Thinking about your failed relationship is similar to replaying scenes from a movie in your mind. Replaying the scenes from the good times in your relationship can lead you to continue grieving or to grieve anew for what you no longer have. Your ruminations about the failed relationship can take on an obsessive quality, as though your thoughts and the feelings that stir within you are beyond your control.

At other times, you may focus on scenes that anger and disturb you, which block the good but painful memories and provide temporary relief because you are no longer involved. However, thinking about the horrible scenes from your failed relationship may cause strong negative emotions to come forth, impinging on your ability to enjoy life.

Why is it so hard to change your mood and stop thinking about your former partner when a relationship fails? Your unhappy disposition and obsessive thoughts following a failed relationship have a neurochemical basis. Researchers have found that levels of dopamine and serotonin in your brain are actually altered in ways that are similar to those of an addict withdrawing from a stimulant and that failed relationships can result in increased brain activity linked to obsessive-compulsive behaviors, anger management problems, depression, anxiety, and high-risk decision making.

Understanding why you continue to ruminate about your partner long after the relationship is over may help you to rescue yourself by imposing damage control so that you won’t act out in ways that could hurt yourself. White knight relationships can be highly stimulating emotionally and sexually, and some are intensely dramatic. When the relationship has ended, your brain may seek similar stimulation, and you may crave something to fill the empty space that was occupied by your rescued partner. In your efforts to regain physiological and psychological balance, your search for pleasure and emotional closeness may lead you to engage in risky, promiscuous, or addictive behavior. Highly stimulating or intoxicating activities will numb you temporarily but they will not help you to rescue your self.

Letting go requires emotional and cognitive effort on your part to redirect yourself in a healthy way. Engaging in challenging activities that require intense focus and attention-for example, starting a creative endeavor or a new sport; completing unfinished tasks; or seeking career, professional, or volunteer opportunities-will help you feel good about yourself and also help you to direct your feelings in positive ways in the aftermath of your relationship failure. Also, you are more likely to find a healthy relationship when you yourself are healthy. When you do think about your failed relationship, do so in the context of learning from your past behavior, understanding what you really want and need, and figuring out what you can do differently in the future.


This blog is in no way intended as a substitute for medical or psychological counseling. If expert assistance or counseling is needed, the services of a competent professional should be sought.

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© Copyright 2013 Mary LamiaPh.D., All rights Reserved.
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Dr. Mary Lamia is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst who works with adults, couples, adolescents, and preteens in her Marin County private practice. She is a professor at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. Extending psychological knowledge to the public has been her endeavor for thirty years. Dr. Lamia’s opinion has been sought in hundreds of television, radio, and print media interviews and discussions, and for nearly a decade she hosted a weekly call-in talk show, KidTalk with Dr. Mary, on Radio Disney stations. Her books include: Emotions! Making Sense of Your Feelings; Understanding Myself: A Kid’s Guide to Intense Emotions and Strong Feelings: and, The White Knight Syndrome: Rescuing Yourself From Your Need to Rescue Others.