Why Thinking About Your Ex Can Actually Be Beneficial, According To Research
Whether you went through a nasty breakup or parted on good terms, you might assume that nostalgically thinking of your past relationships wouldn't be a good thing, especially if you're in a new relationship.
But according to research by the University of Kansas recently published in the European Journal of Psychology, thinking of your ex might actually have some surprising benefits.
Why thinking about your ex might not be so bad.
Can thinking about your ex ever have a positive effect? That's what researchers from the University of Kansas wanted to find out. To test their query, they rounded up participants and had them reflect on nostalgic memories of their exes across three different studies.
And based on their results, a little nostalgia for your ex can actually improve your current relationship. That's right—in all three studies, the researchers found that thinking about nostalgic memories of ex-partners "increased the perception of current relationship quality," compared to the control group.
Further, the study authors note, thinking of relationships past can even enhance your motivation to keep your current romantic relationship alive and well.
And if that weren't enough, their final finding was that the participants' perceptions of their own self-growth likely influenced how they felt when thinking about an ex. Namely, when participants reflected on their past relationships, they often simultaneously reflected on how much they'd grown since the relationship—which could explain why they subsequently viewed their current relationship (and motivation for that relationship) in an improved light.
The caveat (because there's always one).
Based on this research, thinking about your ex here and there when you're in a relationship isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, if you're consumed by thoughts of your ex, then you might be dealing with a different beast entirely.
Whether you're dreaming about them, stalking their social media, or going back and forth about whether to text them, it's important to identify the fine line between innocent (and even beneficial) nostalgia, versus being hung up about them—especially if you're in a new relationship now.
"I have worked with people who kid themselves into thinking they are over an ex when they really aren't," psychologist and relationship expert Margaret Paul, Ph.D., previously told mbg. "Many people don't want to do the inner work to really be over an ex" and instead just pretend to have moved on.
If you think that might be you, be sure to check out our guide on how to stop thinking about someone, plus the seven stages of a breakup you can expect as you heal.
The bottom line is, if you fondly recall times with your ex, it doesn't mean you don't love your current partner. And in fact, it might actually benefit your relationship now. Of course, there's a line between the occasional nostalgia trip and unhealthy preoccupation with your ex, but rest assured it's A-OK to reminisce once in a while.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.