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Moving Past Guilt After a Breakup



One of the most heartbreaking aspects of my work as a couple’s therapist is navigating the unknowns, pain, and sadness following a breakup. While love songs, movies, novels, and popular television shows often portray the anguish of the person being left, there is another side that we don’t always explore or discuss as much: the healing process for the partner who initiated the breakup. The partner who decides that they cannot continue in the relationship is also the one who initiates the onset of pain.


Unless you’ve been the person who initiated the breakup, it may be difficult to imagine how guilty, worthless, and hurt you can feel for causing your partner pain. This can lead to depression, anxiety, and feelings of having made a terrible mistake. Your ex’s friends may resent you, and your ex’s parents may shun you, but with time, these wounds can heal, allowing you to move forward with the conviction that you made the right decision at the right time.

 

Guilt is a powerful emotion, and although it hurts, it should never be an excuse for staying in a relationship that isn’t working. I have suggestions on how to say goodbye when breaking up with your partner that can help you minimize your guilt and assist them in understanding why the breakup is necessary, providing closure so they can heal and move forward.


  1. Be honest with your partner. Never resort to sending a breakup text or email. An honest face-to-face conversation is always best. It shows your partner that you value them and the relationship enough to devote the time and space to explain your feelings.

  2. Acknowledge upfront that you will feel guilty and accept your role in the relationship's shortcomings. If you were neglectful or prioritized work over the relationship, own up to it and communicate it to your partner. Sometimes, we envision a future for ourselves that doesn’t align with the current relationship. If you recognize this, explain it so your partner understands.

  3. Understand that you are not responsible for your partner’s happiness. Your partner may lash out when you break up, accusing you of hurting them and ruining their life. Remind yourself that you are not responsible for their happiness, and sometimes honesty can provoke negative reactions. Don’t reconcile or return to your ex just because your partner is hurting.

  4. Encourage both yourself and your ex to confide in others. Having supportive friends and family to lean on during emotionally difficult times can be immensely beneficial for both of you.

  5. Trust and forgive yourself. Love comes with no guarantees, and it’s crucial to honor your instincts and emotions. If you are unable to love someone the way they deserve, it’s important to communicate that to them. Clinging to them out of fear that they won’t be okay is emotionally unhealthy and only makes it harder when the relationship inevitably ends.

  6. Cultivate gratitude. Channel your feelings of guilt into gratitude for the valuable lessons learned from the relationship, no matter how brief it may have been. Practicing gratitude can help alleviate feelings of depression and guilt that often accompany a breakup.

 

The majority of people experience at least one breakup before finding their significant other. If you are currently going through this or have in the past and still feel guilty, know that you are not alone. Breaking up with someone affects both parties, but it doesn’t signify failure. It means having the courage to love and let go when necessary, allowing each person to pursue happiness in the future. Guilt should never prevent you from doing what you know is right in your heart. Respect each other enough to recognize when it’s time to move on.

 

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