When a relationship ends, there’s usually a grieving period. The length and intensity of this time varies, depending on how invested you were in your partner and the future of your relationship (particularly whether you were dating for a few months or married for several years). Whose decision it was to part ways also plays a big role.
And while it really, really sucks when you’re going through it, the post-breakup stage does eventually come to an end, bringing new perspective — and romantic prospects. But we can sometimes get stuck in the post-mortem of a past relationship months or even years after the person is gone from our lives. Here’s how to know if you’re having trouble moving on and what you can do to fix the situation.
1. You Really Care About the Stuff
Wanting to get your favorite book from your ex’s house right after the breakup is one thing. But if you’re still hanging on to any clothing or other personal items — like his oversize shirt you wore to bed or her favorite scented candle — your continued focus on those leftover items mean that you haven’t really moved on, says Los Angeles-based Certified Family Law Specialist David Glass, Ph.D.
“You might even continue to refer to things you forgot to get back from your ex,” he says. “It can include everything from the garden hose, which you swear now means a lot to you, to the painting you bought together and you now want, even though you said your ex could keep it because it didn’t mean anything to you.”
Read more: The 7 Healthiest Ways to Deal With a Breakup
2. You’re Maintaining Your Relationship Rituals
People in all types of relationships create rituals that are specific to their shared bond: You and your mom may eat lunch at a certain bistro, and you and your BFFs might have a TV show you always watch together. The same goes for romantic relationships — from pet names to favorites movies to go-to coffee shops.
“The impulse to visit places you and your ex frequented, the need to replicate shared activities with one’s ex with others or needing to create meals that your ex loved signifies trapped grief,” says therapist Rev. Sheri Heller. To move on, create new rituals and stop visiting those once-sacred spots.
3. You Keep Tabs Via Social Media
One of the strongest signals that someone is still infatuated with an ex is that they continue to digitally stalk the person, says dating expert James Anderson, managing editor of BeyondAges.com. “Occasionally checking out the feed of an ex is understandable; we all do it,” he says. “But regularly looking and actually ‘liking’ or commenting means you are essentially poking your ex and saying ‘remember me.’” Either detach yourself from social media completely or unfollow or block your ex to keep from seeing them pop up in your feed.
4. You Go to Your Ex’s Family for Dirt
Even if you’re not big on social media, you may still try to keep in touch with your ex’s family and friends as a way of keeping tabs, says psychologist Carmen Harra, Ph.D. “Unless you grew incredibly close to your ex’s clan and kin, there is no reason to continue communicating with them after the relationship was called off,” she says. “If you keep reaching out to them in the hopes that they’ll tell you what your ex has been up to or that they’ll tell your ex what you’ve been up to, then you clearly haven’t recovered from the relationship.”
5. You Go Through New People Quickly
If you can’t seem to get past the first cup of coffee with a potential new beau, it could be a sign that you’re still not over your last union. “If someone has been dating a lot of different people for a protracted period of time, they may be having trouble letting go of the ideal they have in their mind for their previous partner,” dating expert James Anderson says.
“If you can’t let the past go, then every new person you meet won’t be good enough and will quickly be gone, one way or another.” Rather than forcing yourself to date because you feel like you should, it may be worth waiting until you’re ready to give someone new a real chance.
6. You’re Acting Out
When you’re in the aftermath of a breakup, you may turn to outside forces to help you cope. Whether it’s alcohol, food or drugs, “you might not be aware that you are bingeing,” says behavioral scientist and relationship coach Clarissa Silva. You may also act out by being dramatic, picking fights with friends and family members or by being overly obnoxious and needing to always be the center of attention.
This is a case where you want to accept help if people in your life are offering it, even if you’d rather just be defensive. Go on a hike with your bestie instead of hitting up a club, or take your dog for a walk to a smoothie bar instead of eating an entire bag of cookies for breakfast. Think before you speak every now and then. You’ll thank yourself later.
7. You Still Vent About Your Ex
It’s only natural to badmouth an ex if you and a bunch of your friends are swapping romantic war stories. But there’s a difference between recounting an OMG-worthy tale and being the one always complaining about an ex.
“If you’re constantly texting or ear-polluting your friends with your ex, chances are that you know something wasn’t right and you’re seeking validation,” relationship coach Clarissa Silva says. “You are avoiding dealing with the issues with the person that created them.” Chances are you already know the relationship was unhealthy or failed you on some level, she adds, so now it’s up to you to transcend that union and find a brighter future.
Read more: 9 Signs Your Relationship Is in Trouble
8. You Have a Desire to Inspire Jealousy
“You know you haven’t healed from a former relationship when you post an Instagram story of a night out or Facebook photo of a romantic dinner for the sole purpose of making your ex jealous,” Dr. Carmen Harra says. “When you’re truly over someone, you could care less what does and doesn’t affect them emotionally.”
In fact, she says, being truly over someone means that you’d prefer it if your ex didn’t have feelings for you at all. By trying to incite a reaction, you’re really showing how much you long for your ex to reach out to you or how much you wish they would want to take you back.
9. You’re Stuck in Regret Mode
The end of a relationship can make you feel like you could have prevented the breakup if only you had done or said something differently. This is especially true if you didn’t want to break up in the first place. “When our desires can’t be acted out in real life, they seep into our recurring thoughts,” Harra says. “Hence why we keep thinking the same things to the point that we become obsessed with something or someone.”
She suggests keeping a daily log about your thoughts to help you realize just how little or how much your ex comes to mind. “Every time you think about them, jot the thought down,” she says. “This includes remembering ‘the good times,’ wondering how they are or what they’re doing and even wild thoughts of anger or bitterness.” This will allow you to track your progress and give you the space to work out those “what ifs.”
Read more: 10 Signs Your Partner Is About to Dump You
10. You Haven’t Found the Lesson
Every relationship you have teaches you something important about yourself and what it means to be in a partnership. “[But] if you’re thinking about the romance or the ending of your relationship more than the lessons that came from being together then you haven’t resolved to accept the reality of the relationship,” says breakup coach Chelsea Leigh Trescott, founder of Breakupward.
Instead of asking yourself why your ex would ever let you go, she advises, get curious about what parts of yourself you might have lost or compromised when you were with that person. Focus on bettering your self-knowledge and you’ll be on your way toward a healthy relationship with yourself, which will allow you to find someone great for you in the future.
11. You Feel Like Part of You Is Missing
In the aftermath of a breakup, your brain’s reward and bonding systems are still highly activated — and can be for some time if you’re not truly over the relationship, says neuropsychologist Rhonda Freeman, Ph.D. “It’s the reward system that causes us to have intrusive thoughts — can’t get the person out of our head — while the bonding system makes us feel like the person is actually a part of us,” she says.
These sensations — longing about them, hyperfocusing on them and feeling like a part of you is missing — will fade away (and finally leave you) when you’re fully over the relationship, she says. And if it doesn't fade, it might be time to see a therapist who can help you find some clarity and closure.
What Do YOU Think?
Is there a past relationship you’re still not over? What’s the best way to get over an ex? Have you ever tried to get back together with an ex? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!