Still Thinking About Your Ex? Why It’s Bad News for Your Current Partner

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When a relationship is going wrong, it is comforting to dwell on positive memories of an ex.

It’s often said that if you find yourself thinking about your ex-partner, it’s probably a sign of a problem in your current relationship. Psychological research has now backed this up:

“A longitudinal study followed individuals in relationships at three points over the course of 6 months. Participants reported their current relationship quality, emotional attachment to ex-partners, and perceived quality of relationship alternatives.” (Spielmann et al., 2012)

What they found was that…

“…increased longing for ex-partners predicted declines in relationship quality, but only when focused on one’s most recent ex-partner. This is because longing for more recent ex-partners is associated with perceptions of relationship alternatives, while longing for more distant ex-partners is not.”

So the more dissatisfied you are with your current partner, the more likely you are to think about your most recent ex-partner. Not only that but…

“…ex-partners may serve as desirable relationship alternatives, with romantic feelings for recent exes interfering with current relationship quality.”

Recent exes are seen as particularly attractive alternatives to current relationships because they are assumed to be more accessible and available. And contrary to the romantic view of love, partners are relatively interchangeable:

“The belonging substitution hypothesis suggests that close connections with others are relatively substitutable for one another, such that the loss of one connection can be tempered with another.” (Baumeister & Leary, 1995)

This is why many people go back to their most recent ex-partner when they get fed up with their current partner. It’s often the quickest and easiest way of fulfilling the strong need to belong.

Image credit: Luis Pedro

About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 13 June 2012

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