What to do when you’re dating someone else but you still love your ex

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So you’re dating someone else but you still love your ex.

Sounds like a sticky situation, but don’t panic. There are ways to get through this, and a lot of it is exploring what you’re really feeling about your ex and your current partner; while it might not be easy, it’s definitely not impossible.

Here are 3 steps to figuring out what to do when you’re dating someone else but you still love your ex.

1. Figure out what you’re really feeling for your ex

If you’re thinking that you might still love your ex even when you’re dating someone new, the first step is to understand what exactly you’re feeling for your ex.

Are these lingering thoughts coming from how long your relationship was? Is there any anger from the breakup? Or do you really want to still be together?

Now’s the time for asking the tough questions. You have to be honest with yourself about what you’re feeling because if you aren’t, it’s unfair to both you and your current partner. It might be hard to admit that you still love your ex because of the negative stigma surrounding it, but it’s important to be clear with yourself about all of this.

You might just think you’re in love with them

When it comes to big and emotionally impactful events like breakups, lines can get blurred between the different emotions you’re feeling. You might be thinking that you still love your ex because everything else you’re feeling is all over the place and you think this is the best explanation for it.

The truth is that you might not actually still be in love with your ex. You might just want to feel the way you felt when you were together.

Being with someone you love activates pleasure hormones in your brain, so you might just be chasing that feeling by entertaining thoughts of going back to your ex.

You were happy when you were together; even if you had your rough patches, you were still in a relationship for a reason, especially at the start. This is why you might be feeling like you still love your ex even when you’re in a new relationship. You want the comfort and happiness that your ex used to bring you.

It’s normal to think about them from time to time

Of course, it’s possible to have fond feelings towards your ex without necessarily being in love with them. It’s not automatically a given that when you have love for your ex, you want to be with them again.

Dr. Gary Brown says that you may remember your ex fondly forever because of the relationship you two had, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean your new relationship is doomed; if anything, it just means you truly loved your ex and are ready to move on, healthily bringing along the memories and learnings from this past relationship.

Be sure you’re not romanticizing your past relationship

When figuring out how you’re truly feeling about your ex, be careful not to fall into the fantasyland trap of your past.

Memories tend to soften the rough edges of past experiences; you might be smoothing over your ex’s flaws in favor of highlighting everything good about them just because you miss them.

Are you holding out hope?

Then there’s the possibility that you do actually still love them and you do want to be with them.

You might have read all of the above and thought to yourself that you do still love your ex. It’s not just that you think you do or it’s jumbled up with different emotions; you truly think that you should be in a relationship with them.

Again, you have to be brutally honest with yourself here or else you’ll get nowhere. You might be feeling guilty about this because of your new partner, but remember that it’s worse for both of you if you don’t confront the feelings you still have for your ex. You can’t help how you feel about things, only your reaction to them.

If this is the case, it’s time to take the next step.

2. Reevaluate your new relationship

Remember when I said now’s the time for asking the tough questions? You’ve got to do it again, this time about your current relationship.

Did you go into this relationship for the right reasons?

Ideally, you enter a relationship with someone because you like them and they make you happy. Ask yourself now: does your new partner make you happy? Why did you start dating them?

Are you here to learn and grow with this person, or do you just not want to be alone? Do you see yourself being with them in the long run, or are they a placeholder for you to feel good at the moment? Do you like being here or do you see signs that you hate being in this relationship?

Are you just chasing a high?

If you genuinely love them, great! There’s still hope for saving this new relationship.

If you don’t and you realize that you might be rebounding because you miss the attention, things get a little trickier (but aren’t doomed).

You’re not a horrible person for admitting that you may have made a mistake in entering this relationship. You’re being honest with yourself and what you’re feeling—besides, you’re only human, and humans make mistakes.

It’s entirely possible that you did think that you were going into this for the right reasons but now have realized that this might not be the case. That’s not your fault; it’s just you working out your feelings. What comes next is what you need to take responsibility for, which is deciding what you’re going to do if you’re dating someone else but you still love your ex.

How to reassess the relationship

There are several questions you can ask yourself when reevaluating your current relationship.

One is whether you still enjoy spending time with this person. Enjoying each other’s company is a huge aspect of a relationship, and if it’s missing, it might be time to rethink.

This person is someone you spend a lot of time with if you’re dating. They’re someone you’ll go to movies with, do boring errands with, joke around with, and everything in between. If you feel like you just don’t like being around them enough, take it into consideration when you’re deciding on what to do next.

Another is if your goals are aligned with each other’s. Your partner is someone with who you share your life; how can you do that if you’re not going in the same direction?

This is a quick way to tell if you’re just rebounding or if you truly see a future with this person. Are you on the same wavelength in terms of drive and ambition? Do you share the same philosophies and political beliefs? These are all important for a long-lasting relationship.

You could also ask yourself if your partner is someone you’re willing to invest in. If your partner is just a placeholder for you right now, you might not be feeling the desire to continue dedicating time, energy, and emotions to the relationship.

Obviously, it’s important for healthy relationships that you do; if you find that you don’t feel emotionally invested in your current partner, maybe the relationship isn’t panning out the way you’d hoped it would.

All of these things are questions you can ask yourself when you’re trying to figure out if you may be rushed into this relationship too quickly and you’re actually still in love with your ex.

Don’t make this a band-aid relationship

Whatever you do, don’t use this relationship solely to make up for the past one.

It’s tempting to go into a new relationship to cheer yourself up from ending a bad one. People need people, and you might have felt like you needed to be close to another person when you were going through the rough patch that is moving on from a breakup.

While that’s understandable, it also isn’t fair to your new partner.

3. Decide if you’re ready for a new relationship

Now, get rid of all the noise and focus on the feelings you’ve identified for both your ex and your current partner.

Don’t mind society’s expectations, what your friends and family might think, and any other external factors that might influence your decision.

Get straight to the heart of it—are you truly ready to date someone else if you still love your ex?

Are you really over them?

There’s a difference between being over someone and being ready for something new. In some cases, they might be almost simultaneous, and in others, the time needed in between might be longer.

That being said, are you even really over your ex if you still think you love them? If you aren’t, then you probably aren’t ready for a new relationship and you need to take a step back.

Are your feelings something you can work with?

In the first two steps, we identified what you’re feeling for both your ex and your current partner. Now’s the time to decide whether those feelings are going to make or break your new relationship.

Like I said, it’s possible to have lingering feelings about your past relationship without necessarily being feelings for your ex. Maybe you just have some unresolved issues that you haven’t worked through yet or you’ve been with them too long to stop thinking about them completely after you’ve broken up.

Or maybe you have love for them but you aren’t in love with them romantically anymore. Whatever the case, if you realize that you aren’t in love with your ex (more of the idea of them), those might be feelings you can work through with your partner.

On the flip side, if you realize that you just still love your ex, consider ending your current relationship out of fairness to your new partner. If you’re scared of hurting their feelings, just remember that it hurts them more if you continue your relationship without emotional investment from your end.

Have you fully grieved the breakup?

There’s a popularized concept called the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance). While they’re not necessarily experienced in order and the journey varies from person to person, if you’ve never reached the acceptance stage, you might not be done grieving for the relationship you lost—and aren’t ready to be in a new one.

Clinical psychologist Randi Gunther says that “no one is ready to successfully date again unless they have sufficiently healed from their prior heartbreak.” It’s tempting to ask someone else to fix us up for us, but at the end of the day, we all heal from the loss we experience on our own before we truly move on from it.

Be transparent with your partner

And this is crucial.

While you don’t have to go into every detail about how you feel about your ex, you do need to tell them about what you’re feeling and that you don’t know if you’re ready to be in a relationship with them. They deserve to know if there are any major snags in your relationship and this is one of them.

It won’t be easy. Their feelings might get hurt or they might get angry with you or both—completely understandable because they might not have signed up for this. They could feel blindsided because they didn’t expect this at all, and you’ll have to address what they’re feeling too apart from figuring out what you are.

They’re your partner and they care about you; what’s important is that you treat them with respect and honesty.

What now?

Based on what you’ve arrived at with the 3 steps above, things can now go one of three ways:

  • You stay with your current partner and work things out together
  • You leave to get back with your ex
  • You spend time focusing on yourself

If you’re going to stay…

Focus on your new relationship and do your best to move on from your ex.

If you want to give this relationship a real shot, you need to be honest with your partner about all of it. You need to promise them that you’re working on moving on, and if they ask for some time apart until you do that, that’s okay.

Things might not go smoothly, especially after you’ve opened up to your partner about having feelings for your ex. No one wants to hear that from someone they’re dating.

But what’s important here is that the two of you agree to move forward from this and make things work. That’s what real love is; the commitment and conscious choice to love someone and better your relationship.

If you want to get back with your ex…

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is pointless; if you’re going to try something that has previously failed again, something has to be different this time. Make sure something’s going to change if you want any hope that your relationship is going to work.

If you reach out to your ex and they want to get back together too, the two of you have to be honest with each other about expectations and what you can do to make things work. There can only be a new beginning here if something changes from your old relationship because there’s a reason that that relationship ended.

Is that reason still there? If it is, are you both willing to work towards making sure that that reason doesn’t spell the end for you (again)?

If they don’t want to get back together, it’s a sign that it’s time to focus on yourself for now.

If you’re taking time for yourself…

Remember that it’s okay to be on your own for a while.

If you were dating someone else but you still loved your ex, you might have been looking for that familiar sense of being in a relationship with your new partner.

I’m telling you now: you don’t need to be in a relationship to be happy. You don’t need someone to “complete” you. That comes from finding and completing yourself on your own.

Breakups can be an opportunity for growth, too.

Here are some things you can do to spend time on yourself:

  • Go back to hobbies you may not have given enough attention to or find new ones that pique your interest and will keep you busy.
  • Spend more time with your friends; they’re your support system and will keep you sane while you navigate life on your own.
  • Find a cause you’re passionate about and devote time towards helping out in that sector.
  • Find your joy. Do what makes you happy and put yourself first.

And when you’re ready, maybe reenter the dating scene and find someone you’ll love and commit to.

Things aren’t hopeless if you’re dating someone else but you still love your ex. You still have a bright future ahead of you; just remember to take responsibility for the reins you hold in your hand.


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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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