Dear Dr. Chani,
I have good news and bad news. The good news is that after many years of dating I am close to getting engaged to a wonderful woman. The bad news is that I am still not “over” a girl I dated seriously a year ago. How can I resolve my feelings for my previous girlfriend so that I can fully commit to my future wife?
I dated my previous girlfriend, Aly, for over a year. We had a roller-coaster relationship. There was always a special chemistry between us but we also constantly fought over things, big and small. Aly has a dramatic and intense personality. She can be very exciting and fun, but she can also be moody and argumentative. After many arguments and lots of drama, we mutually parted ways. I was relieved to be over that chapter in my life and to move on to a healthy relationship.
It took time but eventually, I met Sara. Sara is almost the opposite of Aly. She is sensible, stable and relaxed. She is totally reliable and easy to talk to. I feel like I can be safe with Sara. Yet, compared to Aly, my relationship with Sara is more on the dull side. Things are pretty predictable and healthy. But they are also somewhat monotonous.
My brain is telling me I should marry Sara and forget Aly. But I cannot help being curious about what Aly is doing in life, and thinking about our good times together. I keep checking up on Aly on her social media to see what she’s up to.
Is my preoccupation with Aly telling me that Sara is not for me? If Sara is for me, how can I stop myself from thinking about Aly so I can focus only on Sara?
Thanks for your help,
You have dated for a while and you are about to make a commitment to a life-long relationship. It makes sense that you are reflecting on your previous relationships before you close the door on your dating career. Thinking about previous relationships does not necessarily indicate that you should not marry Sara.
It can be helpful to consider that having a committed and healthy relationship with someone does not automatically make you forget other people that you dated. Sometimes, the opposite is true. When you narrow your choice for a partner, you might also crave the opportunity to have relationship freedom. Sometimes your brain longingly remembers previous relationships or fantasizes about imaginary ones, whether they are the most ideal for you or not.
There are many other possible reasons you may be thinking about Aly. For example, your warm feelings for Sara may inadvertently stir up your memories of the feelings you had for Aly. They may be connected to each other in your head. Instead of Sara “canceling out” Aly, your brain senses the similarities between the feelings you have for each of them. Your mind connects them and then fetches part of the “Aly file” when it thinks about Sara. Since you had strong feelings for Aly, your mind might be triggered to think about Aly when you realize how much you care for Sara.
In addition, you might be going through a process of second-guessing and proving something to yourself. This is especially true if you tend to be analytical or anxious. You want to be sure that Sara is the right one, so you conjure up a test case where you compare her to Aly. That puts Aly on your mind. It also creates an Aly-Sara contest as you contemplate getting engaged to Sara.
If your mind is trying to help you with your decision by comparing Aly and Sara, that might not work well. It can be hard to compare people. As you pointed out, Aly and Sara are seemingly opposite personalities. It is not realistic for you to try to match their traits against a perfect image in your mind. Nobody you date will be perfect. Every person has positive and negative aspects. Regardless of whom you marry, you will need to appreciate her as a whole person and accept her for who she is, including aspects you love and those that are less ideal.
So what should you do about your thoughts about Aly? It is important not to ignore your thoughts if they are worrying you or you are feeling confused. You need to work through your feelings and get clarity before you get engaged. There is always a possibility that there is something about your relationship with Sara that is missing for you or is bothering you. If you cannot recognize why Aly is on your mind and you are concerned about, it try exploring this with a therapist.
Give yourself time to clarify your thoughts and feelings until you feel confident about proposing to Sara. You should be ready to focus on Sara before you become engaged. Yet, do not necessarily expect that focus to automatically displace any other thoughts. The more your relationship with Sara grows, the more Aly will fade into the woodwork of your life.
If you realize that you would like to move forward with Sara and forget about Aly, keep in mind that it is better to focus on your relationship with Sara than to force yourself to stop thinking about Aly. Although it may sound counterintuitive, when you tell yourself that you must stop thinking about something, it usually makes you focus on it more. Instead of worrying about having thoughts of Aly, throw yourself more into your relationship with Sara.
What can you do to spark more excitement for Sara? Create exciting memories with Sara. Take her to interesting places and enjoy new topics of conversation so that you can discover more about her. Even though you already feel you want to get engaged to Sara, there is always more to get to know about her. Each time you interact with Sara, think about one new positive trait you noticed about her. The more you focus on Sara, the less your previous relationships will get in the way of you appreciating your reliable, caring relationship with her in the present.
Wishing you much success,Chani
Dr. Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist and relationship coach, specializing in teaching emotional connection and communication skills for over two decades. She coaches individuals and couples, and teaches online courses to help you create your ideal relationship. Get free relationship resources and contact her at www.chanimaybruch.com