I’m Addicted to Looking Up My Husband’s Ex

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Reader’s Question

I need help. I am addicted to thinking about and finding out information about my husband’s ex-girlfriend. He broke up with her to date me, but I knew her prior to that. She is really pretty and an all-around nice girl and I can’t shake the jealousy. It’s been six years and I am finally realizing that this is a big problem for me. I haven’t voiced the way that I feel because rationally I am not threatened — I know that my husband is mine. Recently I found out that one of my husband’s family members is in touch with the ex, and it’s making me even crazier.

I hate to say it, but I stalk her Facebook page. I am addicted to checking her Facebook, Googling her names, etc. I am always comparing us in my mind and I find myself trying to be like her.

I don’t want to feel this way anymore.

Psychologist’s Reply

Wow! Six years is a long time to be keeping track of your husband’s ex and carrying this burden around. It is a positive sign that you are finally recognizing this pattern of behavior and looking for ways to change it before it escalates into something more. I can’t imagine that it feels good for you to constantly remind yourself of your husband’s previous relationship and not allow yourself to move forward and fully enjoy your marriage and life. As I’ve stated before, good or bad, technology provides us with endless opportunities to keep tabs on people and the details of their lives, which makes it difficult to separate and disconnect. An important first step in changing this behavior is to restrict or limit your access to her information as much as you can. One example would be to put her on your Facebook and email block lists, so that she cannot see anything about you on Facebook, and you also cannot easily access her information. Then, if you do get the urge to look her up, you will have to make a conscious effort to do so.

It is also important to try to identify your purpose and motivation for keeping track of the ex. Identifying and examining your underlying thoughts related to your behavior might help you gain a better understanding of the reasons behind looking her up and help you work to change it. When you get the urge to check in on the ex, stop and examine what you are doing and why. One way to do this is to write down what you are thinking and feeling in the moment. This should help in a few ways. First, it will interrupt the pattern and habit of what you are doing in the moment and make you more aware of your thoughts and feelings at that time. This brief time-out for writing things down will interrupt the cycle and, hopefully, cause a change in your behavior. Once you take the break to write these things down and process through your feelings, you may find that the desire to continue with the behavior has diminished and you can then redirect and focus your energies elsewhere. Becoming more aware of your thoughts and feelings in the moment will also help you to pinpoint the purpose of keeping tabs on the ex (e.g., what the behavior is all about for you), which can help you identify and make necessary changes in your life.

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You state that you don’t feel threatened by the ex, but then mention that you are “always comparing” yourself to her, try to “be more like her,” and are “made crazy” by the fact that a member of your husband’s family has stayed in touch with her, which all imply that you do feel bothered by and insecure about her. You don’t mention what your relationship is like with your husband, but it also sounds as though you might be feeling insecure and unsure of yourself and your relationship. Rather than secretly examining the ex’s life, perhaps you can devote the time and energy you currently use for checking up on her to building the relationship and life you want. Actively engage your husband, get involved in activities or volunteer work, join a club or group that shares common interests, invite people out to do things, etc. — both with and without your husband. Figuring out what is missing for you and creating a life and relationship that feel fulfilling and rewarding may help you feel better about yourself, let go of your husband’s past and lessen your need to follow up on the ex. If you continue to have difficulty changing your behavior, I suggest you explore it more with a licensed mental health professional.

If you find that your behavior has escalated to include concerning, unreasonable and/or scary stalking behavior (e.g., you begin following the ex, keeping tabs on her whereabouts, showing up at places you know she frequents, etc.) and/or you feel a compulsion or obsession to check in on her that you cannot control, it is time to recognize the seriousness of your behavior and seek professional help. Such behavior may be indicative of an underlying mental health issue that needs to be treated effectively in order to help you stop the behavior. The American Psychological Association’s Psychologist Locator might be helpful in finding a practicing psychologist in your local area.

I’m glad you recognize the potential destructiveness of your behavior and that you took the first step toward change.

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