Sex & Relationships

What To Do If You're In A Relationship & Still Thinking About Your Ex

Experts share tips for moving forward.

Originally Published: 
Here's what to do if you're in a relationship but can't stop thinking about your ex.
Ashley Batz/Bustle

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if you're really over someone. You might feel like you've moved on — and really believe it — but suddenly you realize that you keep reminiscing about your previous relationship even after you’ve started a new one. So if you’re constantly asking yourself, “Why do I still think about my ex,” getting to the bottom of those thoughts can help you move forward.

According to Laurel House, a dating and breakup coach, you’re not ready to be in another relationship until you don’t think about your ex for at least one day and feel comfortable being alone. Her tip? Think about how you feel in moments of emotional weakness, whenever you’re lonely, or whenever it’s late at night: Do you still think about your ex?

Even if the answer is no, these feelings can still arise — even when you begin dating again. House explains that sometimes, missing your ex can sneak up on you when you're already with someone else.

Either way, it’s easy to jump to conclusions and assume that thinking about your former partner automatically means you want to get back together. But not so fast, says psychologist Dr. Paul Greene, PhD, director of the Manhattan Center for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Though puzzling over “why do I still think about my ex when I have someone new?” can sometimes mean you have a lingering attraction to your ex-significant other, you might just be working through some unresolved feelings about the relationship.

“Memories of relationships stay with us for a long time, so it's not healthy to wait until they're completely forgotten before moving on,” he tells Bustle. “Instead, focus on how well you're able to connect with your new partner — that's more important.”

If “why do I keep thinking about my ex?” has become your new mantra and you can’t get your former relationship off your mind, then it's time to do some serious soul-searching. To help, relationship experts share their advice for what to do when you’ve got your past partner on the brain.

Happy Memories Don’t Mean You Want To Get Back Together

The first thing you should remember? Taking a trip down memory lane doesn’t necessarily mean you’re pining after your ex, says Greene. “Thoughts and memories aren't ‘signs’ that you're not ready [to move on],” he tells Bustle. “They're just thoughts and memories.” View them as simply that and try to remove any conclusions you may be jumping to in your mind.

If your previous relationship was a happy one, Greene says it’s natural to look back fondly on those times like you would any other positive experience. Besides that, it’s also hard to just forget a chapter of your life — you’re bound to reflect on it at some point, which is why moving on is a complicated process. Reminding yourself that it’s normal to think about your past could help you feel more at peace with reliving those memories, he explains.

Figure Out What Your Feelings Are

That said, it’s important to understand how you feel about your ex. That’s not to say that you actually want to reconcile — there are a lot of different reasons they might still be on your mind. Are you still thinking about them because you wish you were still together? Were you just together for so long that thinking about them is a habit? Or are you still angry about how the relationship ended? There are endless reasons they might be knocking around upstairs, so take some time to figure out where those thoughts are coming from so you can address them and move on, says House.

While looking back on old memories is natural, constantly thinking about your ex — even if you hate them — can be a sign that you're not over them or the relationship, says April Masini, a New York-based relationship expert and author. After all, the opposite of love isn't hate: It's indifference. "Anger is a form of connection, but disinterest is a form of release. If they don’t pique your interest, you’re over them," she tells Bustle. So if you find yourself daydreaming about your ex all the time, that could be a signal that there’s some unfinished business there for one reason or another.

Decide If You’re Really Ready To Be In A Relationship

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If you’re seeing someone new, it’s important to decide whether or not you're actually ready to be in this relationship. That will come down to the way you're still feeling about your ex and the past relationship, and how your current partner feels about this. It's one thing for you to think that you're ready to move on, but it takes two to tango — and your partner might not agree. Plus, there's a difference between being over one person and being ready to be with another.

"Getting over your ex and being ready to be in a new relationship are often two separate things," Masini says. It may be that you and your partner decide that your feelings still mean you can be in a relationship. If the issue is that you're still feeling hurt or angry at your ex and can't stop thinking about that, your partner may understand — or even have been through the same thing. It might be that you can work through your issues together and help each other.

But, if the reason you're still thinking about your ex is that you still have strong feelings for them — and you're basically using your new partner as a placeholder — that's not fair. It may be time to consider ending it.

Knowing whether or not you're over your ex isn't easy, especially when you're already with someone else. If they suddenly pop into your mind again, try not to panic. Just think seriously about why they're still relevant in your life and talk to your partner about those feelings. You may not be ready for this new relationship or you may still be hurt and have to find new ways to work through it. Either way, your best bet is to be honest about how you're feeling.

Talk To Your Partner Once You've Figured Out Your Feelings

Once you know how you feel about your ex, you should have a conversation with your partner. You don't want to open up a serious talk if you're not sure where you stand, but as soon as you become sure then it's only fair to them to bring it up and talk about it.

Whether it's "I'm really struggling to let go of my anger toward my ex," "I'm not sure I've really moved on," or "I'm not sure I've really moved on, but I want to," your partner deserves to know.

It's also important to try to talk to them with a game plan in mind — or at least a plan to make a game plan. When you talk to them, come up with a path forward that works for both of you. If you are still talking to your ex, you may want to take a step back, at least for a while.

You also may want to consider counseling or being more open with your current partner about your past relationship. Sometimes, a professional can help give you a new perspective or allow you to process feelings that you're having problems moving past. Either way, come up with a strategy together.

But remember: “Getting over your ex and being ready to be in a new relationship are often two separate things,” says Masini. So if looking back on good times is just that, then there’s no reason you can’t simultaneously enjoy your current relationship, says Greene.

Avoid Comparing

It's inevitable that you’ll measure up your current relationship to prior ones, according to Greene. After all, your exes are your reference point for relationship experience. But it’s like comparing apples to oranges. “Remember it's not fair to compare a new relationship to one that may have lasted a much longer time,” he says. “Be patient.”

Greene’s advice? Notice when thoughts comparing your current partner to your ex go from being passive (where the thoughts just come up) to active (where you're trying to puzzle through how the relationships stack up to one another). When you realize you’ve drifted into that active process, redirect your attention elsewhere by tuning into your senses, moving your body, or otherwise distracting yourself. Breaking the habit of comparing your relationships can help you better focus on your present partner, he explains.

Focus On Your New Relationship

Why dwell on the past when you could live in the present? The saying holds true when it comes to relationships, says Greene. But that’s often easier said than done. To help, he recommends spending time actively considering what you like about your existing partnership. Understanding exactly why your current partner makes you happy can help you feel more present in the relationship without constantly referring back to your ex.


Dr. Paul Greene, PhD, psychologist and director of the Manhattan Center for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Laurel House, dating and breakup Coach

April Masini, New York-based relationship expert and author

This article was originally published on March 21, 2018

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