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

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

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

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This site is all about scientific research into how the mind works.

It’s mostly written by psychologist and author, Dr Jeremy Dean.

I try to dig up fascinating studies that tell us something about what it means to be human.

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Author: Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book "Making Habits, Breaking Habits" (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks.