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Updated: November 27, 2014

No One Will Tell You Exactly How to Get Over an Ex, So I Will

It’s that time of year: turkeys are being deep-fried, Christmas party invites are going out… and you can’t stop thinking about your ex. Who is he bringing to Thanksgiving instead of you? What douchebag will be putting some cheesy trinket under the tree for her this year? Your heart breaks just imagining it, even though you haven’t been together in weeks. If only you could wave a wand and stop the pain.

We’ve all been there, but thanks to John Gottman’s pioneering work at the University of Washington Love Lab, you don’t have to be a character in a Wham! video anymore. I’m about to teach you a reverse lifehack that will systematically destroy all longing for the person who broke up with you. Note: this isn’t for the faint of heart; like all those spells from Once Upon a Time, it’s not easily reversed and comes with a hefty price. So, if you think there’s even the remotest chance of you getting back together, don’t try this.

One of the pillars of Gottman’s work, highlighted in Malcom Gladwell’s book Blink, are what he calls the Four Horsmen of a relationship “apocalypse”: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling. These are the things that take down relationships, by eroding the attraction and affection that drew you together in the first place. One of the hardest things to do when a relationship ends, especially if you are the “dumpee” or if there was a betrayal that came out of nowhere, is to stop seeing the person through rose-colored glasses. If you want to erase all those warm and loving feelings for someone you’re really better off without, you can deliberately engage Gottman’s Four Horsemen in a session of “mental calisthenics” to turn your heart in another direction (do not try this exercise in person; use a journal, meditate, or just turn it over in your mind while you’re going about your day). As you practice these four steps, your tenderness toward The One That Got Away will magically become apathy for Somebody That You Used To Know. Again, do not try this if you are “taking a break” – engaging the Four Horsemen is not something to be done lightly, as it will plant a seed of discord in your heart for your ex that will likely be irreversible!

Horseman One: Criticism

Think about all the things that bothered you about your ex. Be as critical as you can possibly be, to the point of ridiculousness. Go to your darkest place and think about all the things that bothered you at first, but that you let slide because you were “in love.” Was his comb-over a little too Donald Trump? Did he wear New Balance sneakers with acid wash jeans before you took him shopping? Did he have any style or taste before you? How about her muffin top? Wasn’t it annoying how she never found time to get on a treadmill, but always had time to binge on Netflix with a bowl of potato chips? Didn’t you hate it when she laughed about your aviator sunglasses, while rocking those ridiculous Mary-Kate Olsen knockoffs? Be as critical as you can possibly be. Make a list if you need to (but burn it – trust me, you don’t want that list being seen by anyone but you).

Horseman Two: Defensiveness

Now, put yourself on the witness stand. Get all up in your self-righteousness, and defend whatever things your ex might have been critical of. Maybe he broke up with you because he claimed you stopped taking care of yourself. Wasn’t it because you were so busy picking up his socks or hello, taking care of his children? How can he say that?! Did she complain that you didn’t have a good enough job? I guess we can’t all prostitute ourselves for a raise or have Daddy’s friends give us internships at Ivy League start ups, right? She didn’t understand you at all – some people have to work for a living! Again – go there, be hyperbolic. Get up on your high horse and defend yourself like your ex is trying to make a federal case out of why you deserved to be dumped.

Horseman Three: Contempt

Gottman often refers to Contempt as the best predictor of divorce, because it puts another person in a position that is lower than you, and you cannot be a partner with someone you cannot see as your equal. Cultivating contempt for an ex is a very powerful kind of brainwashing, because it disables you from ever seeing them as someone you could be on the same level with. To cultivate contempt for your ex, you have to be more than critical – you have to be downright insulting. Contempt is a personal attack that tears down another person. It’s not, “She always left these gross piles of hair in the shower;” it’s “She was a disgusting slob who didn’t even value basic cleanliness.” He’s not “a guy who always flirts with other women;” he’s “a philandering misogynist who only sees women as objects.” Contempt takes criticism a step further by reducing a person to a stereotype or object. It removes their humanity and allows you to reject them as a lesser being who isn’t on your level.

Horseman Four: Stonewalling

Stonewalling is the final step in the end of a relationship: complete and total disengagement. It’s when you put up a figurative “stone wall” between you and another person, completely shutting them out. When you’re trying to get over an ex, this means complete and total disengagement. If you’re in the same social circle, it doesn’t mean being a jerk; on the contrary, it means just not having anymore meaningful conversations with them, not sending them a Christmas card (do you really want to see a picture of him and his new wife in ugly sweaters anyway?). It means disconnecting – cutting off all the unnecessary “casual” ties you’ve maintained up until now. This person no longer has a reason to be an integral part of your life. For your own mental health, keep them at a deliberate distance. And yes, you should de-friend her on Instagram and Facebook. Scanning her selfies isn’t going to get you over her any faster, dude.

In the beginning, this process may feel like “Sour Grapes,” and yes, using the Four Horsemen to get over an ex might seem extreme. If you’re still wasting your life and your energy mourning the past, you’re closing off any chance of future happiness with someone who is right for you. So move on!

One caveat: now that you’re familiar with the Four Horsemen, do your best to keep them out of your next relationship. If you find yourself being critical of the future Mr. or Mrs. You, getting defensive about your life choices, personally attacking who they are, or shutting them out when you don’t want to hear them out, you’ll quickly find yourself on the road to another breakup!

Nobody wants to go through that again, right?

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