How To Prepare For Seeing Your Ex Without It Ripping Your Heart Out

I still struggle sometimes with romantic fantasies that take up space in my mind. I still think about him (not necessarily the him you may think I’m talking about but the one who broke my heart and is still, years later, my biggest teacher. There were moments after our breakup that repeatedly sent me into spasms of pain. I ended that relationship, not because I didn’t love him but because I could no longer tolerate lying, cheating, and the gas lighting. However, to this day, if he were to be in my presence, seeing him, just might rip my heart out. It would certainly take everything I had: minding my mind, preparing an escape route, words to say or not to say, and friends to physically keep me away from him; to help me get through the experience without completely falling apart. Are you with me? Do you get what I’m talking about? So how do you prepare for seeing your ex without it ripping your heart out? Let’s explore some things that work and somethings that don’t!

First off, the things that DON’T work:

Social Media Stalking: you can’t stalk them on Facebook, Twitter, IG or any other internet, social media platform you two shared. I’m a BIG proponent of blocking, unfriending, deleting, and muting. I have to. If I don’t block them, I have found, I will end up on a cold winter’s night going down the rabbit hole of internet Hell. I have been known to destroy a perfectly nice evening or two out of boredom and curiosity more than once since that breakup. I tell myself, it’s just a quick peek and then, hours later, I’m in a puddle of tears feeling sad and sorry for myself. So my advice… do everything you can to disconnect from them online. And then, hold yourself to not looking, lurking, stalking or tracking down their friends. Don’t do it. In the scheme of things, this is a small but mighty step but it’s not very easy!

If you can’t stop looking at them online, you don’t stand a chance of seeing them in person without it ripping your heart out!

Start small.

Things that take some time before you can handle them:

Visiting the places you two frequented together. I had a client who loved going to the beaches in CA with his lover. They shared fun, romantic times in the sand and surf (who wouldn’t!?!) After she moved out, he falsely thought he could handle going there alone. Then the emotions got stirred up and it took weeks for the feelings to calm down again! I completely sympathized with his pain and it made perfect sense. Those places were intimately tied to the love he experienced there. I admit, there are certain parts of Florida and New York City or LA that used to haunt me because of the memories I shared with a lover. I know the exact spot in Central Park where I got that particular kiss! But yet, cities, restaurants, the roads you walked down together, the movie theater or beach shouldn’t hold you hostage to memories, fantasies or desires. So what do you do?

I recommend taking some time before venturing back, bringing along a good friend or girding yourself for the effort it’ll take to reclaim the streets and places you once knew with them. This is what I do: I avoid certain places in NYC (mostly for fear of running into him) and when I feel emotionally ready to tackle the reclaiming part, I gather my strength and walk the streets, go into the shops, sit and eat in the restaurants, visit the places I went to with him… At first, I might do this with a good friend admitting perhaps, that I need a little help. If I go alone, I prepare myself! I see him in my mind, I remember what I did, how I felt, I declare (to myself in case anyone might call me crazy) that this is my town (restaurant, movie theater, etc) too and that I have a right to be there. 

I literally retrace our steps. Not to rip the bandage off my heart but to declare to the universe that I have a right to this place too. And it works! I have reclaimed parts of NYC, other cities, restaurants, theme parks, beaches, movie theaters, even trains! These days those exact same locations no longer cause me pain. I have new(er) memories and get to enjoy the places I learned to love.

Each of us has the right to be happy wherever we want, it simply takes a little time before the heart is strong enough to experience the grief and help you make a new history. 

So, you’re a bit stronger and you have to see them… how do you prepare yourself for this big moment?

Get ready for an emotional hit! 

Your mind and body are going to be hit with a slew of feelings and sensations… let’s get real: you’re going to have a lot of fantasies! You’re going to think about saying all the things you ever wanted to creating your own reality TV series in your head. You’ll rival the leads of the ‘housewife series’ and imagine embarrassing them, their new dates, their new spouses; you’ll imagine hitting them, hurting them, kissing them, ripping off their clothes. But usually, sorry, none of these things will really happen. (Unless you’re on the ‘housewife series…’)

You will, however, fantasize A LOT so be prepared for lots of crazy thoughts in your head. You’ll also probably experience physiological reactions… getting turned on, blush, begin perspiring; you might even like I did, have time completely and utterly s-l-o-w down when you see them as if everything is happening in slow motion. You will cover your eyes with sunglasses, try to hide, avoid their eyes, stare at their chests, their feet, but yet still notice every single detail of what they’re doing, where they’re standing and who they’re with. Your entire system will be on alert… not because you want to jump their bones (though you may want to) but because they’re dangerous to you! 

Your entire system is going to protect you and protection takes all our senses when we have a real enemy in front of us.

But, you’re still in love with them you say! You want them in your arms and in your bed. You don’t hate them, don’t want to commit illegal and immoral acts against them (the way I wanted to) you’re in pain and you wish they would just take you back into their arms and make mad, passionate love to you the way it once was. 

Sure you do.

All of you or just the scared part? All of you or the part that’s so frightened and hurt (not just by them but by every relationship you’ve ever had going back to the love you didn’t get from mom or dad). I’m serious about this. Let’s ground ourselves in the truth.

The relationship ended not because they’re your soulmate but for a slew of other reasons that you’ve thought about and dealt with long before it actually ended. Even if you were blindsided by facts the way I was. Because behind all the lies and tears, all the drama I put myself through and all the love I thought I was experiencing were things my soul and my heart knew that my head totally ignored or thought I could control and overcome. Are you still with me? We all do this to ourselves - over and over and over again. Until we stop.

Mind your mind: your mind is a foolish part of you. There I said it! Your mind will play tricks on you, cause you to dream, cause you to feel victimized and then justify the sadness you’re enduring. It’s going to hurt to see them and you need to make your mind your ally, not your enemy. This is a lot harder than we mere humans have learned.

Ignore the turn-on: your body is going to react to seeing them. Seriously. Hard, wet, swirly, girly, puffing out your chest… anything and everything is going to be on alert when you see them and you’re going to have to ignore every one of those sensations. You can’t sleep with them no matter how flirtatious or kind; no matter the apology or their interest in you. You must walk away. My friend calls it quicksand… you have to grab the rope of sanity and keep yourself on dry land. It’s tough. But if you succumb to a romp in the hay, you’d might as well start all over again.

Waiting for that apology: once a heart is broken, you think the only person who can mend it is the person who left or who hurt you and that’s the last person who can truly help you. It’s just not fair but what your ego wants is that apology whereas, what your heart wants, is for you to stay far, far away from them. It’s this duality that’s going on inside. We think we need them to grovel and come back or beg us to come back but that’s just those fantasies again. So the apology isn’t from them. The apology you need is the one you give yourself for loving someone who could hurt you so badly. It’s a sobering personal moment.

Be prepared for the grieving: your heart is going to hurt when you see them, especially if they’re your most important teacher. I hate to admit this to you. I wish I could write that you’re going to be fine. You will be. Eventually. At first, the first few times you see them, it’s really going to throw you, so stay away from them as long as you can. Even if they’re the other parent to your children. (I do everything I can to stay away from those who hurt me - why throw salt on a wound?) But when you do see them, know you’ll have a slew of feelings and physiological sensations and then, over time, as you heal, as you gain greater clarity and wisdom, it’ll get easier and easier. 

Will you ever be able to handle it? Yes. Over and over again as you heal and feel better about the ending of something that wasn’t supposed to work out in the first place. Will you love them still? Even a little? Possibly. Probably. But not to the degree you once did. And as you heal, as you put your life together again, you’ll be able to see them without falling apart. The last time I saw him, it still hurt a little but he looked bloated, stressed, and unhealthy and the turn-on was gone. As I’ve created a new life for myself and took back those streets and restaurants, I realized if he didn’t want to be my true love, why in the world would I spend any more time thinking about him

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Laura Bonarrigo is a Certified Life Coach and a Certified Divorce Coach at laurabonarrigo.com. Laura's a writer, public speaker and the founder of doingDivorce™ School an online coaching program for those ready to shed the pain of divorce. For empowering and practical ways to lose the identity of your past, visit www.doingDivorceSchool.com and laurabonarrigo.com.