In one of my workshops for women, Gina blurted out that she decided not to go to her high school reunion because she couldn't bear running into Gerry and seeing him happy. "I never stop thinking about him and our one date, after all these years. It's gotten worse since my divorce."

There was a loud round of applause, sighs and other sounds of recognition. Vicky confessed that she searches at least three times a month the name of the young man who sat next to her in biology. "I even found out he's a divorced dad. It took some digging, but I found it." And Maria blushed when she revealed that before going to bed she fantasizes that Mario, her high school crush, falls in love with her. "Every night. Best kiss ever," she said. "My husband is a lousy kisser." Everyone laughed. "And sometimes, he's lousy in general."

These women, from a wide range in ages, are all educated, trained professionals with important job responsibilities. Many of the women are single--still or again, while others are married.  What they all share in common is that they manage their unhappiness in love with romantic obsession.

Of course, thinking about the past intimate relationships that you wished had worked out is not automatically a signal that your current situation is in peril. However, when these thoughts take up too much of your time and energy, then you just might be living in a fantasy world to escape the real one.

Here are some warning signs that you might be developing maladaptive strategies to cope with your unhappiness.  Unfortunately, today's social media on the Internet facilitate living in the past.  After all, just search your past flame's name, and there he or she is!

1. You write frequently about him or her in your journal. 

2. Sad movies, books or televisions shows "take you right back" to your memories of dashed love.

3. You can't fall asleep or wake up in the morning without fantasizing about this person.

4. Whenever you feel lonely, depressed or unhappy with your partner, your thoughts go right to this person from your past.

5.  You search this lost love many times and different ways so you can find a photograph and discover personal information about him or her. You also search for the background and photos of the person's spouse or partner.

6. Your feelings intensify, especially when you are unhappy.

7. You create a perfect version of this person. He or she understands you as no one else has--and the sex is the best.

8. You strategize how you can contact him or her.

9. You save mementos and news clippings about this person.

10. Over time, you notice that your feelings for this person have intensified, that your time thinking about him or her has increased and that the time between thoughts and actions regarding this person has shortened. Pay special attention to this warning sign.

The danger of being swept back into memories of past loves and crushes is that they distract you from facing your problems in your relationship and life. For example, these fantasies are so powerful that your current--or future partners--can never live up to your expectations or sustain the love high.  Most  lost love opportunities are idealized partners whose appeal increases as your happiness goes down.

Unfortunately, breaking the stranglehold of past love crushes and regrets is not easy. Holding onto these fantasies is a form of hoarding.  People can't part with their keepsakes--or love memories--because they provide a sense of connection.  People collect things and, in the case of incomplete love, they collect feelings of closeness and aliveness. Clinging to intense crushes and longings is a form of attachment.  Even though recalling the long-ago love is a painful experience, it is also a bittersweet one, laced with just enough pleasure to prompt you to repeat the longing.

The brain becomes an accomplice in sustaining multiple neural connections that are pleasurable  For example, we might remember a song or scent or favorite restaurant. Pieces of these memories are stored in various areas of the brain.  When you recall an emotionally intense memory, regardless whether it is happy or sad, the brain gets aroused.  And since part of the love memory makes you feel good, your brain triggers neuro-chemicals of pleasure such as dopamine and oxytocin. The result is that you feel happy, alive, stimulated and close to someone--even if you are not with them now.

So, what can you do to limit the obsession and live in the present--and increase your chances of a happier future? Here are some basic tips for stemming the power of incomplete love.

1.  Limit your attachment to the past. Reduce the time you will spend each day, week or month thinking about the person or engaging in activities about the person such as surfing the Internet for information.  Set specific times, for example, when you are allowed to fantasize.

2. Replace night time and morning fantasies. Find something else to think about at night when you go to sleep and when you wake up.  For example, think of something pleasurable you want to do. 

3. Develop new interests. Try new things alone or with your partner. New activities spark learning, excitement and a sense of vitality and renewed closeness to your partner.

4. Reassess. Think of positive things about your current partner. Think about what is not so perfect about your crush or past love.

5. Commit to mature and responsible  intimate relationships. Face your love problems.  Sustain kind interactions with your partner and work as a team to develop solutions to your important problems. Keep your focus on the remedy not the past history.

6. Be realistic. Don't look for a "soul mate" who knows your every thought, loves everything you do and worships you. Instead, know what you need in a relationship. Focus on the good qualities of your existing partner and discuss what you are missing. And if you are seeking a new partner, think about what qualities about your past love or crush are valuable--and realistic--to look for in a new person.

7. Get professional help. Changing maladaptive behaviors that have given you pleasure is very difficult. There's no shame in not being able to do it without help. Think of it this way:  You deserve the best shot at happiness, and you might need a guide to achieve it.