As a psychologist with a speciality in lying and romantic relationships, I see how hard it is for people to move on after a bad breakup. One of the main reasons we get stuck in past pain is the lies we tell ourselves about our ex.
Self-deception—our inability to admit the truth to ourselves—is dangerous because it operates outside of our conscious awareness. In this way, we can’t readily see how we lie to ourselves because self-honesty requires us to admit the truth. Often, that’s a very painful process.
Yet, when we see the lies we tell ourselves about our exes, we can challenge them. As we do, the entire way we experience a breakup can change and we can let them go more easily.
If you notice any of these thoughts running through your mind, it’s time to challenge your thinking:
1. “My ex was the best.”
Language that reflects that your ex was the best person in the world is too extreme, and it’s likely to be inaccurate. The truth is that your ex probably had positive and negative qualities, just like all humans. They weren’t the best or the worst; they were something in between.
What to say to yourself instead: “My ex meant a lot to me at one point in my life, but they weren’t the best or worst person in the world.”
2. “If they loved me more, then our relationship would work.”
It’s socially reinforced to think that if you love someone enough, your relationship is bound to work. The truth is that love is often a necessary condition for a relationship to develop and thrive—but it’s certainly not sufficient to make a romantic connection healthy or successful.
What to say to yourself instead: “I really loved my ex, but love isn’t enough to make us a successful couple.”
3. “I’ll never get over my ex.”
Your ex may have been a very important person in your life, but getting over them has a lot to do with the efforts you make to heal yourself after a breakup. There are many things you can choose to do to help yourself—like changing your thinking to make it more accurate and helpful.
What to say to yourself instead: “I’m not over my ex today, but I’m actively choosing to challenge my thinking to help myself move on.”
4. “I hate everything about my ex.”
Sometimes in a divorce or very contentious breakup, we only remember the negative things about an ex. We become hyper-focused on them as a monster, an enemy, or a horrible person who destroyed our lives. But the truth is that staying angry and resentful at an ex—only remembering the bad—isn’t helpful because it keeps you fixated on someone who isn’t your partner anymore.
What to say to yourself instead: “It’s hard for me to remember anything positive about my ex right now because I’m so hurt and angry about how our relationship ended. I’m working on letting go of my anger.”
5. “I’ll never find someone better.”
After a heartbreaking breakup, it’s common to think that you’ll never find someone who makes you feel like your ex did, thereby assuming that an unhappy future is already determined. The truth is that you’re very likely to find another partner if you’re willing to take steps to heal the pain of this breakup, learn from it, and date new people.
What to say instead: “I’m afraid that no one will make me feel as good as my ex did, but I know there are millions of people in the world. If I use this breakup to empower myself and eventually date again, there’s a good chance I will meet someone special again.”
6. “I can make my ex change.”
We have no power over other people. As much as you may want to change your ex, make them want you again, or get back together, that will only happen if you and your ex both want it and work to make it happen.
What to say instead: “I wish my ex still wanted to be with me. The reality is that right now they don’t, and I can’t make them change if they don’t want to. Instead of focusing on them, I’m going to devote my energy to changing and healing myself.”
7. “We’re meant to be together.”
When people use language that’s deterministic—that assumes you are meant to be together, or everything happens for a reason — it undermines your ability to affect the course of your life. It may be that you spiritually believe everything happens for a reason, and there is certainly something you can learn from this breakup; but if your relationship isn’t working for one or both of you, you aren’t meant to be together today.
What to say instead: “I really thought my ex was my partner for life — that we were meant to be together. But we aren’t together right now, so we aren’t meant to be together today. I’m going to live my life in a way that honours that truth.”
Getting Honest With Yourself
The good news is you can learn to be more honest with yourself after a breakup by practising what I call:
The 3 As of Authenticity: Awareness, Assessment, and Action
Awareness of your thinking: When you notice yourself thinking any of the thoughts above, pause. Stop what you’re doing and notice the thoughts that are running through your mind.
Assessment of your thoughts: Is this thought accurate and helpful? After identifying your thoughts, ask yourself whether you have evidence—actual data—that your thinking is accurate and helpful. If it isn’t, it’s time to change it.
Action to change your thoughts: Actively shift your thoughts to be empowering, self-enhancing, and accurate. Using the “what to say instead” examples can help get you started.
The truth is this — after a breakup, it’s common to believe some highly inaccurate things about your ex. By changing your thinking to be more helpful and accurate, you can shift your untrue beliefs about your ex to embracing your next life adventure with or without them by your side.
Empower yourself with the inner knowledge that you can get through this, learn skills, and even find love again by making choices consistent with the life you want to live.
The author Cortney Warren, Ph.D., ABPP, is a clinical psychologist and adjunct professor of psychiatry at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.