No matter how things ended between you and your ex, once enough time has passed, you might start to romanticize your old relationship. In fact, after you've put some space between your life with your ex and the present, it sometimes feels easier to just put a positive spin on things — to remember the good times with your ex instead of the bad, to minimize the conflicts you two had, and and to block out any memories of the drama or problems that led to the relationship's end. Who wants to carry around all that baggage? It just feels better to remember the nice stuff.
But remembering only the good times can have more serious consequences than just making us want to get back together with our ex (though that's always a risk, too). When we only remember the good parts of a past relationship, and block out the difficult or disappointing stuff, we engage in what therapists call "romanticizing" that relationship — thinking of it in almost the same way we would a love story in a movie, rather than recalling it as it actually was, with warts and all.
Romanticizing the past can also prevent us from being able to form new romantic connections in the present. Research has found that when we become invested in a romanticized idea of love, we spend our dating time acting out romanticized patterns because they give us a dopamine high, rather than seeking real intimacy and connection (think Ted in 90 percent of How I Met Your Mother episodes).
While it can be a struggle to remember why you broke up with an ex, it isn't an impossible feat. If you commit to pushing aside the fantasies, and remembering the truth about your time together, you're one step closer to being able to experience actual love based on bonding with another person, instead of chasing the ghost of a love that never quite existed. Here's how.
1. Stop Focusing On The Happy Stuff
Every relationship is made up of both good and bad stuff. And if you're no longer with your ex, the bad stuff in your relationship probably came to outweigh the good. When you're trying to break the spell of an idealized past relationship, try to remember all the bad stuff: the harsh words that you two exchanged, the times your ex disappointed you or didn't have your back, and every other moment in which you were completely miserable. Sure, the happy times are great memories, but if you block out the bad, then you just set yourself up to live a lie.
2. Try To Pinpoint Why You Think You Miss Your Ex
Can you remember something that you really miss about your ex? While you bring up that memory, are you also remembering anything about them that you don't miss? I bet you are.
It might be easy to say you miss your ex because they were funny or great in bed, but when you really think about it, you can probably come up with many more reasons why you don't miss them at all (like how after all that great sex, they just rolled over and never wanted to cuddle or be close to you).
3. Make A Pro-Con List About Them
Lists are a great tool to help you get over exes, because they not only force you to recall all the details of your relationship, but also force you to look at it all written down on paper. So make a list of all the things that were great about your time with your ex — the love they showed, the support they offered, and all the little things that made you really happy.
Next, make a list of all the bad stuff they did — like betray you, lie to you, and hurt you. When looking at those lists side by side, you just might gain better insight about why you need to put all that romanticizing away — it's not connected to the reality of what you went through.
4. Stop Comparing New People You Date To Your Ex
I do not need to tell you that everyone is different and dating isn't easy, especially after a difficult breakup. But you need to keep the fact that your new date is different from your ex in the forefront of your brain. So maybe the person you're dating isn't as tall as your ex, or doesn't have the same love of Truffaut movies that you always loved about them. But does it really matter?
Realistically, your ex is never going to measure up to a lot of these new people in a bunch of ways, too. You can't compare people, because everyone brings something different to a relationship. Being fixated on what your ex brought to the table is damaging, and will just undermine your ability to be happy again.
5. Ask Your Friends For Reminders Of What It Was Really Like
More than anybody else, your friends and family can steer you in the direction of reality when it comes to past relationships — because, unlike you, they can recall specific instances in which you were a hot, miserable mess because of your ex.
Your friends can point out all the times when your ex forgot your birthday, how they never quite came through when you needed them, or the many different ways in which they manipulated you or put you down for no other reason than that they could. This is the stuff you need to remember, so count on your friends and family to refresh your memory. It will help paint a clearer (and more realistic) picture.
6. Remember All The Times You Questioned The Relationship
If you broke up, there's a good chance that at some point in your relationship, you wondered what the hell you were doing with your ex. Whether you had that thought after a heated argument, or just in one of those moments where you were no longer feeling the same about them as you once did, it's those memories you need to hone in on.
If you've romanticized your relationship and have forgotten all of the times when you stared at your ex thinking, "Why am I not running away from this?" then you need to put yourself back in those shoes. Obviously you were having those thoughts for a reason, and it's because in that moment, you didn't like the relationship and wanted out.
7. Know That Who You Were With Your Ex Isn't Who You Are Now
Whether or not we want to admit to it, relationships change us. Unhealthy relationships in particular not only change us, but trap us. We conform to our unhealthy surroundings so that we can make due with them.
But once that relationship is behind us, we're able to find our real selves again. We get to spend more time with our friends and more time alone, and in doing so, we can get in touch with the real person we are outside of our past relationship. Most of the time, that person is better than the person we were while we were in it. You need to compare the two versions of you and realize which one you'd rather be.
8. Understand That Romanticizing Is Normal But Not Always Healthy
Romanticizing the past is totally normal and everyone does it. Just look at Brian Williams, for example — who totally romanticized his brush with death, which, upon closer examination, never even happened. His story is a perfect example of the risks of romanticization, in fact — remembering something differently than the way it actually happened can lead you to built your whole life on faulty ground, which might feel good in the moment, but will slide out from under you when you're confronted with the truth.
And while in your case romanticizing the past may not get your fried from your job, it could set you up for romantic failure. You don't want your deluded thoughts about your past interfering with your ability to move on and fall in love again.
9. Remember That You Broke Up For A Reason
If your relationship was actually as awesome as it is in your memory, then you'd still be together. That, above all else, is what you really need to remember. You broke up for a reason — and you need to never forget what that reason was, no matter how much it might hurt to recall all the shitty parts of your relationship. Even if you do get back together, it's no guarantee that things will be different this time around.
Your best bet is to pack up those memories, say goodbye, and look to the future — and new, actual love.