It was Alexander Graham Bell who once said, “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”
Who knew the inventor of the telephone was so good at giving advice that can be applied to your dating life?
Now, breaking up is never really easy to do. But for some, the process of getting over a failed relationship can linger a little longer than for others, which sometimes begs the loaded question: why can it be so difficult to get over an ex?
It’s a question that leaves many reeling from a breakup befuddled as they try to move on.
Even science has attempted to solve the mystery.
Last year, Stanford University researchers found people tend to “carry a heavier burden from rejection” when they feel that who they are as a person has been revealed or exposed.
“Few things in life are more traumatic than being rejected by someone who knows you well and then, with this insight, decide that she or he no longer cares for you or wants to be with you,” Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford, said in a statement. “The experience of being left by someone who thought that they loved you, then learned more and changed their mind, can be a particularly potent threat to the self and can drive people to question who they truly are.”
Sometimes, though, the reasons why someone can’t get over an ex-partner can be a little more complicated.
“It’s hard to accept when someone doesn’t want you anymore,” relationship expert Shannon Tebb of Shanny in the City says. “It’s like an attack on your personal ego and you feel like you’ve failed at something, and it’s really hard to accept when something doesn’t work out.”
According to Tebb, there could be several factors preventing you from moving on from your ex. And once you become aware of what may be stopping you, then you may be able to finally take the steps you need to in order to bounce back from your emotional limbo.
1. You can’t face the fact that it’s over
“A lot of singles can’t completely come to terms that it’s over,” Tebb says. “So you’re maybe holding to the idea that you can still fix it. You don’t want to let go because you’re focusing on the positive times [in the relationship] and you’re not really focused on where you went wrong and why the relationship ended.”
Tebb says that sometimes people can’t accept that a relationship’s over because they didn’t see the end coming.
“They may not have noticed the signs that it was starting to fail,” she says. “So you refuse to start over because you’ve invested so much time into this relationship that you just can’t get over them.”
2. You’re keeping tabs on them
Social media has made it easier for people to keep track of those they know. This can be a problem.
“You’re still kind of creeping them on social media and maybe you share common friends,” Tebb explains. “You haven’t removed them from your Facebook and you haven’t removed the old photos of you as a couple. You can’t get over your ex because you haven’t removed them fully from your life.”
Also, avoid looking up your ex. Practising this restraint is the healthy thing to do – otherwise it can come back to bite you when you see your ex has moved on in the form of another relationship or even marriage.
“If you’ve had an amicable breakup and you see your ex is engaged then you can congratulate him or her and make it a positive thing,” Tebb says. “But if you’re not talking to each other and it wasn’t a good split, then the feelings of jealousy will arise. You’ll get mixed emotions, which is common and normal. So if you’re feeling upset and vulnerable, you need to talk to someone who can listen to you vent. But if you are seeing stuff on social media, get off of it.”
3. You haven’t had closure
“Maybe your boyfriend ghosted you or just all of a sudden told you it’s over and hadn’t given you an explanation,” Tebb says. “So you haven’t had that closure that you needed in order to move forward.”
Whether it be with relationships, a job or a stage in life, getting closure for any significant moment in one’s life is important, psychiatrist Abigail Brenner says.
“Closure means finality; letting go of what once was,” she wrote in Psychology Today. “Finding closure implies a complete acceptance of what has happened and an honouring of the transition away from what’s finished to something new.”
To do this, Brenner says one must grieve the loss, take responsibility for their actions, focus on the positives and make a plan for the immediate future. This, she says, will force you to make things happen and move on.
4. Low self-esteem
“It’s that fear that you’re never going to find anybody again and it’s a major fear,” Tebb says. “And it’s scary getting back out there, especially if you’ve been in a long-term relationship.”
And because people are comfortable with the familiar, it makes it all that much harder to let go.
“You believe that you’re never going to get that again,” Tebb says. “So you’d rather fix it and work on it when really you can’t change someone else’s mind. Once they tap out, it’s pretty much done.”
5. The relationship was all about the other person
Sometimes people will give up their lives for a relationship – and whether it’s by choice or not, the relationship becomes very one sided.
So when a breakup happens, a feeling of abandonment might creep in.
“You were so enthralled with them that it’s scary to go back to your own life by yourself,” Tebb says. “It’s an adjustment – and it’s hard to adjust from something you were comfortable with. You were in your comfort zone with your partner, so the minute you’re out of that you become fearful, sad and angry.”
How to bounce back
There are a few things people can do to help them get over an ex. The first, Tebb says, is to avoid situations where you’re most likely to run into your former partner.
“If you know they always hang out at a certain bar, don’t go there,” she says. “Just try to separate yourself from places where you might bump into them.”
Tebb also advises to remove the ex-partner from social media and doing a cleanse from the home. This means getting rid of anything they left behind.
And when you feel ready, begin dating again.