How do I learn as much as I can from this breakup?
June 8, 2011 6:53 PM   Subscribe

Breakupfilter: When you are feeling regret for things you did that pushed the other person away or made them unhappy, how do you cope? How do you learn from your mistakes or even know if they were mistakes?

I'm getting over a relationship and I'm thinking about ways that I could have handled things differently and how I wish I would have acted if I know then what I know now (how much I miss this person now that they are gone).

For example, during a relationship break I was really angry and I didn't honor his birthday at all. And now I regret it.

I also remember times that I was angry or unkind and could have handled the situation better.

Is this a normal phase? Do you do this?

How do you make sure it is as effective as possible (so you don't make the same mistakes over and over)?

How do you know if this is just normal breakup pain or if these were truly mistakes to learn from?
posted by 3491again to Human Relations (10 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I think this sound like normal grief. Allow yourself to grieve, maybe journal how you are feeling, or even better- something I found helpful when getting over someone was to write a letter to the person and then hide it- never ever send it, but it helps.

Yes, you are allowed to learn and grow from this, but don't enforce learning and growing on yourself. Grieve. Allow time to pass. Breathe.

Allow yourself to heal.
posted by titanium_geek at 7:02 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

After my first real, serious breakup when I was 21, I made a blog that only I could see, and I made posts about all these kinds of things. I did it because I was in a lot of pain that I wanted to get out, but it became a habit and I kept it up for several more years through dating and breaking up with other people. It was THE way I started to understand myself, my habits, and relationships, just reading through years worth of posts and seeing all the patterns.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:23 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think it can be both. It's human to have regrets about the way you handle some events in a relationship, and you're more likely to feel regret if the relationship didn't work out in the end. You can certainly use these feelings as a learning experience. Since you feel bad, now you know to think twice about doing things like ignoring a birthday in the future. But to build on what titanium_geek says, don't spend all your time beating yourself up and forget to allow time to grieve the relationship.
posted by mlle valentine at 7:23 PM on June 8, 2011

Regret is integral to our experience but don't let it stand alone among all that compels you. Russian poet Vera Pavlova put it best in one of her works, I think about it a lot when everything feels full of turmoil:

If there is something to desire,
there will be something to regret.
If there is something to regret,
there will be something to recall.
If there is something to recall,
there was nothing to regret.
If there was nothing to regret,
there was nothing to desire.
posted by sestaaak at 7:43 PM on June 8, 2011 [21 favorites]

This is a tough one. I know that people always say that you'd still be together with your ex if you were right for one another, so you shouldn't dwell on mistakes you made, blah blah... However, the issue of making "mistakes" was a source of frustration for me after my break up like it is for you. To grow as people, we have to identify areas of our lives in which we are not being our best selves, and try to overcome the mental obstacles that are holding us back.

First off, stop being so hard on yourself. What you are going through right now is hard enough as it is, so try not to rehash the little details of your relationship too much. It wasn't anything in particular you did that caused the break up, so don't let feelings of regret take up much mental space. Be out and about during the day enjoying the present, and doing the things you love that don't involve your ex. Even being at work is better than being too introspective at this point. A healthy level of distraction to prevent a damaging level of regret is key.

One strategy that might help you at this point is to talk about your past relationship--just get it all out there--with a variety of supportive people in your life. They can offer you feedback and set you straight when you say "I should've done..." "I wish I'd done..." etc. etc. All of their collective wisdom can help you reflect upon your actions, his actions, what could've been done differently, and why those things happened the way they did. My friends and family played a huge part of my own growing experience after a break up.

Another strategy to help you learn from your past relationship is reading self-help literature. I recommend Christian Carter's e-book (the guy knows his stuff, seriously), Matt Huston's e-book, Evan Marc Katz's blog (geared towards an older audience, but it still has great info), and a book called Why Men Love Bitches (I might get flack for that, but whatever). Also, a youtube video binge about relationships and break ups might help you. Perusing a blog and forum called "How To Kick Love's Ass" was very instrumental in the final steps of my healing process. Use the wisdom of gurus and accounts of relationships posted on the internet to help you put everything into perspective.

Finally, realize that you will learn so much about yourself and your past relationship through the people you spend time with in the upcoming months. A couple of people (girl friends and a very special guy, heh!) that I grew closer to after my break up were instrumental in showing me why things worked out a certain way, and the part my actions played in them.

If you're religious, pray about it. That was my fourth source of learning. ;) Ask God for answers, and really take that quiet time to listen to what He's trying to tell you.

The more you learn about yourself, identify what you want out of life, and feel secure with who you are, the better you'll jive with anyone you date. Take time to work on yourself now, with utmost care and love.
posted by sunnychef88 at 10:37 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Remember to be a friend to yourself.

If you find yourself thinking something like "i can't believe i was so mean to my SO that time", then imagine what you would say to your best friend - probably something along the lines of "you weren't so mean, given the lead-up, and the circumstances. give yourself a break - it wasn't meant to be".

Be as much of a friend to yourself as you would be to others.
posted by greenish at 4:27 AM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

You acted the way that was right for the situation at the time it happened for the person you were. Your regrets may be tied to nostalgia for the good times with him, putting a positive glow on what had been a worse situation than you're willing to remember, and then judging yourself for being angrier at the time than your memories make you now. Of course you were more upset while it was happening - so it's easy to look back and be calm and say "surely I could have avoided lashing out like that!"

So in answer to your questions, yes, it's normal - or maybe too healthy of a thing to 100% qualify as normal - to be able to accept some fault in making a past relationship imperfect. Yes, I've done this, and I've had to find the balance between regretting that I acted the way I did, and going so far that I was also taking the blame for the things he did to set up the bad situation that caused my bad reaction. How do you know if it's just emotional regret or actually a lesson to be learned? You don't know right now, but you will. The skills you take away from this aren't necessarily "controlling your temper" skills, it's more about learning to logically recognize a situation before you emotionally respond to it, and using your experience to help you decide the best action. At the time, (you were upset and) you thought the best action was ignoring his birthday; now (you're upset in a different way and) you wish you had given him a present anyway; in a few months, you might decide that the best course of action would have been something else entirely. The key is to keep thinking and feeling.
posted by aimedwander at 7:05 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thank you so much for your help. I know I learned a lot from this (admittedly dysfunctional) relationship and hope to have relationships with a lot of passion but with less drama in the future.

I've marked so many as best answer, but I would mark them all if I could.

ashley801 - I've started a journal. Thank you.

sestaak - what a lovely poem, and so true about life.

sunnychef - HTKLA is amazing! Thank you. It's a big help.

If you find this thread later and it's still open, please post. It will probably take me a while to get over it so I'll keep checking back, and it might help others with their pain too.
posted by 3491again at 9:10 AM on June 9, 2011

The big one for me was realizing that it's not all about me. Give the other person credit for their independence and mistakes. I think sometimes it's control that we crave after a breakup, and not that relationship itself. We miss the certainty of having someone there, but not necessarily the person we were dating. We want this other, perfect version we dreamed up. We think if we'd changed our behavior that we could control the other person's response and made things better or easier somehow - make that dream version real. "If I'd celebrated his birthday ... If I'd had that talk ... If I'd made his favorite food more often ..." I, I, I, me, me, me, I can fix everything. Ahaha. Learn to see that train of thought for the lie it is. It's freeing to choose to be authentic and honest in the next relationship and work to recognize the desire for control when it comes.
posted by griselda at 9:52 AM on June 9, 2011 [12 favorites]

You have to come to terms with the past is the past, and no matter how many times you replay it in your mind, thinking of how you could have handled things differently, what's done is done and you can't go back and change it. Stop beating yourself up.

That being said, once you are in a place where you are over the break-up, you can acknowledge what you *might* have done differently, and keep that in mind for your next relationship. While most of my break-ups have hurt like hell, I've ALWAYS taken something constructive away.
posted by Amalie-Suzette at 10:30 AM on June 9, 2011

« Older Let's go ride bikes!   |   Where to scuba dive in June? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.