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Dealing with the 'Ex-Factor'

india Updated: Sep 20, 2008 14:50 IST
Amrita Sharma
Amrita Sharma
Hindustan Times
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"Relationships," says psychologist Bertram H Raven of the University of California, LA, "are living things; they either grow and thrive, or they shrivel and atrophy". But they never really die out. They continue to be a part of our lives in some form or the other. Sometimes they are present in the form of memories or recurrent thoughts, and there are times when they even come back to life from the past to influence and affect our present. This is why many a times, even after a relationship seemingly ends, in reality, it keeps returning to haunt us. The so-called 'ex-factor' with all its connotations of it being in the past and out of our lives, is never really out.

Take the case of Shreya and Ashish, who had been together for four years. One fine day he told her that there was someone else in his life. Even though Shreya was devastated, she still couldn't bring herself to let him go. "I see them together sometimes, and it really hurts. I can't forget all that we had together. I know it's all over, but I still want to be in touch with him," she says. This infact is a common problem in such break-ups, when one partner does not want to let go of the other. The fact that the relationship is over and he/she is seeing someone else, does not make a difference. Despite the odds, they still cling to the hope that it's only a matter of time before they get back together.

Infact, most people who have just broken up, show exaggerated tendency to brood excessively over the end of the relationship. "When a love affair ends badly, it leaves the rejected lover with a mystery to puzzle over excessively," Says Irma Kurtz, a celebrated problem-solver. This is what happened with Aliya. She fell in love with Vikram and they had strong relationship going for almost three years. Everything seemed fine till he suddenly left town without a word to her. The shock was too much and she just couldn't accept the fact that she had been dumped like that. All her efforts to forget him or what he had done, failed and she was totally obsessed with her thoughts about him. While at the onset, the relationship was all over, for Aliya, it seemed far from over. Unfortunately, the confusion and the pain at his unexpected exit had an adverse effect on her. Says Dr Achal Bhagat, consultant psychiatrist at Apollo hospital: "You often find it difficult to cope with the loss of somebody dear to you. It's probably made worse by the fact that it ended in manner which makes you wonder if you were foolish to trust him. I think it would be trivializing one's pain in such cases to say that time will heal it."

For Aliya, coping seems far more difficult because of the whole unexpected way it ended, without her being prepared for it in any way. It's this inability to understand why something like this happened when everything seemed to be going right, that turns out to be one of the most difficult aspects of a break-up like this. And it really takes a while before an experience like this stops affecting and influencing one's life and future relationships. "After that Aliya has taken to distrusting everyone who tries to get close to her. She keeps her past experience alive by connecting them with all her prospective relationships.

The worst scenario however is meeting one's ex much after the break-up, and to realize that he/she still exercises ample influence even after so long. Somehow, when we come across our ex, we tend to forget all that was negative and all that led to the break-up. Sometimes despite the fact that it was the ex-partner who broke up in the first place, we still let it enter our present lives. The whole idea of a reunion, with all the aura of a romantic past, the bond of having shared love at one time, and the appeal of rekindling the lost fire, is what attracts ex-lovers and spouses to get back together, for better or for worse, as the case may be. Take the case of Rhea. She had a very difficult marriage which ended almost six years ago.

With time, she found a new job, moved to a different city, and finally got over her divorce. But one fine day, when she met her ex-husband by chance at a book store, and he asked her out for dinner, she accepted. "I don't know want came over me. I seemed to forget all that had hurt me so much, and I just wanted to be with him again," she said. The evening turned out very enjoyable for both once the uneasiness of past relationship was cast aside. Once he found that she was not in any relationship, he asked her out again, and she acquiesced. As they met a few times, Rhea found herself falling in love with him all over again. All the bad memories of the past were pushed into the background and the excitement of a whole new beginning with him surfaced. "If I have to take the risk of another relationship, why not try it with a person I know," she says.

But most psychologists are a little uncertain on this issue. Says Dr Bhagat: "A certain lapse of time often allows you to come to terms with your experiences. You may have changed, but I do not think that your knowledge of him helps the relationship grow. If you really want to explore the possibility, then try to get to know him. See if the way he communicates with you has changed and what does he expect from you. It is difficult to assess such things and more difficult to predict whether things will work out. If you are doing things because it's easier, you are mistaken. It will be a lot easier to begin anew."

What is most unnerving is that most of the time, our ex-partners are not really a thing of the past. They are there as a memory, as a standard of comparison for better or for worse, but nevertheless present. But it's important to recognize that they are not as important to our lives today as they were in the past. Any attitude that resembles an addiction to your ex, long after you have broken off, spells trouble for the future relationships. Infact there are many people, who despite understanding the futility of a broken relationship, refuse to let go---even if it is only in their minds.

Whatever the reason, it's important to understand if you want a reunion because of genuine love or because of the obsessive influence your ex still has on you. There is no golden rule that if life gives you another chance with your ex, you shouldn't take it. But it's very important to take care that both of you have done enough soul-searching to understand why you broke up in the first place. If it is just to feed your hurt ego or because of habit, or even to prove a point to yourself, then getting back together with your ex is not a very good idea, as it would only mean starting the cycle of the tensions that led to you two to drift apart. Lots of things in life are worth holding on to, but in the same vein, if the relationship has a past but no future, it's best to let it go, and in the process, free yourself completely.