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3 Signs You’re Holding on to Your Ex (& it’s Holding You Back)

There’s a reason getting over our marriages is so painful. We deeply invest our hearts in our intimate relationships and they become an essential part of us. That’s why betrayals are so traumatic. It’s also why an Ex can still feel like “your person” long after it’s over.

The devastation of divorce leaves us with ongoing emotional withdrawal symptoms. In fact, an inherent challenge of moving on from a breakup is fighting the urge to stay connected. Achingly, this is the opposite of what’s needed for recovery. If you feel stuck or your recovery feels stalled, you may have allowed ties to your Ex to slow your progress. Here are three common emotional traps:

1. Being Overly Involved

You may be tempted to hold on to a shadow of your former role by coming to the rescue or taking care of things like you always did. If your Ex never remembers to get the oil changed, neglects to schedule their physical, or is hopeless at doing their taxes, jumping in to take care of it for them can give you a temporary feeling of belonging. The keyword here is “temporary.”

In some cases, helping out can be an attempt to hold on to a shred of control. In others, it’s a way to keep feeling needed. Or “doing” for your Ex gives you a much-needed booster shot of affection or appreciation. Maybe you’re doing it out of guilt. In any case, by showing up for some of your former “spousal” duties, you’re spending your valuable time and energy on keeping remnants of the past alive.   

Or, maybe you’re still relying on your Ex to take care of things for you that they’ve always done. They’re there to drive you to the airport, deliver their famous lasagna because you need a homecooked meal, or assemble your Ikea bookshelf—and you let them. By continuing to lean on your Ex, you rob yourself of the increased confidence and sense of satisfaction that comes with handling your own business. And, it keeps you trapped in a cycle of depending on someone who no longer has an obligation to you.

Helping your Ex out with a flat tire is not a red flag. Neither is getting an occasional favor. But a pattern of rescuing or caretaking, giving or receiving, keeps you in divorce recovery limbo.

2. Staying in Close Touch

You had someone there to share your daily life, from the significant events to the minor details. When you find yourself on your own, maybe for the first time in as long as you can remember, keeping up a stream of communication with your Ex can feel comforting and familiar. Unfortunately, regular texting and calling also have the effect of keeping your Ex very present in your life, which pushes the pause button on your recovery.

For many, releasing this connection to “your person” is one of the hardest aspects of letting go. By keeping them in that central role, you’re putting off facing all of the big emotions that come with healing and moving on. To move forward in your recovery, you’ll need space to accept the end of your marriage, work through the pain and come out on the other side. That means you resist the urge to contact your ex for anything other than essential business during your divorce recovery.

At first, the desire to reach out can be overwhelming, but your self-control is a muscle that will get stronger with practice and, with it, your ability to move on. This doesn’t mean you can’t be amicable in dealing with logistics. And, down the line, when you’ve done the work, and you’re over your divorce, you can have a healthy friendship if that’s what you both want.

3. Keeping Tabs

Maybe you aren’t in regular contact, but the urge to keep tabs on your Ex in other ways is hard to resist. Regular deep dives into their social media posts stoke feelings of pain, sorrow and anger—as will tracking their location (if you still have access) or asking mutual friends to give you updates. All of which keep you focused on your Ex and not on your recovery.

Knowing what your Ex is up to, who they’re seeing, and how they’re doing without you puts you on the fast train to nowhere. No good can come from spending time gathering intel or ruminating over it. This self-inflicted misery halts recovery in its tracks. You have the power to end it by hitting the unfollow button on social media and deleting iPhone tracking. Cold turkey. When it comes to mutual friends, they probably feel awkward about your questions anyway. It’s time to stop asking.

Move Forward by Not Going Backward

All three of the patterns above are distractions that allow you to avoid the pain and fear that comes with recovering and rebuilding. If you recognize yourself in one or more of these recovery blocking behaviors, be loving, gentle and compassionate with yourself. Divorce is complicated, and falling into these types of emotional traps is very common.

The important thing is to set your intention and take action to change the pattern from now on. That may mean learning to set boundaries with your Ex and with yourself. It most certainly will require a commitment to yourself to do what it takes to recover. Coaching or therapy can help if you’re struggling. Your happiness and peace of mind are worth the effort!

Also see: Are You Giving Your Ex Too Much Space in Your Head?

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Leave a comment

  1. This is me 100%! I am stuck between wanting him in my life and hating him. Every time there is a text or email or phone call I am triggered, yet I am constantly wanting to know what he’s doing, who he’s with, where he’s going/been… is he sad (I hope so), etc.

    I go down the rabbit hole on a daily basis. I wish I didn’t care what he’s doing, who he’s with, etc, but I can’t get past this. I’ve even started communicating with the now ex husband of the other woman, keeping tabs on the two of them, hating them both. But I can’t seem to stop. Help!

    1. Don’t beat yourself up about it, Chris. What you’re feeling is normal–it’s what you do with what you’re feeling that can make or break your recovery. I know that YOU know you’re causing yourself more pain and stalling your recovery by holding on. Part of you is not accepting that your relationship is over. It’s hard to flip a switch and not care about what he’s doing. You’ll have to decide you care about yourself more and find the strength to let him go even while you still care. That’s the hard part. To turn away even when you’re heart is screaming at you not to. But that is what it takes to start getting over it. Give yourself lots of love and compassion and some tough love too. By hanging on you’re abandoning yourself and you deserve better. Step one is to commit to yourself that you want to change your pattern. You have to want to change for it to stick. Step two is getting help. This can be hard to do on your own and unless you’re willing to go cold turkey (unfollow your Ex/cut off your communication with the other Ex), then you may need the support of a coach or therapist to get over the hump. You can do this, Chris. You’re worth it!