Several cups of jealousy, a dash of denial, and a big bag of mixed, unprocessed emotions are all the ingredients you need to ensure you'll never fully get over your ex. Falling for a new crush when you haven't left your ex behind can make the situation even stickier. Existing in that gray area of loving both your ex and someone new might seem unrealistic (You're probably thinking, "How can I possibly love two people at the same time?!"), but according to couples' therapist Elizabeth Earnshaw, it's absolutely possible.
In the same way we love multiple siblings, friends, family members, and children, we can love more than one person romantically, she says. Your feelings about the lovers you've parted ways with aren't always going to be black-and-white. "Perhaps you are no longer drawn to being with them because you know the relationship was unhealthy or the goals were incompatible, but you might still hold loving kindness in your heart for them," Earnshaw tells Elite Daily. "Perhaps you love them as a good friend. Perhaps you love them for the life you had together."
But you can still end up playing yourself if you're not honest with yourself or your potential new partner about your love for your ex and what it means to you. Say you've gone through a breakup and you think you're ready to start dating again, but you're not totally positive because you know you still have lingering feelings for your ex. If your self-awareness has helped you firmly decide you don't want to be in a relationship with your ex (whether it's because you're incompatible, or because current circumstances are preventing you from being together), even though you know you still have romantic feelings for them, you're probably good to move forward into a new relationship, Earnshaw says. "However, if your feelings of love are still related to a desire of being in relationship with the person, then it is wise to take time to work through that individually, so that you can offer yourself honestly to the next partner."
Distracting yourself with someone new might seem like a brilliant way to force yourself to get over an ex. Ah, yes... some new hands to hold. Different lips to kiss, fresh pet names to brainstorm, a wonderfully unfamiliar face for your Instagram feed! (You get the idea.) But in order to fully get over your ex, Earnshaw says you're going to have to go through all the stages of a real grieving process.
"[Getting over your ex] is not the act of throwing the experience in the garbage and pretending it never happened; rather, the journey of having enough self-compassion and self-love to allow the experience to impact you, to reflect on it, and to grieve," she says. Because grieving isn't linear and takes time, she adds, you might begin dating while you are technically still grieving. So, as long as you allow yourself the space for that process, Earnshaw says, you'll be OK.
One method she suggests to help lay romantic feelings for your ex to rest is to create "grief times" throughout the day. Grief times are moments where you let yourself feel everything through journaling, listening to music, and reminiscing. "This is a time for you to cry and to feel the full spectrum of emotions you might experience following the loss of an important relationship," she says. She also suggests taking time for yourself. This can mean re-engaging with the activities you loved prior to dating your ex, re-connecting with friends, practicing mindfulness, and working on boundary-setting. "These are all things that get you more grounded and connected with the self," she says.
Last but not least, Earnshaw recommends making new memories in places you associate with your former lover. "You know that feeling you have whenever you pass the coffee shop that you and the ex used to frequent? It's so painful. Over time, those feelings will dwindle as you begin to create new memories," she says. "Allow yourself to try new coffee shops, to take a friend to the old coffee shops, and to build new spaces that feel good to you with people who love you."
As you work through your feelings for your former love, remember: Still loving them in some way, shape, or form doesn't make you a bad person, or a bad partner to your new love. It only makes you human. Don't be afraid to hold space for that.
Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT, a couples therapist