex?

What do you think of when people talk of unrequited love? Most people think of secret glances across the school yard or hurtful pining for a friend… but being in love with your ex is also a form of unrequited love. it is, quite likely, the worst kind. Not only are you enamoured with the person in question but you also know what it is like to be in a relationship with this person. 

Unrequited love is statistically more likely in men than in women. But in my work I have come across one personality trait that is independent of gender, which explains why you may still be in love with your ex-girlfriend or -boyfriend. 

Some people are more likely to get stuck in the past. They are inherently bad at letting go and will find that this also applies to relationships. 

Ask yourself: Would you agree with the following beliefs?

  • Things used to be better.
  • My school years were my best years.
  • I miss my old friends.
  • I used to like my body more 1 year ago, 5 years ago, 10 years ago.
  • Previous professional opportunities were more interesting than my current work. 

If you agree with these types of statements, chances are you generally find it more challenging to let go of something that is in the past now. Feelings for an ex do not simply wash away within hours. But, if after a year, you are still in love with your ex and find that these emotions are keeping you from forming new, happy relationships it is time to stop idealizing the past.

You need to decide: Is the past really in the past and it is time to move on. Or have you really not given it your all and you want to fight for your ex? We can help you make this difficult decision and in our coachings often follow the belief: “It ain’t over, ‘til it’s over!”.

Why is getting over an ex so hard?

Numerous psychological theories and models explain why it can be so hard to get over an ex. In the past years brain imaging studies have taught us that the neural mechanisms underlying rejected love have much in common with drug addiction. So no matter how bad your ex is for you… your brain wants you to go back for more. This heightened drive to want someone even more after they break up with you, even comes with its own term: frustration attraction. Much like a small child, who breaks into a tantrum when told he can’t have an ice cream, we fight tooth and nail once we have been turned down and rejected by an ex. 

On top of your own personal demons, your friends may not be helping… Have they been telling you that you are better off without your ex? That you should just forget about them, or that you would be stupid to ever take them back? Well, great… now your ex has turned into forbidden fruit and your subconscious will fight you even more, convincing you to keep fighting. 

But how invested are you really in the relationship with your ex? Psychologists use four dimensions to predict how long a relationship will last, or how hard it may be to move on after this relationship has ended. The investment model are made up of the following four dimensions:

  1. commitment level; Is there a high level of attachment towards your partner?
  2. satisfaction level; Do you experience more positive than negative emotions in the relationship?
  3. quality of alternatives; Are other potential partners more interesting to you?
  4. investment size; How much have you invested in the relationship? Do you risk to lose much if the relationship were to end?

This is why you will feel particularly invested in the relationship with your ex if you still feel very connected (high commitment level), your ex was amazing at making you feel better (high satisfaction level), to you every alternative potential partner doesn’t quite measure up to your ex (low quality of alternatives), and you for example have children together (high investment size). How does your relationship to your ex compare to the four levels of the investment model. And to what extent can you challenge these?

Why you should let go and move on from an ex?

Being open for new potential partners is challenging, when you find yourself comparing everyone to your ex. Even if you feel like you have worked through your emotions, perhaps during sex with someone new, you find that you flash back to intimate moments with your ex. Comparing sex with someone new to sex with the ex can jeopardize new relationships. So letting go and finally waving goodbye to your ex-boyfriend or -girlfriend can open you up to a host of new possibilities. 

A break-up can leave you feeling disoriented. Part of who you are was wrapped up with being this certain someone’s partner. That is why falling out of love can be so valuable, as it allows you to question who you are without your ex. Being in a relationship means making compromises and sharing more and more hobbies, interests and views over time. Now that you are without your ex you have the opportunity to reevaluate what is important to you as an individual.

How can you move on fom your ex?

Your orientation towards the past is keeping you from moving on. That is why, in our coaching sessions, I would place special importance in building up your trust in the future. Part of your mind is stuck in the past, and this is keeping you from expecting great things from the future! 

As you are reading this, take this moment to decide that your future is bright. Look forward to all the things you will experience, all the people you will meet, all the love you will have to give. Your future deserves to be celebrated! Trust that you will feel happy and whole in the future and take a few minutes every day to envision all that lies ahead. 

The bottom line

Nobody just lets go of an important relationship, an important love, just like that. Even though there are ways to lessen your pain – and I believe you will be stronger for it in the end – missing your ex, still being in love with them and struggling to let go proves that they were an important part of your life. You can say goodbye to this chapter without having to diminish what you once had. Being excited for your future is a healthy form of moving on. I truly believe that the best is yet to come!

 

Best of luck,

your Date Doctor Emanuel

References:

Bringle, R. G., Winnick, T., & Rydell, R. J. (2013). The Prevalence and Nature of Unrequited Love. SAGE Open. https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244013492160

Fisher, H. E., Brown, L. L., Aron, A., Strong, G., & Mashek, D. (2010). Reward, addiction, and emotion regulation systems associated with rejection in love. Journal of neurophysiology. https://doi.org/10.1152/jn.00784.2009

Lopez-Cantero, P., Archer, A. (2020). Lost without you: the Value of Falling out of Love. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10677-020-10067-2

Protasi, S. (2016). Loving people for who they are (even when they don’t love you back). European Journal of Philosophy, 24(1), 214-234. https://doi.org/10.1111/ejop.12077

Rusbult, C. E., Martz, J. M., & Agnew, C. R. (1998). The Investment Model Scale: Measuring commitment level, satisfaction level, quality of alternatives, and investment size. Personal Relationships, 5(4), 357–391. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-6811.1998.tb00177.x

Author:

Emanuel Albert

I have been working as a dating and relationship coach for more than 20 years. Every day my team and I help clients reach more happiness in their relationships. Our vision is to turn relationship problems back into love! To achieve this goal I developed the successful Emanuel Albert Method.