Reducing Your Attachment to Your Ex

Dear Neil: My husband and I split up six years ago after 29 years of marriage. He is still with the woman he left me for, but I am finding it impossible to let go of the relationship and move on. There has not been anyone new since then either. Any suggestions?

He’s No Longer Mine In Sydney, Australia

Dear No Longer Mine: You have to drop your attachment—to the person and to the relationship—in order to let go and move on.

Typically, however, people think that if they let go of their attachment, then the relationship dies. So often people hang on to a relationship that has ended, in the hope that the two of you might still be able to reconcile and get back together. Their refusal to emotionally let go is the only thing keeping the relationship from dying, even if in reality the relationship has been dead for years. So the first step is to ask yourself: “If I allow myself to completely detach from the relationship, what do I fear will happen? Is there something I’m holding out for?”

Here’s how you can reduce your level of attachment: on a scale from 100 to zero, how attached are you—to the person and to the relationship? (100 = you couldn’t be more attached; 0 = you just don’t care anymore.) Let’s say your number on the attachment scale is 50. That means 50% of your heart is still attached to your ex-husband, and that means you will only be half-hearted with any new romantic interest.

Your task is to reduce the number on your attachment scale so that it is close to zero. You talk yourself out of the relationship–and down the attachment scale—by telling yourself such things as “He ignored me for so long. I don’t want that in my life, so I’m going to reduce my level of attachment on the scale 3 points.” And then, “I want someone who wants me. He doesn’t want me, so I’m going to reduce my attachment by 5 points.”

If you think of a room where the ceiling is at 50, and you drop 8 points, your number on the attachment scale falls to 42. So think of the ceiling falling to 42. The ceiling can fall, but not raise, so you can’t let yourself get sentimental and jump right back up to 50 again. In this manner, bit by bit, you talk yourself down on the attachment scale until you are 3 or under. This will take time—you want it authentic and genuine—but if you stay at it, you will climb down that scale of attachment.

Once you reach close to zero, you can begin to heal, and you will be ready to explore another relationship where you can be completely whole-hearted with someone new.

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