‘Dear Lala, I can’t move on from my former partner no matter how hard I try’

In a new twist on Lalalaletmeexplain's hit column, readers ask for her expert advice on their own love, sex and relationship problems.

Here, she offers advice to a reader who broke up with their partner for the right reasons, but is struggling to move on with their life.

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Dear Lala,

I need your advice on how to move on healthily from someone you love. I broke up with a loving partner this year after it became clear we had different ideas around the communication, effort and consistency that should go into a relationship, and my mental health deteriorated trying to make it work.

Despite choosing to end it for the right reasons, I was deeply in love with this person and truly believed we would spend the rest of our lives together. Seven months on and I still think about them every day. I really thought I’d be further down the road of moving on by now.

Quite early on I deleted their number, our messages and I moved all our photos into a separate hidden folder in my phone. I unfollowed them and their friends on social media and I tried desperately hard to process the pain and move on.

I’ve surrounded myself with friends this summer and have even gone on a few dates, although they seem to make me more depressed as I compare everything to my ex-partner.

Being busy at work helped distract me for a few weeks but now I’ve had some time with myself again and it’s a constant battle not to question my decision and I still end a lot of nights crying over what I felt I lost. I know it is not the right thing for us to be together right now, they don’t have the maturity yet to build a life upon and I think if we were to get back together, I would really struggle not to feel like I was going to get hurt.

So, I need advice on how I can live my life for me again, and not obsess over a relationship that ended months ago. I think it’s been harder recently as we head into 'cuffing season' and a lot of my friends have coupled off. I can feel myself idealising my old relationship even more and imagining what would happen if I reached out and I don’t know how to stop it. At the same time, I can also feel myself becoming more disillusioned with the idea of love every day, and as a romantic at heart that makes me sad.

Lala says…

Ending relationships when you can’t stand the sight of someone anymore is hard enough but ending it when you still love them deeply is really really tough. I hope you feel proud of yourself because you should. You have done what many people desperately need to do but don’t because it’s too painful. You have put your mental health first and made a sensible decision that your future self will thank you for.

You have also done all the right things, unfollowing them and their friends on socials to avoid painful memories, hanging out with friends and dating again, all are great ways to begin to get over this. You have done brilliantly, and I think it is important to praise yourself for that. Beating yourself up for not being over it yet will not help. When critical thoughts about how you’re dealing with this come into your head try to have some self-compassion, be kind to yourself. I think you’re doing better than you think you are.

It might be good for you to think about starting something new, a new activity or hobby, something that you really enjoy doing. Learning something or taking up a new form of exercise can be a great way to redirect your energy, meet new people and feel good about yourself.

I would also recommend journaling, which is literally just writing down all your thoughts and feelings every day, or whenever you feel you need to. There are guides on YouTube for how to journal effectively. Journaling helps you to unravel your thoughts and to get them out of your mind. It’s also a good way of being able to look back on how far you’ve come.

Mindfulness will help you too. Mindfulness is a form of meditation that teaches you how to quieten your mind and focus your thoughts where you want them to be. Again, there are loads of mindfulness resources online that will help you to learn how to do it properly. It takes consistency and practice, but it is certainly worth it. Mindfulness will help you to process and compartmentalise some of those obsessive thoughts of your ex.

I spoke to Psychologist Dr Shona Landon who said: “In terms of the obsessional thoughts where she fantasises about reaching out to them (and presumably in the fantasy this all goes well) – fantasies are so tempting as they are totally under our control, there is no risk of hurt or rejection and they may allow them to temporarily re-experience some of the positive emotions and hormones that are associated with being in love.

"I would advise them to allow themselves to fantasise (ideally in a contained way, e.g just at a certain time of day), but, if they can, try to redirect these fantasies to the ideal relationship or partner that could meet their needs. What would that relationship look like? What are the ‘green flags’ and non-negotiables? How would they know that this relationship is one where they could feel secure, happy and confident about the future?

"Being sure of what you DO want (in terms of traits and characteristics rather than projecting everything onto one idealised version of a person that doesn’t exist) is a good idea. It will also help them to recognise the good ones and their good traits when they are ready to be back dating.

"They would benefit from noting when things are particularly bad/the situational triggers. When she’s in the bath? On the bus? After a few drinks? Whilst scrolling online after dinner? And try to pre-empt this with a plan of distractions that they can enjoy doing instead.

"Equally there is no point in trying to not think about them. If we try not to think about a pink elephant… all we see is a pink elephant. It’s better to accept that these thoughts will come and have a plan for what to do if they get too much.

"A good plan for obsessions about them is to have a note or prompt stored in her phone or whatever else she has to hand to remind her to think about the realities of why the relationship ended- examples of their emotionally immature behaviour or why they weren’t compatible long term. Distance can make the heart grow fonder and it is easy to forgive and forget and idealize someone /a relationship that, in reality, was far from perfect. She needs to trust in the decision she made.”

If you haven’t yet, then I would really urge you to seek professional help. Therapy or counselling will give you a space to talk through your feelings and to find strategies for moving forward. It is the best way to look after your own mind and understand yourself better. Waiting lists with the NHS can be long, but it is worth talking to your GP to see if they can refer you.

You can also find a list of qualified therapists here. Anyone who isn’t registered by a professional standards authority should be avoided. Makes sure they are registered by BACP or UKCP (ACCPH accredited therapists and counsellors are not monitored by any PSA so avoid them).

It is very common for people to feel lonelier as the cold dark nights set in. This season can certainly make being single feel a lot worse. But a lot of that isn’t based on reality, it’s based on soft focus romantic movies with people cuddling by fires. Your friends may be in relationships, but it doesn’t mean they’re the right relationships.

Cuffing for cuffing’s sake is a bad idea. Being single is equally as fulfilling as being in a relationship. Working on feeling that being single isn’t an affliction is really important, I think my book will help with this! Find some single friends to have fun with. Bumble BFF is good for this. Spring is round the corner, use this time to heal and get ready to come bursting out like a daffodil in March.

It is of course going to be tempting to reach out, especially over the holidays. It’s always a bit of a dilemma as to whether to text exes with ‘Merry Christmas’ messages but I think that you should avoid it if you can.

Dr Landon says: “If they were at some point to reach out to this ex they would need to ensure they had a support system in place and a coping plan for this reach-out potentially not going to plan, for example they may be in a new relationship now. This is an important thing to be prepared for, having had them blocked for some time.”

It would help a lot to focus on the positives. At the moment it sounds like you are telling yourself that you cannot get over them. Our thoughts can turn into self-fulfilling prophecies, the more we tell ourselves that we can’t do something, that harder it becomes to do it. The positives here are that you are someone who has the capacity for love, you can love and be loved.

Dr Shona says: "It’s also absolutely ok and normal to grieve for what they have lost (intimacy and companionship) but I hope that they can be reassured with hope that these are things they can and will experience again- they are not synonymous with this one person and they will experience them again in their life."

And I think that sums it up perfectly. They are not the only person, they are not a prize, they were not your one and only shot at love. They were someone who came to teach you something. You will come out of this stronger and wiser. Put all the love you are feeling for them into you. You’re going to be fine.

Follow @Lalalaletmeexplain on Instagram for more advice on sex and relationships. Have a question for Lala? Email [email protected]

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