The fear that your ex is suddenly at the top of their field or making a tremendous amount of money, or successfully developing an extremely fit body, or that they are dating someone incredibly hot, keep many a broken heart up at night. And too, these fears can prevent the broken hearted from going out to social events or seeing friends. They may be mortified by the prospect of running into their ex and being confronted by their failure to keep this person in their lives.
Consider that you may be overemphasizing your ex’s future successes. Most people who form committed unions grieve when the relationship doesn’t work out. And if you worry too much about what your ex is doing, you are more likely to self-isolate. Usually, self-isolation will keep the grief process stuck in first gear. Keep these 4 points in mind to manage your fear of running into your ex:
1. You Will Move On:
One tortured thought that may come in the throes of grieving a relationship is the feeling that the future means forever being alone. You may be so heartbroken that you are seriously wondering if anyone ever again will see you as lovable. You may convince yourself that your ex was the only person on the planet who could see anything good in you. This thinking drives the concern you have that your ex will find a new love before you do. You fear seeing them with someone new on social media or being surprised by stumbling into them canoodling in public. Remember, most everyone meets someone else eventually. Even after a divorce most people get remarried. However, it is better not to sprint to that next significant other. What counts is believing you will eventually find someone new. Allow yourself the time you need to heal and to learn from your past relationship.
2. You Did Not Make A Mistake:
You may worry you ruined your life by not making it work with this one particular person. You create a fantasy that they will go forward to be amazing while you just get sucked into the abyss of the eternal loser. Remember, you let your ex go or he/she let you go for a reason. It will be okay if your ex moves on and finds a partner who sees something in them that you did not. It doesn’t mean you made a terrible mistake or that you have ruined your life forever. It means you had a relationship, you learned from the relationship and you are going to take that experience with you to improve your future relationships. People who have healthy long-term romances typically have had a few that didn’t work out. The ability to learn from those unsuccessful experiences helps us to make it right the next time around.
3. You Will Be Happy Again:
Perhaps you fear you will see your ex on social media or in real time appearing to be quite happy. You fear this because you are still grieving what could have been. At this point, you probably can’t imagine being happy and maybe worry you will never be happy again. Imagining your ex not even skipping a beat or possibly being happier without you is a cruel and destructive thought. Remember that life is not always as it appears. If your ex appears happy and unbothered by your relationship ending, maybe he/she is still in denial or they may have trouble processing their feelings. For you it’s important to remember that letting yourself grieve will eventually make you free to be happy once again. In fact the grief process often brings about new energy, meaning, and a renewed love of life.
4. Appearances Are NOT Everything:
Anyone can appear happy on social media or for a night out on the town. Don’t take your ex appearing happy or seeming flirtatious with others to mean they don’t care about you or that they are entirely unfazed by your break up. Relationship endings take time to process and most feel the burn at one point or the other. (I offer some specific strategies for managing the real challenges of recovery when a romance fails in my workbook Breaking Up & Divorce). So even if you run into your ex and they seem “amazing!” and “terrific!” give yourself a generous portion of credit for doing the right thing by not faking it and by trying to thoughtfully work through your heartache.
Jill Weber, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice in Washington, D.C., and author of Building Self-Esteem 5 Steps: How to Feel "Good Enough," Getting Close to Others 5 Steps: How to Develop Intimate Relationships and Still Be True to Yourself, Toxic Love 5 Steps: How to Identify Toxic Love Patterns and Find Fulfilling Attachments, and Breaking Up and Divorce 5 Steps: How to Heal and be Comfortable Alone. For more, follow me on twitter @DrJillWeber, follow me on Facebook, or check out drjillweber.com.