If you’re hung up on your ex, you’re not alone. Surveys show almost half of all single people look at their ex’s social media profiles. And, while an occasional glance is not problematic, too much looking back can interfere with your moving forward.
So, why do we do it? Unlike current relationships, past relationship are unconstrained by reality. They live in our minds and in our fantasies. They are free of the fact checks that present interactions with our ex would bring.
Your memory is actually a constructive process. This means rather than merely retrieving information from long-term store like a computer, when we remember people and events we edit the content. And this editing is influenced by our emotions and biases in our thinking.
One powerful bias is nostalgia—the tendency to remember experiences more favorably than they actually were. You tend to forget all the negative things about your ex and your relationship— the arguments and unhappiness, and instead focus exclusively on the positive. Our mind creates an idealized version of our ex. As a result, we mourn the loss of a relationship we never actually had with a person who never really existed.
An overly positive view of our past relationships and our ex can lead us to judge the present unfairly. As a single person, it can contribute to unrealistic dating expectations. Everyone we meets seems to fall short in comparison to our idealized memory of our ex.
A more constructive way to look back on your ex is to reframe your relationship as a learning experience. Focus on what you learned about yourself, what you need, what worked and didn’t work in the relationship. To counter an overly positive view of your ex, write down all the negative things about them and the relationship.
So, stop pining for your ex. They’re an illusion.
Dr. Lisa Napolitano is an expert in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and other mindfulness-based treatments. A licensed psychologist in New York and Florida, she is the Founder and Director of CBT/DBT Associates, a boutique psychology practice group. Dr. Napolitano is an expert in the treatment of stress, anxiety, worry, and emotion regulation problems. She has specifically designed her treatment approach for executives, attorneys, and other high-functioning individuals whom she believes shouldn’t have to sacrifice their careers to manage their stress and work on developing their potential.