Whether you're fantasy-prone or a pragmatic realist, the temptation to romanticize the past (including your former flame) can be emotionally gratifying.
According to a recent report about nostalgia and the brain, nostalgia is "not a true recreation of the past, but rather a combination of many different memories, all integrated together... all negative emotions filtered out."
Romanticizing a past relationship (remembering only the happy stuff from "the good old days") feels safe. And it's easy to go there if our present reality feels difficult or we're struggling in our current relationship according to relationship experts.
Romanticizing the past can help you dodge responsibility for difficult things happening in the present.
It's easier to escape the issues of your current relationship or situation if you can blame the problems on them and say, 'This wasn't how it was for me before.'
Why you can't trust your perception of the past
But this romanticization isn't based in reality, right? Can't we just tell ourselves to face the truth and be done with the whole thing?
According to therapists, the truth always takes a back seat to our own biases, however inaccurate they may be.
When you're looking at your satisfaction with a current relationship, perception ends up being more important than the actual reality. You might be more likely to remember the good stuff, when in fact focusing more on the negative might be more healthy in terms of your self-esteem.
Because our memories of this past relationship are filtered, it's easy to forget all the reasons that old love wasn't right for us. The problems, the fights and the pet peeves are smoothed over and we're left trying to answer the question: "Why did I leave that relationship?" with an unrealistic set of data.
The real kicker? Most couples in this situation are comparing their long-term relationship with one that never launched past the honeymoon stage of six to 18 months.
It hurts your relationship potential
And though it's natural and even healthy to compare your relationships to each other, it's considerably unhelpful to stay stuck in the past.
When people get stuck in romanticizing a past relationship, they're usually not really optimizing their current relationship. Or, if they're not in one, they're not really trying to look for something healthy and functional.
When you idealize someone from the past, it's easy to be critical of any new person that comes into the picture.
It may not show up immediately, but over time it does... and eventually people get tired of being criticized or never measuring up and it may cause another relationship to end.
How can I stop doing this?
Nostalgia and fantasy can have some strong jaws, especially if they're being used by your brain to protect you from painful memories or help you relax and tune out stress.
And, though your friends may try and solve the issue by trash-talking your ex and advising you to "just get over it," these tactics may just bury the problem.
It's important that people understand that they're holding onto something for a reason... When something has not been fully processed, we often have a hard time letting it go.
According to these experts, here are a few ways to ground yourself back into the present:
1. Be curious with yourself
If you catch yourself idealizing a past relationship, try and zoom out a little. Asking yourself a few simple questions may help ground you back in the present.
- What am I soothing by doing this?
- Am I trying to avoid a painful experience?
- How is this helping me? What purpose is this fantasy serving in my life?
- Can I see any ways in which this holds me back?
- What do I hope to gain by holding onto this person?
- What would it be like to let them go?
2. Be kind to yourself
Remove shame from the process.
Be really gentle and non-judgemental of yourself. If you can catch yourself while you're doing this, stop and say: 'Oh, look at me fantasizing. I wonder what I'm trying to avoid right now.'
3. Confide in the right people
Find people who are willing to extend empathy, not just a silver lining.
It is never going to serve anybody well to say, 'Just let it go.' They would have if they could. It's a signal that something needs to happen. And that's what a lot of well-intended people would say to do. But that just shames them... and that just compounds the problem.
Should you be in the midst of a divorce or contemplating divorce, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar at 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation.