Hello everybody, welcome to Episode 13 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take your questions on life and get them answered on the show.
I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino.
Today we have a question about lingering feelings for an ex. This can definitely be confusing subject matter in a number of ways and because of the confusion, because of the emotion tied to it, coming to terms with these feelings can be a very frustrating process — I know it has been for me in my life. But there are some key things to keep in mind, and that’s what we’ll talk about today. So without further ado, let’s get into it.
QUESTION: “I have a hard time releasing thoughts about my ex-husband. We’ve been divorced for almost 10 years now, and in many ways my life is better without him. He was very insecure and would often blame me for things I did not do. He would try to control me a lot, and he was never able to hear out my feelings. The relationship was not healthy nor do I believe it would be now, yet I still can’t break free from this cycle of thoughts about him. It feels like a piece of me has gone missing without him. Why am I still having these thoughts and feelings? What can I do to break free of them?”
Respecting Your Thoughts and Feelings
This might not be the answer you (or anyone in this position, because there are a lot of us) want to hear, but I’m not sure you do break free of them.
What I mean by that is not necessarily that these thoughts and feelings won’t get weaker or disappear completely over time, because they very well could. But when I hear the wording “break free,” I feel a sense of aggression or perhaps control — as if you have a choice in just turning these feelings off like they’re operated by a switch, and our brains don’t work that way.
We can’t really outmuscle our minds and expect them to cooperate gracefully the same way we can’t outmuscle people and expect them to cooperate gracefully. There needs to be a sense of honor and respect; that’s the foundation upon which real progress can be made.
So there’s going to be two parts to my answer today and the first part is that I’d like you to work on being comfortable with these feelings. Your ex-husband, for better or worse, was a big part of your life. Your feelings for him are a part of you now, and you’re doing yourself, and anyone else you might meet, a disservice if you’re not honoring and respecting that part.
It’s okay to be someone who still has a regular stream of thoughts and feelings about an ex — far more people than would care to admit live their lives this way, and the ones that tend to be the most haunted are the ones who constantly try to suppress these feelings or distract themselves from them.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Once you accept these feelings, you can then start to navigate through them and ask yourself questions about them. You can ask yourself questions like:
- “What did I learn from that relationship?”
- “How has this relationship changed me?”
- “What parts of that relationship do I want to take with me or leave behind in my next relationship?”
- “What could I have done better and what patterns did I display in that relationship?”
- “What’s the truth of that relationship, and am I living in that truth or am I living in fantasy?”
These are relatively standard questions but they can provide an enormous amount of insight once you’re comfortable enough with your feelings to answer them honestly and in depth.
There is, however, a very useful question ask yourself that almost everyone misses – a question that segues into the second part of my answer. You mentioned that it feels as though a piece of you has gone missing without him. What I’d like you to ask yourself is, “What exact piece of you has gone missing?” In other words, what did your ex-husband represent to you?
See, when we get caught into cyclical, usually painful thoughts and a certain thing just keeps relentlessly popping up into our heads, a lot of the times what’s cycling through our minds is not about the thing itself as much as it is what that thing represents to us or offers us. Mind you, that thing can be a person, a place, a job, an experience, whatever.
Symbolism: What We Associate People With
That said, it is most often a person getting stuck on loop because it’s typically people that provide us with the most meaningful feelings. People are what we get vulnerable with and, more importantly, people are what giveth and taketh away at the very beginning of our lives.
As children, because we’re reliant on people to survive, it’s people and the actions of people who dictate our feelings and thus our relationships with those feelings. In other words, it’s usually the dynamics of early relationships that cause us to develop our thinking patterns towards certain things — good or bad.
Anyway, I digress. Completely digressed, wow. But what’s crucial to get to the bottom of is what that thing — in this case, your ex-husband — signifies. This is akin to having recurrent dreams of an ex and what they symbolize.
It’s up to you to put the pieces together on this one, but I’m betting whatever you associate your husband with is something you don’t have or haven’t had much of elsewhere.
Say, for example, your father died at a young age and your ex-husband was a bit older than you. If you’re still missing your husband, yet you know the relationship wasn’t healthy, it might be more about missing the idea of a father figure. Hell, that might’ve been a large part of the attraction from the get go. So now, without him, the commentary in your mind might not be “I miss my ex” as much as it is “I have no father.”
Another example would be if maybe your ex-husband was the only man you were ever intimate with. The commentary might not be “I miss my ex” as much as it is “I have no sexual outlet.” The poorer or less diverse our relationship is with any one thing we associate with an ex, the more we’ll look only to them to fulfill that need. In this way, it can easily be about the now unmet needs the ex once provided us with, rather than the ex themselves.
If you do find this is the case with you, which I feel like you might, the real journey to healing is more about healing your relationships with those needs — seeking to understand why they are broken and deficient, how they got that way and what you can do to reconstruct them elsewhere in life. If you’re able to do this successfully, with an open and accepting mind, the thoughts about your ex are more likely to become less invasive, less nagging and start to dissipate.
And that about does it, everyone. I hope you found this episode insightful and that you were able to take something new away from it.
I know this concept of symbolism was really fascinating to me when I first learned about it, and it helped me a lot so I hope it does the same for you.
But if it doesn’t help you and the struggle is still real for you, you can send in your own questions that you’d like answered on the show by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s email@example.com. Please don’t hesitate, everyone, we are here to help you and want to support you as best we can. Really hope to hear from you, but otherwise, looking very forward to talking to you next time. Bye for now.