You Need Help: Why Do I Miss My Terrible Ex?

feature image via Diego Cervo/ Shutterstock


Q:

I loved my ex while we were dating. Then she broke up with me in a shitty way. After that, I learned she was dishonest with me during our relationship. I’m logically over it and know that I could never be with her again given that I don’t trust her, but I’m wondering why I still miss her sometimes even while knowing she probably didn’t care about me or my feelings. And she still doesn’t care enough to reach out connect or talk about what happened. How do I get my mind to the place of fully accepting that she never really cared about me?

A:

In the immediate aftermath of a breakup, we go into survival mode. We’re figuring out the logistics of our separation, we’re learning what it means to be single, our friends are feeding us caramel oat milk ice cream and watching us cry through our charcoal face masks — but that’s not the hard part. Now you’re doing the real work, and the real work sucks. You’re dealing with the violating sting of ongoing dishonesty, and you’re facing the brutal reality of reframing who you are, who your ex is and what your relationship was.

The feelings you’re experiencing right now make sense. Of course you miss your ex. There are reasons why you started dating her in the first place, and there are reasons why you stuck around. The ways in which she hurt you don’t erase those warm, fuzzy memories. You don’t have to beat yourself up for missing the good parts — you’re going through enough.

You write that you want to fully accept that your ex “never really cared about you,” but are you sure that’s true? Sometimes demonizing an ex can help us get through the immediate hurt of a breakup, but most of the time, it’s not a realistic portrayal of who that person is, and it doesn’t leave room for the parts of you that are mourning your loss. Can your heart hold the version of your ex who took care of your while you were sick and the version of your ex who broke your trust? Can you allow different parts of yourself to have different feelings about the breakup?

All this talk about “parts” comes from my experience with Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, which helped me gain some perspective while trudging through a particularly grueling breakup. IFS therapy helps us break ourselves down into parts. Each part has its own perspective. They’re all trying to serve us, but sometimes they’re in conflict with one another or they’re not serving us in healthy ways. IFS therapy helped me make peace with different emotions I felt around my breakup, and it helped me view my ex as a whole, complicated person. I could be angry at parts of her, but I didn’t have to hate her.

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You don’t need to accept that your ex “never really cared” about you, because that’s probably not true. What you do need to accept is that moving through any breakup takes time, even when it’s a “good riddance” kind of break up. Parts of you might feel sad or angry for a while. Parts of you might even miss your ex, but it sounds like your highest self knows that the relationship doesn’t serve your best interests.

There are some action steps you can take to get on the other side of your breakup. If you don’t already see a therapist, find a mental health professional who can help you sort through the rubble. If your ex ever put you in danger, if you currently feel unsafe or if you would describe your ex’s behavior is physical or emotional abuse or manipulation, seeking professional help is critical.

I think we can all use a little therapy, but if that’s not a path you’re willing to pursue, you can find ways to move through your feelings on your own. Meditate. Journal. Learn a new skill. Spend more time with your friends. Take all of the energy you’ve been focusing on your ex and focus on yourself. Who are you as a single person? Who can you become? Post-breakup life can actually be an exciting time full of possibility. You’ve got this! You’ll become a better version of yourself through it.


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.

Malic White is a Chicago-based writer, comedian and actor. Follow Malic on Twitter and find upcoming shows on Malic's website.

Malic has written 39 articles for us.

7 Comments

  1. IFS!!! So awesome to see IFS mentioned on AS. If people can’t access therapy (and there are many reasons why including money, racism, transphobia), I recommend this book which breaks it down: “Self-Therapy: A Step-By-Step Guide to Creating Inner Wholeness Using IFS, a New, Cutting-Edge Therapy” by Jay Earley.

  2. I found that when I was missing my shitty ex after she left, what I really missed was the me that existed before the hurt and betrayal etc. You might never know if she ever cared about you or not, but you can know what you felt, and the things that you did – and those things are not undermined by her behaviour. Anyway, realising I missed another version of myself was sad because I would never be her again, but after awhile it was exciting too, because now I get to be someone else and I could be anybody! Cliche, but helpful.

  3. there’s a very hetero book called Attached that explained to me that the survival-wiring in many people’s brains set us up to miss a partner so so so so badly no matter what. Like, our survival brain usually thinks it’s safer if we’re with a person (regardless of details other parts of our brains care about like how they treat us and how we actually feel when they are there), especially the person we were most recently with, so there can be really strong pushes to ‘re-attach’ – aka missing, regardless of specifics of the people involved. I found it interesting.

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