While some breakups are easier to move past, others are harder to recover from. You may try various coping and self-care strategies, from seeing friends more to focusing on something you’ve been meaning to do, like hiking every morning before work. But if you keep trying to move on and just cannot, it may be time to talk to a therapist if you can’t get over your ex. After all, the loss of the ex may be deeper in your subconscious than you may realize.
“Oftentimes, breakups are very painful, and it is important to process that pain,” Jessica Schroeder, LCMT, Registered Play Therapist, and Certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist, of the JS Therapy Group, tells Bustle. “It is critical to get over your ex — not only to become emotionally healthy, but also to prevent carrying experiences forward into new relationships.”
You may not even realize how this hurdle is affecting new relationships, but there are plenty of ways not being over an ex can manifest when you're seeing someone new. “For example, you could compare your new partner to your ex or you could unintentionally have reactions according to what happened in your relationship with them,” Schroeder says. “Or, if you felt you were not good enough in your last relationship, you may have behavioral responses in your future relationships, all according to that self-narrative.”
While there is definitely no one-size-fits-all formula to getting over an ex, there are questions you can ask a therapist that will help, according to therapists themselves. And, the sooner you begin taking steps to do so, the better you’ll feel and the more you’ll be able to move on. Below are 13 questions to ask a therapist to help you move on.
1. “Am I Having Trouble Moving Past This Because Of Something In My Past?”
Sometimes, the past may haunt you — as much as you may not want unhealthy patterns of behavior to repeat themselves from relationship to relationship, they still do, based on your subconscious and how you were raised. For instance, you may choose partners who are carbon copies of an emotionally unavailable parent.
“Ask: Am I having trouble moving past this because of something in my past,” Dr. Elizabeth Cohen, clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. “Often, we project or act out experiences/losses/issues from our past in our current relationships — i.e., if we always longed for a closer relationship with our father, we might repeat this behavior by pursuing a relationship even if it is clearly over.”
Tina B. Tessina, PhD (aka “Dr. Romance”), psychotherapist, and author of How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free, 4th Edition, agrees. “Consider whether old family patterns are interfering with your relationships,” she tells Bustle. “Then, ask your therapist for help in understanding them and changing how they affect you, and also how they affect your relationships.”
2. “What Is My Attachment Style?”
The way you become attached to partners is another factor when it comes to figuring out why you cannot get over your ex. Schroeder suggests asking your therapist about your attachment style. “This question is important because we all have an attachment style that directs how we interact with our partner,” she tells Bustle. “Attachment styles develop at a very young age; for instance, we develop strategies for dealing with abandonment or rejection by 18 months old.”
She says that if your parents didn’t offer comfort when you were in distress (i.e., hungry, wet, or scared), you could have developed an anxious attachment style. “So, regarding romantic relationships, an anxious attachment style is sometimes characterized by clingy behaviors, anger during a breakup, and/or the inability to get over an ex,” Schroeder says.
3. “What Could I Have Done Differently?”
It takes two people to make a relationship work. Even if you thought everything was going well, if the other person broke up with you, there may have been things you both could have done differently, whether it was the way you communicated or the way you handled conflict.
“Your therapist can help to analyze what went wrong in the relationship,” Dr. Tessina says. “Ask for help doing that, and figure out what you could have done differently.”
4. “Why Am I Still Emotionally Drawn To My Ex?”
Christi Garner, LMFT, Psychotherapist Online, says it’s good to ask your therapist why you’re still emotionally drawn to your ex. “Your therapist will want to know if it’s about the sex, physical touching and comfort, or emotional support and caring,” she tells Bustle. “Maybe it is something simple, like money, or the acts they did for you, like taking care of household chores.” But by asking this question, you and your therapist can figure it out.
5. “What Was It About This Relationship That Had Such An Impact on Me?”
When you think about the relationship you had with your ex, do you know why it affected you so much? Erika Miley, mental and sexual, health therapist, says to ask: “What was it about this relationship that had such an impact on me?” “Often, we believe it is something specific about the person that keeps us focused on that relationship,” she tells Bustle. “But, more than likely, it something about the relationship and how you operated within it that’s one of the reasons why it is hard to get over.”
6. “If Your Ex Wanted To Get Back Together Tomorrow, What Would Your Hesitations Be?”
All in all, part of not falling back into the same relationship patterns is recognizing why they are not good for you in the first place. Tom Bruett, MS, LMFT, and founder of Tom Bruett Therapy, says to ask: “In a fantasy world, if your ex wanted to get back together tomorrow, what would your hesitations be?”
“This is a great question because it can be a backdoor entry into some of the reasons you know, deep down, that your ex is not the right match for you,” he tells Bustle. “It can also expose some flaws that you can focus on to access any anger or sadness you may feel about your past relationship.”
Similarly, Dr. Tessina says to figure if your ex was a good match to begin with. “They were either a good match, in which case you may have pushed them away, or a bad match, in which case nothing would have helped,” she says. “Ask your therapist to help you determine this.”
7. “How Can I Choose A Different Type Of Partner In The Future?”
If you’ve ever noticed that a lot of your exes could be carbon copies of each other, it’s good to figure out why this is, and your therapist can help. “Ask your therapist to help you analyze the types of partners you choose, and how to choose differently,” Dr. Tessina says.
8. “How Do I Handle Conflict?”
Miley also suggests examining how you handled conflict. “Many times during the ending of a relationship, we wish to dispel the discomfort and pain of abandonment, so we shift all of the blame to the other person,” she says. “It is a difficult thing to own our role in conflict or the ending of the relationship, but use this as an opportunity to get curious about your own experience and how you handle conflict.”
9. “How Can I Enhance My Relationship Skills?”
No relationship is perfect, but the way you and your partner relate to each other can make or break the relationship. Perhaps you grew up in a household with codependent parents, and that bleeds into how you are in romantic relationships, too, even though you don’t want that to be the case.
“Ask your therapist to learn and enhance your relationship skills — communication skills, listening skills, problem-solving skills, and letting-yourself-be-loved skills,” Dr. Tessina says.
10. “Are These Feelings I’m Having About My Ex… Or Actually About Me?”
After a relationship, it’s common to feel loss and grief, even if breaking up was the best solution. It’s then important to figure out if the feelings you’re having are about your ex — or yourself, Miley says. “Sometimes, we get stuck thinking we’ll never have another relationship again, or ever feel love again. More than likely, this is not the case and the relationship ending brings up feelings of grief we cannot control.”
She says the process of grief is not unique to death and dying, and is something that occurs when you experience loss, so it’s best to figure out the rationale behind your feelings with your therapist.
11. “What Can I Learn About Myself From This Breakup?”
Of course, every relationship is a learning experience, whether it ends or not. So, now when you see your therapist, you can ask yourself what you’ve learned from your last breakup, Bruett says. “Even in really painful situations, we can learn and grow,” he says. “If you can honestly look at your past relationship and evaluate the pros and cons realistically, you’re on your way to healing.”
12. “Will I Always Feel This Way?”
You may be convinced that you will *never* get over your ex — and your life will never be the same. A therapist can help you see that this isn't the case.
“‘Will I always feel this way?’ is a good question because then a therapist can explain how feelings come and go, like the weather,” Dr. Cohen says. “Learning that an intolerable experience will pass is essential for overall mental health.”
13. "How Will I Move On?"
Of course, you want to stop wanting your ex back, but know that the timeline for getting over someone will vary from person to person. “The time it takes to get over your ex varies and depends on several factors,” Schroeder says. “For example, if you were in a long-term relationship, it could take longer to get over the person. Or, if you did not want the breakup, it could take longer to get over them, but if you were not truly happy in that relationship, it could [take] less time.”
Instead of wondering when you'll get over someone, it's important to figure out how you'll get there. She says that, no matter what the case may be, it is important to take it slow and evaluate what you need to be emotionally healthy. As someone who’s been there, I couldn’t agree more.
Correction: Dr. Damian Jacob Markiewicz Sendler's quotes have been removed from this article because they fail to meet Bustle's editorial standards for publishing.