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LetusPonder Column:

How to Stop Thinking About Your Ex
How to Get Over Your First Love

- Rob Daugherty

I was watching a men's pick-up basketball game and standing within earshot of me were two guys talking…

"How can I stop thinking about her?"
"The girl you were with last summer?"
"Dude, that was months ago!  You've got problems."

Yep, dude's got problems.  He can't get her out of his head.

Unfortunately, after sharing your life with someone for months or even years, it's nearly impossible for the human brain to just flip a switch and turn the thoughts and feelings off.  But, relationships end and at some point, people have to stop thinking about the ex.

That's what this article is about: How to stop thinking about your ex.

Instead of spouting one person's opinion and instead of writing about what people think others SHOULD do, I simply asked people who've been through a break-up how they managed to stop the thoughts. For the vast majority of people, time was the only solution.  They lived in obsessive hell for a month to several months (some people even longer) and eventually they got past it.

Some people, though, were able to get past things more quickly.  For these individuals, they usually went through two phases:

Phase One -- Distraction
Phase Two -- Realizing the Bigger Picture.

Phase One -- Avoid Obsessing by Creating Distractions

Far too many people break up only to go right back in a week or two.  If you give yourself all kinds of idle mental time to just think and remember and play out the being-alone scenarios, you, too, will soon be re-thinking that break-up.

And this is bad.  Chances are you either SHOULD not be together or, since the person dumped you, you CAN not be together.  So, hoping to BE together once again is just a big waste of time and mental effort.  Your relationship is over.  Stop trying to find ways to get them back.  Stop reliving the past.  Stop thinking about what you should've done or said. Stop thinking about what you WILL say or do if given the chance.  It's over.  Done!  Even if you get back together, eventually the same reasons for the breakup and the true incompatibility will surface.  (And NO, HE WILL NOT CHANGE.)

The more free time you have to just sit around and think, the more you'll just sit around and think.  And when you've just broken up with someone, even if you know, I mean truly know, that the person is a smelly pimple on a dirty butt kind of person, the worst thing you can do is THINK. 

So, somehow you want to distract your mind so that you don't constantly wallow in the cesspool of thoughts that is your ex.  No matter how difficult, painful, and depressing, somehow you just have to deal.  So, for a while at least, you want to occupy your mind.  You want your mind to be active, to be creative or involved in some specific activity.  (No, this does not include watching TV.)   Here's a list as a start:

    Go outside and touch things and look at your world VERY closely
    Walk, blade, run, or ride a bike - but do so intensely
    Paint or write your masterpiece (as long as it's not about the ex)
    Donate your time to kids, elderly, disabled, or hungry
    Clean your house, car, bathroom, basement, etc.
    Cook something new from a recipe
    Complete all levels of a video game
    Build something that involves a physical or mental challenge
    Devote yourself to something
    Learn or develop a new skill
    Road trip (avoid the touristy things and really explore)
    Call an old friend (but do NOT mention your ex or your break-up)
    Call your father

(This list could be so long that I've decided to write another article, "1001 things you can do to stop thinking about your ex."  When it's done, I'll elaborate on many of these and provide links to make it even easier for you to distract yourself. Check back soon!)

Your goal is to do something to keep your mind and body active.  And no matter what you do, the best activities are often those that cost nothing.

Eventually, if you distract yourself for a long enough time, most of the pain and the memories will fade to a manageable level.  But you can't be busy 24/7, right?  At some point you'll lie down to rest and then your mind will return to the ex.  This is where Phase Two comes in.

But first, there's another way to distract yourself.  This is the easy-cheezy lame-o-temporary-and-only-leads-to-yet-another-breakup solution:

Find a replacement person

This is so common it warrants its own discussion.

When you go out and find a replacement person, all the excitement and intrigue of meeting someone new and getting to know them can easily dominate your thoughts.  This is that rebound situation that so many can't keep away from.  (It can also be that time when you "re-connect" with a friend to the point of being obsessive and terribly selfish of their time.  Don't do this, either.)

The problem with the replacement distraction is when people replace one person with another, they most usually find someone who really is not what's best for them in the long run, which leads to yet another break-up and then they're right back here trying to find a way to distract themselves again.

There are many people, women mostly, who go from one serious relationship directly into another, directly into another, directly into another… and seem to never NOT be in a relationship.  This is bad.

People who never experience being on their own lose a part of themselves. Either that or they don't give themselves the opportunity to allow their true essence of themselves to surface.   All of their adult life experience is centered around someone else. A person needs time alone to reflect, to search themselves, to find what it is that drives them, pains them, and causes them to really act.

When I learn that a woman's life wasn't a lengthy serious of relationships, that tells me that she may actually be able to entertain herself, that she has outside interests, that she's taken the time to actually get to know herself, explore passions and hobbies, develop skills, enjoy her world, and become someone who deserves good things to happen.  It's a sign of strength and confidence, creativity, independence, and the ability to just appreciate things. 

Of course, there is that small possibility that the person is a whacked-out psycho hosebeast, but these are the exception and not the rule.

When you die and you're standing at the Pearly Gates experiencing that review of your life and gaining that true understanding of what it was your soul was to gain from this experience on Earth, the gatekeeper could give an angel's ass-cheeks if you didn't have a date last Saturday.

It's OK to be alone.  In fact, it can be a very good thing.

Phase Two: The Bigger Picture

Before people rise to the point of enjoying being alone, they pass through and graduate from Phase Two.  Phase Two is when people don't just understand but actually feel inside their being what I call THE BIGGER PICTURE.

After talking with people about their past failed relationships, there was a near-unanimous conclusion: after all was said and done and after time allowed the wounds to heal and some perspective to be developed, it was ultimately better that the relationship ended.  Here are some of the things I've heard repeatedly said:

"I was never truly happy and I wasn't aware of how unhappy I was until I was away from the bastard."

"I finally found a partner that I was far more compatible with and I never would've met him had my relationship not ended."

"I wasn't myself.  Now that I look back, everything I did wasn't because I thought it was what I should do or what I wanted to do; instead it was so that she didn't get angry and make the entire day or week miserable for myself and my kids."

One girl told me this story:

"Upon graduating from college, I had several offers from excellent companies all over the U.S. and even abroad.  I decided to take a lesser-paying job far from home just so I could live with my boyfriend of two years who I thought was the greatest thing ever.  After living with him for some months, it became obvious that we weren't meant to be.  I became sad and confused and miserable and started kicking myself for being so easily manipulated into moving halfway across the country to be with him.

"After we broke up, I kept trying to think of reasons to call him or to just get together, hoping that maybe we'd reconsider our new "friendship."  Eventually it got in my head that we would never get back together.

"I was put on a new project at work and soon met someone.  Despite him not being anything I ever imagined myself with, I couldn't stop thinking about him.  Had I still been involved, I never would've given the guy a second look.  We eventually got married and after 15  years, I am still deeply in love.

"Some people say I should never have moved away like I did.  But had I not taken that lower-paying job, I never would've met my husband.  In its own strange way, that failed relationship was necessary for me to meet what I now consider to be my true soul mate."

I shared that story because there are so many others just like it.  I could fill an entire Chicken Soup for the Soul book of how a horrible relationship led to meeting their "soulmate."  There's no reason why you should be the exception to the rule, so when you get past all this crap, good things will eventually happen.

"I'll Never Find a More Perfect Person for Me"

I've heard people whine, "There's no way anyone could be more perfect for me than (my ex).  How could I possibly meet someone that's better?"

For those who have had a number of relationships and have had time to release these and look back upon them with perception, there are some that were better than others but for the most part, as one person put it, "It's not really about someone being better than the other since, thanks to them, I grew into a different person and grew to want and appreciate different things.  I couldn't possibly compare the relationship I had when I was 17 to that when I turned 32."

In other words, think about this silly apple analogy:

I could never compare any of my past loves any more than I can compare juicy, crunchy apples.  When I eat an apple, I don't think, "Holy moly!  THIS apple is SO much better than the last one."  No, instead I think, 'This apple tastes SO freaking good.  I am loving life!"

With relationships, it's often not about finding the absolute best apple or wishing for apples of the past.  It's about simply appreciating the one you have at the time.  (One must also keep in mind, though, that when a person finds a bad apple they don't keep eating it just because that's what they have in their hand.  They drop it and reach for another.)

I'm sorry to say this, but your ex had a bruise and it's time to throw that apple away.

(Ok, no more apple talk.)

"I Don't Want to be Hurt"

Have you ever heard someone say, "I just don't want to be hurt again?"

Being open to relationships isn't about being open to getting hurt again.  Past relationships aren't about the bad that happened.  It's about the good that comes out of them.  I love to love.  I love to learn about someone, to grow, to share, to see things from a new perspective.  All this comes when you meet someone new.

Have I been hurt in the past?  Sure I have.  Have I been incredibly happy in the past?  Hell yes.  And I plan on continuing to accumulate happy experiences as I continue to learn and grow and live and eat those incredible, juicy, crunchy apples.  (Sorry.)

So, the clichés are actually true:

  • You broke up for a reason.
  • You'll come to love another person when the time is right.
  • There's always a bad apple or two in the bunch
  • Without the risk of getting hurt again, you will never find THE ONE.

The biggest cliché needs further elaboration:  There is a reason the two of you broke up: a bigger reason.  It's not something like, "He cheated on me" or "I gained a lot of weight and was a constant nag."  Instead, it's a reason that comes from your soul that says, "It's time you moved on to something else.  You are finished here.  You have other life experiences to gain from."

The challenge is to accept this deep within your moral fiber.  If you can truly understand that that there's something out there, something else, that you were meant to experience and, more importantly, that you won't experience until you release this person from your mind, then you will be able to finally stop thinking about that ex.

Having said all that, the mental goal you want to have as far as your emotions for this person is NOT dislike or hate.  When you like or love something AND when you strongly dislike or hate, either way your thoughts are drawn to this something.  This is exactly what you're trying to avoid.

Divine Neutrality

Your goal is neutrality -- still remembering, still appreciating, just unattached.  This neutrality allows you to be a good person to this individual while also allowing your life to blossom into something new.  (And if it makes you feel any better, the only thing that bothers an ex more than the psycho temper tantrums and the vicious name-calling is complete indifference.  Being nice AND unavailable will drive that person crazy!)

Often the only thing holding someone back is not that they wish to get back with that person but instead, that they still harbor hate and ill-will towards them.  Spiritually, on the deeper soul level, a person must release this attachment before their soul can progress.

So, release the hate.  And release the love.  Learn from the experience.  That person, good or bad, contributed to who you are today and especially to who'll you'll be once this is all over.

So, if need be, distract yourself until you understand the bigger picture -- until you become neutral. 

From there, your eyes and your mind will open and before you know it, exactly what's best for you will simply appear before your eyes.

(I really tried to throw in one more apple thought just to tie it all together, but none that came to mind were worthy.)

Stop thinking already!  Enjoy your life.






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