It is so easy to carry around our exes (along with all those memories and emotions) like wheelie luggage. Sometimes we even forget we are dragging all that stuff along with us, gripping the handle to keep it rolling—all while wondering why we aren’t finding the right person or feel dissatisfied.
“Ex-boyfriend. Ex-girlfriend. Ex-husband. Ex-wife or ex-lover, we all have them. Whether a relationship ended 20 years or 20 days ago, the agony caused by a hurtful breakup can create a deep wound,” psychotherapist and coach Terri Cole wrote in a recent blog post.
So what’s the secret to truly moving on, in a healthy way? Inspired by her honesty, we reached out to Cole to dig deeper—and she responded with a bracing idea (so if you’re in the weeping-on-the-couch phase of a split, gather your strength): She believes that breakups are not just something to weather; they can be a dynamic time to transform yourself. In a wise yet approachable way (with just the right amount of salty language thrown in) she told us, “You were served a crap stew. Are you willing to get your hands dirty? Because there is definitely a gem in there.”
And what if you (or someone you know) made it off the couch a long time ago—how can you tell if there’s still baggage being wheeled around? Look for symptoms. “The key one is changes in behavior,” says Cole. “Is the person losing interest in things that gave them joy? Losing or gaining weight? Isolating? Soothing or numbing with drinks or weed? Having promiscuous sex?” Anything out of character could be a signal. “Sometimes it’s simply someone becoming negative.”
Wherever you are in the breakup cycle, Cole offers eight pieces of advice to help you move on, with intention, and even grow a bit along the way.
1. If it ended badly: Stop the social stalking.
It’s way too easy to do it these days, and it is not healthy. (Nope, never—sorry.) “You are making out with your misery,” says Cole of that time you’re spending on Instagram, looking at your ex’s new lover. The problem is that it prolongs the inevitable; “the less clean the break, the longer the pain goes on,” she adds.
Which is why you should immediately tell friends and family to avoid this person, too. “Just say to your close ones: ‘Please don’t talk to Bob. I’d really appreciate it.’ You are moving energy out.”
2. If it ended sort of mutually: Still cut off all ties, for a time.
The cleanest cut is one that’s complete. If it’s an amicable split, agree that you should both avoid contact for a period of time. “You are not healing while you are continuing texting. Allow yourself to have a proper ending,” she says.
That includes no breakup sex. Cole’s mantra? Stop having sex with your ex. “People delude themselves: ‘We’re gonna be friends!’ Nope. you’ll be exes who still have sex.” Like cigarettes, it is not good for you. “Masturbate, people!” she advises.
3. Take responsibility.
It’s pretty simple. You need to claim ownership for 50 percent of everything that happened. “You are half of how you stayed in the relationship,” she says.
4. Ask questions.
Take a look at that 50 percent. Not in a judgmental way, but in a curious way. “Look at the story, as if you were a New York Times reporter, from that objective point of view: Why did I stay? Why didn’t I listen to my gut instincts?” she says.
Sit down and think about what you loved about the person, what you were drawn to. Then think about the negative aspects, she says: “What was bad? What are you happy you aren’t going to experience again?”
5. See this as an opportunity.
“The village is getting torched. But there is a chance to examine the same limiting beliefs that got you in that mess,” notes Cole.
Basically, you have a chance to take a little short course on yourself. “There is space to ask the question, ‘How did I end up in another relationship with someone jealous, possessive, or whatever it is?”
6. Contemplate “transference.”
“Transference is when you are responding in a current situation and your response is being fueled by under-examined feelings from an old situation,” she explains. For example, if you had an unavailable father, you may be drawn to unavailable men. “The little kid in each of us wants a do-over. You are responding to an original injury,” she says. Key questions to ask: “Who does this person remind me of? Where did I feel like this before? Why is this familiar to me?”
7. Perform an energetic cord cutting.
Obsessing about an ex is keeping them in your mind. “This is how they keep the person close to them…telling people about how fucked over they were is keeping themselves in resentment prison,” says Cole, who works with her clients to cut cords through meditation. “Try closing your eyes and visualizing negative cords that are still connecting you to this person. Visualizing the negative cords…that dark energy that is connecting you…then visualize a big scissor coming and cutting the cord. And see the person gently floating away…up and up until you no longer see them…releasing the bind.” Cole stresses it is important to do this “mindfully and with love.”
8. Attempt forgiveness. But take your time.
“Forgiveness is a very misunderstood concept. It has a connotation that we are condoning,” Cole says. “But forgiveness is a way is to not give another second of your precious life to someone. I call it: releasing yourself.”
People dwell with an agenda. The idea, she observes, is that your resentment will do something to the other person. But releasing yourself from that personal vendetta is the only way to get yourself back to your real self. ”I always like the saying: ‘Not forgiving is drinking poison and thinking the other person would die.’ Your power is never giving anyone else the power to lower your integrity.”