Thinking About Your Ex Has Legit Benefits (& Science Agrees)

Just the mention of an ex can conjure up a lot of feelings. No matter how it ended, who broke up with who, and where you are with your ex currently in regard to civility, there's a lot there to unpack. You were, after all, in a relationship with this person and now, for whatever reason, it's over. Which, if you're honest with yourself, is a good thing. But as much as the thought of an ex can throw you around mentally and emotionally, thinking about them isn't as bad as you think. It actually has its benefits.

According to new research by the University of Kansas published in the European Journal of Psychology, despite previous studies on the topic, thinking about your ex can positively affect your current relationship. As the researchers found when they asked the participants to reflect on the nostalgic memories of their ex, as opposed to the negative stuff that may have come about during the relationship, they were able to perceive their current relationship in a far more positive light. How exciting is that? It turns out that your ex actually serves a purpose — as long as you can immerse yourself in the nostalgia of that former flame.

If you need to enhance how you feel about your current relationship, then take a step back and think about the past. You're likely to walk away with a handful of benefits in your pocket.

You're reminded of the positivity of romantic relationships

In 2022, the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships published research by the University of Texas that examined the effect of romantic nostalgia on relationships. In the study when the participants were asked to think and write about past romantic experiences, it allowed for overall greater relationship satisfaction.

Similar to what the more recent study found, when people are asked to revisit their former relationship, it triggers nostalgia, and that nostalgia is a reminder that love exists — something that's important to recall on days when you might be frustrated or second-guessing your current relationship. Although thinking about an ex isn't always a pleasant thing, if we just remember the good stuff, we can get her warm and fuzzy feeling inside, and it spills over into our current relationship. Love, what it means, what it looks like, and all it promises, finds itself at the forefront of our brain, making us appreciate our ability to love and be loved.

It increases how you see the quality of your current relationship

Relationship quality isn't something that automatically comes with every relationship. Relationship quality can come and go over the course of a partnership and that's totally normal. We can't always be satisfied in our relationship, because like anything, there are ups and downs. 

But thanks to nostalgic memories, our perception of our current relationship is increased for the better. We come to see that what we have is better than what we had with an ex. We're able to revisit that former relationship, see the good but also see the bad in a way that reminds us why our ex is our ex. You did break up for a reason, after all. Happy and healthy relationships just don't end; there has to be something that's not working. It's this recollection that gives us pause and a clear view of our current relationship, a clarity that emphasizes how we view and interpret relationship quality. 

You realize how you've grown

With every relationship, there's a takeaway. That takeaway is, of course, a lesson, if not many lessons, learned. Growing as a person isn't just about the age you turn every year, it's also about maturing. It's about being able to look at your past, seeing what you did then that you can do better now, and actively making decisions that are responsible and wise. Granted, wisdom isn't an easy thing to harness, but with everyone we meet — romantic or not — we garner more life and relationship experience that we will eventually infuse into the next stage. While we may not know in the moment as it's happening, everything affects us, and growing from all of it is just a natural part of life.

As the study by the University of Kansas found, the nostalgia for an ex helps you see your own self-growth. Looking back, you can recognize how you've changed — ideally, for the better — and how that change affects your current relationship. Seeing the results of our emotional growth is an essential part of realizing that, despite how we might feel sometimes, we are evolving, and our lives and relationships are better for it.

It motivates you to work on your current relationship

Just as the study resulted in appreciating our partner, it also lit a fire under the butts of participants to work on their current relationship. When we stop taking things for granted and realize how special things are, we inevitably want to secure what we have and make it safe; we're motivated to do what it takes to make our relationship stronger, more committed, happier, and more satisfying. Examining our past partnerships is like holding a mirror up in front of us to inspire action in the now. Relationships take a lot of work, but the work is worth it when we consider how important our partner is to us.

However, while the study found that there were benefits to thinking about your ex, it wasn't exactly cut and dry. For those who have yet to get over their ex — and you know who you are, no matter what you tell yourself — going back to thoughts of them doesn't have the same positive effects. While getting over an ex is certainly not always easy, especially if you're still in love, it's paramount to move forward if you want your current relationship to be a success. If you can't give up the ghost of your ex, then it may be time to examine why you're in your current relationship. It's one thing to casually date in the hopes of getting over someone, but it's not fair being in a relationship when your mind is stuck in the past. It might be time to let your current partner go, and work on yourself for a bit.