It can be hard to know how to get over a break up, especially if you're in the midst of beginning a new relationship. So how do you leave the ghost of your ex behind?
“The relationships we invest in the most, regardless of how long we were in them or how long ago they happened, are the ones that have the biggest impact on us,” says Dr Terri Orbuch, author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great.
“And if things went awry, we often carry anger or insecurity into our subsequent romances.”
So how do you prevent your break up from interfering in your new relationship?
Start with being honest with your partner (without going into too much detail). According to a study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, people felt a heightened sense of intimacy after revealing personal info, such as ex-related issues, and felt more valued and supported. Forge ahead by following this advice…
It’s easy to understand how someone who was called fat or useless by an ex might have trouble accepting a new partner’s compliments after a break up. Because relationships carry such power, criticism within the context of intimacy can be damaging, explains Women's Health relationships expert Dr Traci Coventry.
“Even the most confident people can feel a painful twinge if their partner criticises their appearance. These comments can cut to the core,” she says.
If an ex made disparaging remarks about your weight, you may feel uncomfortable eating in front of your new bloke or showing off your body, which may cause you to avoid sex and intimacy altogether, says Dr Orbuch.
How to let it go: Know your ex’s hurtful words were more about him than you.
“Anyone who criticises a partner in this way is massively insecure,” says Dr Christie Hartman, author of It’s Not Him, It’s You: The Truth You May Not Want But Need to Hear. Translation: He felt compelled to bring you down to make himself feel better.
So try to take your new partner’s loving words to heart, and don’t dismiss his praise.
“There’s only one way to handle a compliment – say thank you, and mean it,” says Dr Hartman. “After a while, the kind words will sink in.”
Almost anything your boyfriend does that’s not completely straightforward will tend to evoke feelings of distrust, explains Dr Coventry. People who were betrayed in the past by a former partner may find themselves setting traps and checking on their new partner, asking them questions they know the answers to, and assuming they’re lying. You may end up overreacting and accusing him of things he didn’t do, which could understandably infuriate him and ultimately threaten your partnership, adds Dr Hartman.
How to let it go: Make it clear to your new partner that, while your trust issues have nothing to do with him, you equate his vagueness with dishonesty. “Tell him that because of your past, you assume the worst when he’s unclear,” says Dr Coventry, and that keeping you in the loop and being specific will go a long way towards helping you feel more connected and secure.
Because your last partner left you at home while he was boozing it up at the pub or partied until 7am, you may become clingy, bossy or prone to nagging your new bloke. You could even become a teetotaller, choosing to avoid parties and any social scenario where alcohol is involved because of your ex and his bad habits, explains Dr Orbuch.
How to let it go: Before you bust out the at-home breathalyser, take a moment to think things through. How many times did he go out this week? Two? And where was he the other nights? With you? Sounds like a guy who has his priorities straight. And remind yourself that a person who likes to go out with his friends doesn’t necessarily have a problem, says Dr Coventry. In fact, it’s completely normal behaviour, provided it doesn’t happen all the time and he’s not coming home and passing out on the bathroom floor on a regular basis.
Anyone who’s dated someone argumentative or aggressive will want to avoid confrontation in subsequent relationships because they’re scared of a fight erupting. But anger is a necessary emotion, and both parties need to be able to express it appropriately.
“Instead of understanding that conflict is an important part of all relationships, someone who had an angry partner might see disagreements as a sign the relationship is headed for trouble,” says Dr Orbuch.
How to let it go: Accept your anger – and his. “What’s important is how you disagree, not whether you disagree,” says Dr Orbuch. Rather than withdrawing or biting your tongue during a disagreement, take a break. Sweat away the anger (and clear your head) on a run, or agree to take a 10-minute walk around the block and then regroup. This will defuse some of the hostility, giving you a more comfortable environment to air your grievances.
Is it ever a good idea to get back together with an ex? Have you seen this work with couples – if so, what grounds make it work? My ex and I were together for seven years and have been apart for three. We’re not back together, but we’ve recently become close again and I’ve started wondering… Emily, via email''
The answer to both questions is yes and no. You need to consider a number of issues if getting back together is an option.
How do you feel about him now? Why did you break up? Have the issues between you been resolved? Have you both emotionally and psychologically moved beyond the need to revisit what went wrong?
The most common reason resparked relationships fail is deja vu. If neither of you have changed since the first time, it’s easy to fall back into old patterns that reignite past thoughts and fears, rejuvenate old arguments, and ultimately lead to breaking up again.
However, if there is evidence you’ve both grown beyond past mistakes, if you can agree that the past stays in the past, and if your feelings for each other compel you to try again, you have every chance of a successful second time around, so go for it!
“A stressful relationship can have harmful consequences, such as sleep problems, depression, high blood pressure, ulcers, anxiety, difficulty with memory and trouble focusing,” says Dr Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain and The Male Brain.
High levels of the stress hormone cortisol and the fight-or-flight hormone epinephrine contribute to the symptoms. Severing your ties with a toxic ex is the first step toward reducing your body’s stress reaction, but it’s also critical not to carry these stressors into your next romance.
The good news is that once you’ve ditched Mr Dodgy and moved on, all the medical issues stemming from the experience will most likely subside, says Dr Brizendine. However, they could come right back if you get into another unhealthy relationship, so recognise your patterns to prevent a relapse. Doctor’s orders!More SEX AND RELATIONSHIPS