How to Stop Obsessing Over Your Ex

Obsessing over your ex not only causes great suffering, but also stagnates you and prevents you from moving forward. Find out what you can do about it.
How to Stop Obsessing Over Your Ex
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Most of us have faced a breakup at some point. When this happens, we can feel the whole world is caving in on us. The emotional impact of ending a relationship is undeniable and unavoidable. However, some people don’t adequately address the grieving process and this can lead to harmful behaviors like obsessing over your ex.

The inability to withdraw your attention from your former partner now that they’re no longer part of your life is relatively common. Many people get stuck in memories, constantly checking their ex-partner’s social network profiles or looking for them in the hope of restoring the relationship.

All of the above situations are harmful to your self-esteem and prevent you from moving forward. However, sometimes the urge seems irrepressible. Understanding why it happens and applying some guidelines will help you get out of this vicious circle.

Why is obsessing over your ex so common?

Obsessing over your ex is something that often happens when a relationship ended recently. It’s not a question of weakness or lack of willpower. In fact, there are powerful physical and psychological causes that lead to it.

On the one hand, when we’re in love, the brain releases substances such as dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. These activate our neuronal reward circuit and produce pleasant feelings of euphoria and fulfillment.

When the bond is broken, this flood of hormones ceases, generating a kind of withdrawal syndrome. Also, cortisol (the stress hormone) begins to flow through the body causing subjective discomfort and even health problems. It’s easy to understand that the body seeks the previous levels of neurotransmitters, prompting you to seek contact your ex.

On the other hand, the end of the relationship also implies the destruction of shared illusions, expectations, and future plans. If our identity was closely linked to our role as someone’s partner, the break-up brings with it the need to reconfigure who we are. All of this can be frightening and overwhelming, so we respond by trying to regain emotional security.

A woman looking longingly into the silhouette of her ex.
Obsessing over your ex is to be expected, to some extent. But, when it goes beyond certain limits, it becomes counterproductive.

Read more: Philophobia: The Fear of Falling in Love

How to stop obsessing over your ex

When the above occurs, you’re not free to experience the negative and unpleasant emotions that accompany grief. However, there’s a great deal that you can do.

Stopping obsessing over your ex is partly a matter of decision and discipline. And, for that, the following guidelines can be very helpful.

Accept reality

The first stage of grief is usually denial. However, it’s important not to remain in this state too long and to accept that the relationship is over. Continuing to think that it was just an argument, that there’s a solution, or that the other person will come around and come back to you will only trap you and keep you tied to someone.

Zero contact

If the breakup is recent, it’s normal to want to stay in touch with your ex-partner, to know how they’re doing. However, practicing zero contact, at least for the first few months, is essential.

Avoid seeing that person, talking to them, and having any kind of contact. But also make sure you aren’t looking at photos or old conversations or checking their movements online.

It’s a matter of getting your brain used to that’s person’s absence. If you continue to seek out their physical or symbolic presence, you’ll continue to feed and strengthen the old neural connections. Allow yourself to come out of the hormonal current that the relationship produced.

Give new meaning to what happened

Many times, we become obsessed with an ex because we find it overwhelming to accept that all the time, energy, and illusions invested have been in vain. No one likes to feel that they’ve failed.

That’s why it’s important to change the way we perceive what’s happened and to remember that every experience we have enriches. Therefore, everything has significance, even though the relationship has ended.

A woman looking sadly at her cell phone.
Constantly checking your ex’s social media profiel one of the signs that your obsession over your ex.

Focus on yourself

Finally, focus on yourself. The healthiest thing to do is to continue to care for and nurture all other areas of your life. This is true even when you’re in a relationship. However, this often doesn’t happen and we tend to focus too much on one another.

When we lose focus on ourselves, we can feel an emptiness that we don’t know how to fill. And the best alternative always lies in starting to devote all that time and attention to ourselves. Reconnect with yourself and take care of yourself and your goals.

The effort to stop obsessing over your ex is worth it

Preventing an obsession with an ex isn’t easy, especially when we suffer from low self-esteem or were in an emotionally dependent relationship. However, it’s a decision we have to make and maintain for our mental and emotional health.

The only person who’ll stay with you forever is, undoubtedly, you. So, prioritize your wellbeing and focus your energy and resources on working on yourself. Be grateful for the time you spent with the other person, be forgiving, and open yourself up to the new experiences and opportunities that are to come.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Anguita Corbo, A. (2017). Propuesta de intervención para la dependencia emocional: superación de la dependencia tras la ruptura de la pareja (Master’s thesis).
  • Rangel, H. LA QUÍMICA DEL AMOR. Memorias Arbitradas de las IV Jornadas Científicas del Departamento de Ciencias Naturales, 15.
  • Burunat, E. (2016). AMOR: inicio y fin en el cerebro. RIDPSICLO1(1), 40.
  • Sandoval Rodríguez, A. L. La pérdida experimentada tras la finalización de una relación de pareja en el marco del enfoque sistémico.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.