How To Stop Obsessing Over Your Ex: 12 Solutions For Success
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How To Stop Obsessing Over Your Ex: 12 Solutions For Success

By Max Jancar | Published: March 29, 2024 | 24 Minute Read | Resilience

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Obsessing over an ex is like being stuck in quicksand; the more you thrash around in thoughts of what once was, the deeper you sink into the pit of misery.

To make things worse, many people have no idea they’re in this pit. They’re so attracted to their ex that they completely overlook they’re addicted to their obsession and need help ASAP.

This article will help you not only notice your obsession quicker but also arm you with various ways to overcome it, hopefully without the need for professional intervention. Nevertheless, if all else fails, please do see a professional.

So let’s start with the basics and build up from there.

The Symptoms Of An Ex-Obsession

Have you:

If you’ve only experienced one or two of these symptoms, your obsession will eventually dissipate, probably by itself. Granted, you’re not doing anything that might worsen your situation, like staying in touch with your ex or cyberstalking them (more on this later).

However, if you’ve felt more than four or five of these symptoms, you’re likely obsessing over your ex to an unhealthy degree. If that’s the case, you need to treat your obsession. Otherwise, it will only grow worse, leading to addiction… an ex-addiction.

The Ex-Addiction Explained

Not to try and scare you, but yes, this is a real addiction. Studies show that your brain really does light up like an addict when you think about your ex. (1)

So occasionally, just like an addict craves their fix, your brain craves your ex. That’s why we do crazy things like chase and pursue them even when they’re cold or disinterested or show up at their doorstep unannounced, professing our undying love when they already told us to fuck off like five times.

While most people don’t have such extreme addiction, many fresh out of a breakup do have a “lite version” at least. I mean, just look at how addiction is generally defined:

“Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences. Prevention efforts and treatment approaches for addiction are generally as successful as those for other chronic diseases” (2)

I want to draw your attention to one particular part of this definition.

“…engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.”

Interesting. That sounds a lot like:

Put another way, all the things you’re doing to hurt yourself right now might just be signs of an addiction. Not-so-fun fact: at least a third of the people I’ve coached or helped have suffered from it to a degree.

Thankfully, there is a way out — there are solutions out there. Lots of them. But before I list them, here’s what you should not do when trying to stop obsessing over your ex.

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What Not To Do When Trying To Stop Obsessing Over Your Ex

Below are three common responses you should avoid. The scary part about them is that they’re fairly natural for most people, and thus, often go unnoticed. So pay attention now.

1. Excessive Venting

Put simply: expressing strong emotions to family, friends, or your shrink for an extended period and to a point where you become overbearing and a pain in the ass to listen to and deal with.

In practice, this looks like:

Don’t be like this. It won’t help you stop obsessing over your ex. But don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying don’t ever vent. As you’ll discover later, venting can be beneficial if you do it right.

I’m just saying don’t vent to where you grow entitled or to where you alienate and push away the people around you. That is, the people who care about you and can support you emotionally, making your ex-obsession easier to deal with.

2. Suppressing Feelings

Imagine this. You build a mental prison cell, squeeze all your negative feelings in there, lock the bitching door, turn off the lights, and bolt away — as far away as you can from that damn cell.

While away, fervently distract yourself from the cell’s existence. More TV, more gym, more socializing, more hookers and cocaine. Focus on other things — always, always, always…

Thinking about that cell is painful, after all. And you don’t want to feel pain. You want to shield yourself from it, you want to hide from it, you yearn to outsmart the bitch and evade it.

As enticing as it sounds, this is the wrong way to solve your problem. Like with excessive venting, it won’t help you stop obsessing over your ex. It will only make you obsess about them more. Because emotions always adhere to the principle of “what you resist will persist.”

3. Leaning Into Obsession

This refers to saying “fuck it” and endlessly stewing on your mental vomit despite knowing it’s bad for you. You know what I mean. Going over all the words, the arguments, the gifts and favors, the texts — anything really that could have been different. Or what you should do to change your situation.

Lots of people opt for this approach. But as you’d expect, it can be extremely draining. Because once you double down on obsessing over your ex, that obsession gets much harder to resolve.

Therefore, despite feeling good in the short term, don’t lose hope and commit to your obsession. You’ll be shooting yourself in the foot in the long term. Besides, the whole thing can be overcome; it just takes time and effort.

Talking of overcoming obsession…

How To Stop Obsessing Over Your Ex

Below are 12 solutions, listed in no specific order. Feel free to commit to all of them or only those that resonate.

1. Recognize Why You’re Obsessing

Sure, you can’t stop obsessing over your ex because you still harbor feelings for them — that’s obvious. But interestingly, things go much deeper. You’re not unable to stop obsessing over them because you simply feel something for them; you can’t stop obsessing because it’s through that obsessing that you’re meeting a set of emotional needs you haven’t yet learned (or realized you can learn) to meet yourself.

1. The need for control. When you break up with someone, you can’t do much about it. You can’t control your situation. Your feelings are all over the place, and you can’t convince your ex to return if they don’t want to. Most people feel helpless in this situation. And because helplessness is so uncomfortable, they face challenges in ending their ex-obsession. Put another way, they keep obsessing over them because it’s through this obsession that they feel as though they’ve reclaimed some shred of control. And that… well, that often feels like ecstasy.

2. The need for closure and certainty. It’s natural to obsess over closure and try to predict what will happen post-breakup. After all, it makes us feel better. But here’s the deal: finding closure from your ex is impossible. Because the only way to truly find it is to look within. And predicting what the future will bring is… well, that’s also impossible! The only thing you can know for sure is that you can never know what the future will bring. The only certainty is uncertainty.

3. The need for connection. Sometimes, you might want to feel connected to your ex again. So you purposefully obsess over them in order to find that connection in dead memories. However, similar to what I wrote in the last two paragraphs, the whole thing is just another coping mechanism, leading to delusion, which does more harm than good. After all, I doubt anyone wants to spend their days locked inside a fantasy world.

2. Consider The Consequences Of Your Obsession

Sometimes considering the consequences of obsessing over an ex can encourage you to stop doing it so much. That’s at least the hope here. So here are three of the most dangerous ones.

1. Hypertension. This is the most common consequence of obsessing over an ex. But the scary thing is not the hypertension itself, but its effects. It stymies productivity, focus, emotional well-being, and sleep. Sometimes even leading to diminished self-esteem and self-worth.

2. Temper tantrums. Suppose you’re obsessing over your ex to a woefully unearthly degree (as said, anything above showing five symptoms). In that case, you may develop severe temper tantrums that breed a variety of behavioral issues. Risk overestimation. Lashing out. Black and white thinking. Consistent doubts and sulkiness. Pessimistic biases. And, of course, chronic anxiety — which leads me to my next point. (3) (4)

3. Chronic anxiety. Obsessing over an ex and feeling anxious are two sides of the same coin. They feed on one another. You can get anxious and start obsessing about them. Or you can start obsessing about them and start feeling anxious. And occasionally, this anxiety can grow so intense that it turns chronic, sometimes even leading to depression. (5)

4. Sabotaging behaviors. This one shouldn’t come as a surprise. Obsessing over your ex almost always leads to dumb behaviors like blowing up your ex’s phone, stalking them, begging them to come back, seeking their validation, and so on. As you’d guess, none of these behaviors will help you overcome your obsession and get you closer to either moving on or rekindling your relationship.

3. Get The Basics In Order

I know it doesn’t won’t make much sense, but trust me on this. Take care of the following, and you will obsess over your ex less, I promise.

Sleep. Strive for 7-9 hours of sleep per night with a consistent routine. Keep your bedroom dark and at 65-70°F (18-21°C). Reduce device use before bed by 1-2 hours. Use natural sleep aids like melatonin, magnesium, chamomile tea, or white noise. Limit late-day naps and avoid stimulants, large meals, and alcohol 3-4 hours before sleeping.

Diet. Incorporate a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods. This includes lean proteins, a variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and healthy fats. On the other hand, avoid anything processed, fried, or full of artificial sugars.

Exercise. Whether we’re talking about swimming, hiking, jogging, sprinting, combat sports, weight lifting, whatever. Just do some sort of physical exercise every day. Take care of your body, especially if you’re fat and unhealthy.

Hygiene. Basically, don’t be a slob. Wear nice, clean clothes. Manage body odor effectively. Take care of your skin, nails, hair, etc. Be well-groomed — you get the point.

Well-being. Block out time every day for hobbies and socializing, don’t work yourself to death, study hard, get your financial life in order, your own place, and some responsibilities under your belt. I know, I know, easier said than done.

For a deep-dive into these areas, read: A No Bullshit Guide To Self-Care After A Breakup.

4. Do A Digital Cleanse Of Your Ex

I realize this is going to be the hardest part for most people. Because once deleted, our digital memories are gone forever. But fuck, dude. They have to go. Digital memories can ride anywhere with you, and they’ll be around when your self-control weakens. We don’t want that. So trust me here, you’ll thank yourself for doing this.

Start with your phone. Clear out any texts your ex sent you. Delete the entire thread. The same thing is true for WhatsApp, Snapchat, and other direct messaging apps. Clear them all out.

Once you have no messages from your ex of any kind, head over to your gallery. Find any nudes/sexy pictures you have of them and delete them. Same goes for videos.

Once you’ve removed any inappropriate material, you’ll be left with only PG pictures of your ex. Delete those, too. You can also load them on a flash drive, put it somewhere you won’t be able to access it easily, and then delete them.

Now give your tablet and computer the same treatment — delete all traces of your ex. Pics, videos, messages, even shared playlists. Torch everything. Finally, don’t forget to sign out of all their accounts, too.

Once all the above is accounted for, let’s talk social media. Remove, unfriend, and unfollow your ex from everywhere. Then take a minimum of one month-long social media hiatus to prevent yourself from seeing any posts that might remind you of your ex. For instance, posts showing happy couples, people getting married, people having kids and pets, people partying and participating in giant orgies, and so on.

For an alternative take on this subject, read: The Ultimate Guide To The No Contact Rule.

5. Do A Physical Cleanse Of Your Ex

When home, gather everything that reminds you of your ex — anything that might get you to obsess about them at some point. Clothes, toothbrushes, food items they might’ve left, decorations they’ve bought or picked, physical pictures of you together, sex toys, and so on.

And don’t just look for visual stuff. Look for things that might also smell or sound like your ex. Candles, old bedsheets, shampoos, any music of theirs you have lying around, etc.

Pro tip: when you’re done with your home, give your car the same treatment.

Once you’ve amassed everything that reminds you of your ex, separate out what actually belongs to them. Do not throw any of this away. You have four choices here. You can package it up and send it to them by mail. You can ask a friend to bring them the stuff. You can drop it off at their place. Or you can have them come pick it up outside your place (only when you’re not home).

After you’ve decided what to do with your ex’s things, throw away all the other items that don’t belong to them yet still remind you of them. Then take a look around your place. If there are still things your ex has set up, I strongly suggest rearranging them. An altered environment that fits your own tastes — as opposed to your ex’s — can help you stop obsessing over them so much. (6)

6. Follow The Three M’s Formula

Another way to stop obsessing over your ex is to distract yourself. However, as I mentioned earlier in the article, there are healthy and unhealthy ways of doing this. Here’s a healthy one. It’s called The Three M’s Formula, coined by the popular blogger and psychologist Nick Wignall.

The thinking behind The Three M’s Formula goes that a good way to stop obsessing over your ex is to move your body physically, make or fix something, and meet or interact with someone socially.

More specifically:

Move — go for a walk, do some weight lifting, dance, participate in yoga, etc. Just do something that involves movement.

Make — cook, create some artwork, write a blog post, fix a leaking sink, take a photograph of something, etc. Just do something creative, expressive, or purely pragmatic, like DIY work.

Meet — either a family member, a friend, an acquaintance, hell, even a date will do! Just go out there and interact with people.

7. Leverage The RJAFTP Method

According to the RJAFTP method, coined by the authors and researchers Sally Winston and Martin Seif, there are six parts to managing an obsession.

Part 1: recognize. When you start obsessing over your ex, pause and name the thoughts in your mind. Try to remain as mindful and non-judgemental as possible.

Part 2: just thoughts. Remind yourself that your thoughts are automatic, and you can safely leave them alone. Simply stating this fact to yourself helps to disentangle from your thoughts, and thus, stop obsessing over your ex faster.

Part 3: accept and allow. This means you actively allow your thoughts to be where they are. You don’t wish to not have them; you don’t try to get rid of them; you don’t try to suppress them or get emotional because of them. You simply let your thoughts drift around your mind as they please.

Part 4: float and feel. Meaning you allow the feelings tied to your thoughts — the good and the bad — to stay where they are. And whenever you notice you’re out of the present and in the future or past somewhere, try to feel into that and bring yourself back to the present moment.

Part 5: let time pass. Simply give yourself time to stop obsessing over your ex. Don’t pressure yourself. Don’t keep checking if this method is working. Don’t count the days till your mind is ex-free. Be patient. Shut up and sit with the discomfort.

Part 6: proceed. When you feel calm, continue whatever you’ve been doing or wanted to do despite your thoughts. As the Brits say, keep calm and carry on.

8. Try Some TV Screen Play

Bring a singular obsessive thought to mind and notice how it’s affecting you. Now, imagine there’s a small television screen across from you. Place this thought on that TV screen.

Next, play around with the thought. Picture it vividly. Try altering its orientation by flipping it upside down, turning it on its side, or spinning it around.

If it’s a video or highlight reel of many thoughts, slow it down and play it in reverse. Then, play it again at double speed in both directions. Adjust the color by desaturating it to black-and-white or amplifying it to a garish level.

The idea is not to get rid of this obsessive thought (or thoughts) but to see it for what it is: a harmless yet often vivid picture. You may need to do this from ten seconds to two minutes.

If at the end of two minutes, you still can’t stop obsessing over your ex, try this: keep that vivid image of your thought (or thoughts) on the television screen, add a humorous subtitle or voice-over to it, such as “Now showing at a movie theatre near you: I Got Rejected By My Ex, And It Hurts… A Lot!’

If the thoughts are still bothering you after 30 seconds, try adding a musical soundtrack of your choice to the imaginary image of your thoughts on the television screen. Experiment with various, different soundtracks: jazz, hip-hop, classical, rock, etc.

Again, play around with this method. I know it’s a bit avant-garde, and I’m not even guaranteeing it’ll work. But where’s the harm in trying?

9. Simply Acknowledge Your Obsession

Bring to mind your upsetting obsessive thoughts. Preferably, pick those that occur often and bother or upset you most. Then hold those thoughts in your mind and believe them as much as possible. Focus on them for several seconds. Notice how this affects you.

Now take those thoughts and, in front of them, insert this phrase: “I’m having thoughts about…” Then run through those thoughts again, this time with the phrase attached.

A few examples:

What tends to happen to most people is that they instantly get some distance from the actual obsessive thoughts themselves. This, in turn, helps them step back, observe them, and respond more appropriately (read: less emotionally) to them.

10. Try The Disarming And Verifying Technique

Here’s another way to stop obsessing over your ex. Whenever you notice an obsessive thought, reflect on and answer the following questions, either in your head or via pen and paper:

  1. What facts support this thought? What existing evidence contradicts it?
  2. What would the worst possible outcome be if this thought were true?
  3. Will this matter one day from now? What about in one week or a month? How?
  4. What are some ways I’ve dealt with this scenario before?
  5. What advice would my therapist give about this situation?
  6. What am I ready to accept about this event or person?
  7. Are my thoughts helping me deal with this scenario? Or are they aggravating the situation?
  8. Can I genuinely control whatever I’m thinking about?
  9. Besides myself, what else might be affecting this situation?
  10. What advice would I give a friend in this scenario?

11. Test Out The Rubber Band Trick

You might chuckle when you hear about this method — I know I did at first — but there is a lot of empirical evidence behind it demonstrating its effectiveness. Here’s how to go about it.

When you catch yourself obsessing over your ex, write down your obsessive thoughts. Usually, these will be looking for the reasons for the breakup, imagining your ex with someone new, reliving the breakup in visceral words and images, wishful thinking, playing through the “shoulda’s, woulda’s, and coulda’s,” and so on.

Next, make a list of five of your most pleasant thoughts. These thoughts will be your defenses against your unpleasant, obsessive thoughts. Be sure you pick something vivid and visceral.

Finally — and this is where it gets funny — put a rubber band around your wrist, and every time an obsessive thought arises, pull and snap that rubber band.

It also helps if you shout “STOP” loudly when you do this — or in your mind if there are people nearby — while simultaneously quickly reminding yourself of one of the pleasurable thoughts you’ve chosen previously.

12. Care About Other Things Than Your Ex

The problem with people who can’t stop obsessing over their ex is that they usually make them the main or only source of meaning. Put another way, instead of diversifying their energy and care across various integral domains — family, friends, health, fitness, work, hobbies, etc — they’ve put everything into their romantic relationship.

And so, they’re fucked. They have nothing but their relationship to give a fuck about. So now that their relationship is gone, of course, they can’t stop obsessing over it. It’s all they had.

Look. If what I wrote above resonates and you can relate to it, you need to diversify your identity. You need to start caring about things other than your dead relationship. The more, the merrier.

How? By participating in that which you might care about. Because to make anything worthwhile, you need to actively pursue it and actually enjoy the pursuit.

So get going. Here’s a decent starting point: A Realist’s Guide To Finding A Life Purpose.

Don’t Force Yourself To Stop Obsessing Over Your Ex

You have undoubtedly noticed something strange and frustrating: the harder you try to stop obsessing over your ex, the more you tend to obsess over them. This is called “paradoxical effort.” (7)

Think of paradoxical effort as quicksand. You get out of it by lying still, head and torso turned upwards towards the sky, instead of flailing around and trying to claw, punch, and force your way out. The former saves your life; the latter makes you only sink faster.

The same philosophy applies to overcoming the obsession tied to your ex. Don’t be too harsh on yourself. Take it slow, bit by bit. Don’t start feverishly applying all the solutions from this article. Otherwise, you’ll just wear yourself out and make things worse. Relax and be patient instead.

In fact, it’s patience that’s the underlying force behind all the solutions covered in this article. Without it, none of them work. With it, magic happens. Hopefully…

(Optional) Top Questions On How To Stop Obsessing Over An Ex

Why Can’t I Stop Obsessing Over My Ex?

Probably because you haven’t emotionally and physically distanced yourself enough from your ex yet, lack the mental clarity and stability that comes with getting your health, finances, and social life in order, and have nothing else to care about and work toward besides your dead relationship. In my opinion, these are the most common reasons why people can’t stop obsessing over their ex.

Is It Normal to Obsess Over An Ex?

Hell, yes. Especially if your relationship has lasted for more than a few years. For whatever it’s worth, most people obsess about their ex post-breakup to a degree.

How Long Does It Take to Stop Obsessing Over an Ex?

It’s different for everyone. I know, everyone hates that answer, but it’s true. Some people obsess over their ex for only a few days or weeks, while others obsess over them for years.

Why Do I Obsess Over My Ex Even Though I’m in a New Relationship?

Probably because you still carry unresolved feelings toward your ex or, worse, your current relationship just isn’t a good fit. If the former is true, therapy helps. If the letter is true, get couples counseling. But if even that fails, how should I say this… seriously consider ending the relationship.

Can Social Media Make It Harder To Stop Obsessing?

Yes, social media can exacerbate the problem by constantly reminding you of your ex’s presence. So, maybe take a break from it, or at least limit your use.

Should I Tell My Ex I’m Still Obsessed With Them?

Please don’t. Depending on how you say it, there is a chance you’ll give them quite a scare. Or you’ll annoy them and cause unnecessary drama, arguments, or awkwardness that will only prolong your healing.

Is There a Point Where I Should Seek Professional Help?

Of course. If your obsession is affecting your daily functioning, making you hopeless, depressed, or cripplingly anxious, you need to get professional help. That said, getting professional help would probably be useful regardless of how intense your obsession is.

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This free cheat sheet will help you stop obsessing over your ex and provide over 40 therapy-approved tips to get you feeling like yourself again.

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A Cheat Sheet For Putting That Bitchin’ Broken Heart Back Together

This free cheat sheet will help you stop obsessing over your ex and provide over 40 therapy-approved tips to get you feeling like yourself again.

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