Have you heard of this before?

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I came across this in a session this week that you want to keep in the back of your mind and that is valuable for relationships.


It’s called the “Phantom Ex.”


Have you heard of it before?


“Phantom Ex” is the concept where thoughts, emotions, or fantasies about a former romantic partner persist and even interfere with a current relationship. 


You’re still emotionally attached to your ex-partner, and it can manifest in these 5 ways. 


  1. Unresolved Feelings: They may have unresolved feelings, such as guilt, or regret, related to the previous relationship.

  2. Comparisons: The individual compares their current partner to their ex, often idealizing or romanticising the qualities or experiences they had with the ex-partner.

  3. Insecurity: Feelings of insecurity or inadequacy in the current relationship can arise because they believe their ex was a better match or that they could not move on from their ex.

  4. Impact on Communication: Fantasizing about the ex can lead to decreased communication and emotional intimacy in the current relationship. It can increase the frequency of arguments and disagreements. 

  5. Difficulty Moving Forward: They may struggle to fully invest in the current relationship, as their emotional energy is still tied to the past.


The client I was working with this week, let’s call her Jane. She is in a relationship. Let’s call him Mark, but she frequently talks about her ex-partner. 


She idealizes her ex, praising his sense of emotional intelligence. Whenever Mark and Jane have a disagreement, she mentions how her ex would have handled the situation better. 


Mark feels overshadowed by Jane’s past relationship, and this comparison creates tension in their relationship.


It also creates tension in Jane’s life as her life doesn’t match her desire. The phantom ex strikes. 


This isn’t the only time this has happened. Sometimes, single people can’t stop thinking about an ex. Even though they may have separated years or even decades ago, they still have feelings towards them and regret their breakup. 


These unresolved emotions make it challenging for people to fully commit to a new relationship. 


Buuuuuttt. If you’ve been hangin’ in these halls for a while, you’d have heard about the problem under the problem.


And because someone presents with a deep longing for a past relationship doesn’t mean that it is the true, deeper issue. 

Sometimes, as you dig deeper, there is a conflict between the desire for emotional closeness and intimacy and the fear that they’ll become dependent on their partner. 


As their mind holds onto the idea of the ex, it creates a sense of closeness and comfort, but it also avoids being vulnerable and allowing someone in.


Often, this can stem from childhood and the come-close-go-away experiences they had with adults who cared for them.


So what is the best pathway forward? 


You have to let go of the past to move into the future. 

  1. Making a list of the exes and every downside about them (think all 7 areas of life), until they are certain they don’t want to be with them anymore.

  2. Get on the path and purpose. When you are busy doing something meaningful, you are concerned if one individual of the almost 8 billion people on the planet isn’t in a relationship with you. 


Phantom Ex” phenomenon can be a challenging hurdle in our pursuit of meaningful relationships. While thoughts of past partners may linger, they often mask deeper emotional issues and fears. 


The key to moving forward is self-awareness and taking proactive steps. Letting go of the past, acknowledging unresolved feelings, and working on personal growth can pave the way for fulfilling connections in the present and future.


By recognizing and addressing these patterns, we can break free from the haunting grip of our “Phantom Ex” and embrace the potential for authentic relationships.