Regrets Are Common After a Breakup

Oh how you sparkle, and oh how you shine.
That flush on your cheeks is more than the wine.
And he must do something that I didn’t do.
Whatever he’s doing, it looks good on you. [Chorus:]
You look so good in love.
You want him, that’s easy to see.
You look so good in love.
And I wish you still wanted me
-George Strait-

It happens all the time. We break up with the love of our life or they break up with us. Sometimes we know it’s coming. We plan for it and rehearse it. Other times it hits us out of nowhere. The person we love hits us from behind, or we find out something that changes everything. No matter if you have known the person for years or months, it hurts especially if we have to think of them with another person. There are feelings of anger, guilt, and despair, but mostly feelings of loneliness and the need to tell that person “one more thing.” A breakup can turn your world upside down, making it feel like you don’t know who you are anymore.

In a recent study Elizabeth Slotter (who recently published completed research on couples) comments, “We know that relationships change the way we think about ourselves; when a relationship ends, that sense of self ends.” Couples often share friends, do the same things in their free time, and talk about the future. They say things like, “we like traveling” and they finish each other’s sentences. The more committed they are to one another, the harder it is for them to distinguish their individual differences.

Slotter goes on to say that there is overlap between yourself and your partner’s self. When a couple breaks up, all of the pieces that use to mean so much and were shared are not meaningful anymore. When you no longer have a clear idea of who you are without your partner you become emotionally distressed. Breakups may not mean the relationship is over, sometimes they occur because something is missing or needs readjusting. The difficult part is to stay calm while in that state of not really knowing who you are without that person. Time heals many things, and what it cannot heal it at least makes clearer.

The level of pain differs depending on who actually broke it off. If you are the one who ended it, you may find yourself ruminating about it over and over. It will be helpful if you make a list of the reasons you have to or had to end it. When they are on paper you will be able to assess them more clearly. Was someone cheating? Did you love someone else? Did you begin to see this person in a different light due to some incident that occurred? Was the person becoming depressed, abusive, and or unmotivated? If you felt you exhausted all means to work on the issues, but the other person was not willing to work with you, then the chances of a successful relationship were low. If you noted character flaws within the person that didn’t match your values, the relationship would most likely have failed too. The more you explore each reason, the more understanding you will have of your choice to let go. This will help you let go during the breakup, and will also help you communicate the reasons to your partner without regret.

How to break up with someone in a way that minimizes regret (although there will always be some):

  • Always have your reasons clear in your mind. Be gentle, and think beforehand how you can take responsibility for the decision (don’t tell them it’s not you, it’s me). Something more along the lines of “this is the issue that bothers me, and right now I do not feel like I can fix it.”
  • Always break up with the person face-to-face. If you email or text, you will suffer regret. If this person was someone you cared deeply for it is disrespectful to break up over an email or text, and then you will have to apologize for being disrespectful.
  • Make sure you tell the person what you will really miss about them and what they taught you.

What if you are the person who is broken up with? Allow yourself feelings of hurt, anger, and defensiveness. Going up and down is normal at this time. It may help to write down how you are feeling so that you can get the emotion out without feeling like you are talking badly about your ex (remember, if you do work it out or get back together, your family will not be supportive if they have heard all of the terrible things you told them about).

A few tips to help minimize regret if you are the person broken up with:

  • It’s difficult to hear someone doesn’t love you anymore or want you in their life the way they once did. You can expect to feel hurt, resentful and depressed. This is why talking isn’t really helpful when it first happens. Try to engage in doing other things to keep yourself busy.
  • Make a schedule and stick with it. Plan to be with family more or make dates with friends so you won’t be alone. This is not the time to sit home alone and sleep or think. The more you are involved in, the better you will feel, and the sooner you will heal.
  • Don’t cling to the person. Telling them you want them back or driving to their home to watch who they are dating will make you feel worse and may scare them.
  • As much as possible, think about what you learned from this person and this relationship. Embrace the areas you grew in and let go of the behaviors that didn’t work for you. Relationships are all about learning about ourselves in a context sharing your life with someone else.
  • Lastly, allow time to do its job of helping to unravel confusion and hurt. Most breakups happen for reasons outside of both partners’ control. The sooner you can take responsibility for the part you played, the sooner you can get on with your life and not let the breakup destroy future joys.

Regret and sadness are passive feelings. The sooner you can identify and take an action, the sooner you will begin to feel better about yourself. That action could be a new hair style, going back to school, buying the motorcycle you always wanted, or taking a trip to Europe. The action (as long as it’s healthy) doesn’t matter. What does matter is you getting up, brushing off the dirt, and moving forward, taking whatever love you can from the broken relationship and believing it is possible to love another.