Why Seeing Your Ex Move On Hurts So Much

It doesn't necessarily mean that you're still in love with them.

by Kristine Fellizar
Originally Published: 
If your ex moved on and it hurts, it doesn't always mean you're still in love with them.
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It’s been a while since you last thought about your ex. You took time to grieve, heal, and move forward. You may have even started dating someone who’s better for you. You’re at that point where you can confidently say that you’d never consider getting back together. But yet, why does seeing your ex with someone else make you feel heartbroken all over again?

"Breakups are complicated for a number of reasons," Kate MacLean, resident dating expert at Plenty of Fish, tells Bustle. "Whether it was a mutual decision or not, you shared intimate moments and a part of your life with someone. Now you're expected to separate yourself from them."

And with social media, it's even harder to completely forget about your ex. According to MacLean, a recent Plenty of Fish survey found that over a third of singles still follow an ex on social media to see what they're up to, despite nearly 50% saying it's better to give yourself a clean break and cut all ties. Clearly, it’s easier said than done.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Rachel Greenberg suggests taking notice of how you feel when you feel hurt about an ex moving on. “The invitation when you feel that pang is to explore any unresolved feelings that you may not have fully processed,” Dr. Greenberg tells Bustle. “Even if one part of you has moved on, there may be another part of you still holding on to what the relationship was or grief around the fact that it really is over.”

Ideally, when your ex moves on you’d feel happy for them if you’re in a good place. But sometimes seeing your ex with someone else can trigger feelings you weren’t prepared for. According to dating and relationship experts, there are several reasons behind why it hurts — even if you have no intentions of getting back together.


Your Current Partner Is Actually Just A Rebound


Many people use rebounds relationships as a way to distract themselves from pain and to move on as quickly as possible. But according to April Davis, professional matchmaker and founder of LUMA - Luxury Matchmaking, jumping into another relationship right after you got out of one could mean that you haven't had time to fully heal from heartbreak.

"If you see your new partner as a rebound and then you see your ex move on to a new relationship, that would hurt because you may still have feelings for your ex," Davis says. Even if it looks like you've moved on, there’s a chance you really haven't. "Seeing your ex move on would result in you being just as hurt as if you were still single," she says.


Your Ego Is Taking A Hit

In some cases, the "pain" you feel when your ex moves on might not have anything to do with having lingering feelings for them. It may just be your ego getting bruised. "Ego can play a big role in feeling hurt," Davis says. "Some people like the idea of someone having feelings for them even if they don't reciprocate it back. It makes them feel wanted." There's comfort in thinking there's someone out there who's still hung up on you. And seeing your ex with someone else can ruin the illusion you created for yourself.

It's also human nature to compare yourself to the new person your ex is with, which can make you question yourself. What do they have that you don’t? Are they better looking? Better in bed? Do their personalities mesh better? Do they get along with your ex’s friends more? It’s easy to get lost social media stalking your ex’s new partner and feeling bad about yourself in the process. As Kevin Darné, relationship expert and author of My Cat Won't Bark! (A Relationship Epiphany), tells Bustle, "One of the worst feelings is for some people to see their ex seemingly stepping up or doing better after a breakup."


You Were Each Other's First Love


Your first love may not be the love of your life, but it's still hard to forget what you had with them. Your ex may have been the first person who’s ever made you feel safe. Because of that, you were able to share aspects of your life that you’ve never shared with anyone before — and that’s always going to stick with you.

According to Davis, some people feel protective over their first loves long after the relationship is over. "Since you 'got there first' you might have a slight feeling of possession over them," Davis says. "So when you see them with someone new, even if you don't want them back, you might feel that the new person shouldn't have, or doesn't deserve your ex."


You're Worried Your Past Relationship Didn't Mean Anything To Them

If someone meant a lot to you, it’s only natural to want them to feel the same way about you. Seeing your ex with someone else may trigger doubts and insecurities over how your partner truly felt about you in the relationship. Even if you want your ex to be happy now, it’s normal to question whether they truly loved you as much as they said they did.

"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference," Darné says. "We want to believe that if we bump into our ex there'll be an awkward pause or an uneasy feeling. A lack of jealousy or envy on the part of someone's ex can have a negative effect on some people." It doesn't matter if you're already in another relationship now. When you see a picture of your ex smiling with their new partner, it may lead you to question why they never looked as happy when they were with you.


Seeing Your Ex With Someone Else Can Make You Feel Like A Failure

When you invest time and energy into trying to make a relationship work, it can make you feel like a complete failure when it doesn't. According to Dr. Caroline Madden, PhD, licensed marriage and family therapist, seeing your ex happy with someone else can be a reminder of that. It's easy to forget why you broke up and place all the blame on yourself. "Keep in mind that everyone looks happy in the first part of a relationship,” Madden says.

In addition to making you feel like a failure, a breakup can also feel like a loss. According to Heidi Krantz, certified dating and relationship coach, seeing your ex with someone else is “like the loss of your dream hitting you in the face.”


You Haven't Fully Healed From The Breakup

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It may have been years since you’ve last seen your ex. And you may feel like you’ve moved on, and that your current relationship status shows it. But, in some cases, feeling hurt over seeing your ex with someone new could indicate that you still need a little more time to fully heal.

"Just because you moved on, doesn't mean the remorse or grief over the dissolved relationship totally disappears," Laurie Berzack, MSW, matchmaker and dating coach, tells Bustle. "You may still be grieving a relationship that you were once attached to." Everyone deals with a breakup and moves on at their own pace. Taking some time to clear out negative feelings towards your ex and your past relationship can help you fully heal and move forward with your current one.


You Want The Special Moments Shared With Your Ex To Feel Special

Special moments are considered sacred for a reason. You want to feel like certain memories, places, or words said were meant for you and only you. Nobody wants to feel like they’re just another ex. And the idea of your ex having fun experiences and creating new memories with someone else can make you feel sad, Samantha Daniels, relationship expert and founder of Samantha’s Table Matchmaking tells Bustle. “The two of you had a lot of good times together and it’s hard to imagine them doing it with someone else,” Daniels says.


You’re Comparing Yourself To Your Partner

After a breakup, there may be a small part of you that hopes you move on faster than your partner. According to Alexis Wolfe, a dating expert and founder of NYCDateNite, seeing your ex with someone else may make you wonder how well you’re doing in comparison to your ex. This can happen if you have yet to find a new partner yourself. You may wonder why you haven’t found someone, or question your decision to break up.

“It can make you feel inadequate,” Wolfe says. “With your ex moving on, it forces you to come to terms with the relationship being officially over and that chapter of your life totally closed. Breakups are a roller coaster of emotions and sometimes the fact that it’s over doesn’t totally hit someone until the other person finds another partner. Endings are hard and it is usually difficult to watch someone you love to move on with their life.”


You’re Having A Normal Reaction

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It can be a little confusing to feel pain after seeing your ex with someone new, especially when you’ve moved on and are already with someone else. But it's a completely common reaction. As Toni Falcone, Psy.D., licensed psychologist who specializes in relationships, tells Bustle, "Attributing extra meaning to a normal reaction is a primary contributor to the pain (and stress) often associated with this experience.” Falcone says. “Just because it feels icky or it hurts to see your ex move on, doesn’t mean you still love them or want to be with them."


Kate MacLean, resident dating expert at Plenty of Fish

April Davis, owner and founder of LUMA - Luxury Matchmaking

Kevin Darné, relationship expert, author of My Cat Won't Bark! (A Relationship Epiphany)

Laurie Berzack, MSW, dating coach, owner of Carolinas Matchmaker

Dr. Caroline Madden, PhD, licensed marriage and family therapist, author of Blindsided By His Betrayal

Toni Falcone, Psy.D., licensed psychologist

Samantha Daniels, relationship expert and founder of Samantha’s Table Matchmaking

Heidi Krantz, certified dating and relationship coach

Alexis Wolfe, a dating expert and founder of NYCDateNite

Dr. Rachel Greenberg, clinical psychologist

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