Many people come to therapy because they are hurting from a relationship that didn’t end well. They may say things like “I wish I could go back in time to make things turn out differently” or “I don’t know how I’ll be able to survive without him/her in my life.”
But the truth is that we all have an incredible ability to bounce back from even the hardest splits. Here are three techniques you can use to counteract the sting of a failed relationship.
#1. Failure is in the eye of the beholder
The term ‘failed relationship’ is a misnomer. Sure, relationships might not work out as we had hoped, but that doesn’t make them failures. Unfortunately, our brains have a tendency to categorize people, events, and things into concrete, black-and-white categories. It helps us make sense of the messy, information-overloaded world we live in.
In the case of a ‘failed relationship,’ it’s important to remember that there’s always more nuance to the situation than your brain likes to accept. Failed relationships often have their own mini-successes. Perhaps you learned something about yourself that you didn’t know prior to the relationship. Perhaps you took up a new activity, hobby, or routine because of the relationship. Perhaps you saw a new part of the world or discovered a new health habit. Perhaps you have a better idea of what you’d like to see in your next relationship.
Do your best to avoid assigning value judgments to your past relationships, like saying ‘X’ was a success or ‘Y’ was a failure. Instead, accept the nuance that can be found in past relationships and learn from every experience, the good ones and the bad ones.
#2. Use past relationships as a catalyst for change
Two things can happen after we experience a failure or setback. We can:
- Disengage from future opportunities for self-improvement
- Lean in and use failure as fuel for self-growth
Try your best to follow step two. If you’re having difficulty finding the motivation to get back on your feet after a bad breakup, therapy can help. Often, what a mental health professional will help you discover is that you’re taking on far too much self-blame for the course of events that led to the split. You may be underestimating how much of life’s twists and turns are simply out of your control. This mode of thinking can cause problems in other domains as well, such as in parenting and professional pursuits.
It’s comforting to remind ourselves that we can’t control the future. We can’t control the choices other people make. We can’t force ourselves into a reality that may or may not come to pass.
What we can control are our thoughts, emotions, actions, and behaviors. The better we get at guiding our own ship, the less affected we become by the myriad of things beyond our control.
#3. Don’t give romance more due than it deserves
It’s also important to keep in mind that all of life’s relationships are meaningful. So, when we talk about ‘failed relationships,’ it doesn’t have to mean a failed romance. We can experience career breakups or family rifts that affect us just as deeply as a lost romance.
Moreover, when we experience a bad breakup, we can find comfort in the relationships we share with family members, friends, and co-workers. So, be cautious not to put your love life on such a pedestal that you alienate your other close relationships. (By the same token, be careful not to alienate your romantic partner by investing too much in other relationships.)
One of the keys to healthy living, and longevity, is growing and maintaining many strong points of social contact. Cherish the bonds you have with all the people in your life and community. Do your best to help others and give back when you can. The strength we derive from our connections with others is perhaps our most powerful resource, and certainly the best antidote to moving past a failed relationship.
People inevitably come and go over the course of our lives. To respond positively to relationship losses, do your best to (1) avoid defining anything as a ‘failure,’ (2) reflect on any positives you can take away from the experience, and (3) cherish your other social bonds and use them nor a source of strength.