How do I stop feeling bad after my breakup?


TheCEOofGoogle asks:

I (22M) feel bad after breakup up with girlfriend (21F). Help. I know I shouldn’t, because it’s what is best. But I feel HORRIBLE. I know I broke her heart, or at least made her very sad. This hurts more than being broken up with.

Demetrius says:

Trust me when I say that I can relate to this on a lot of levels. When people think of breakups (or anything related to dating, sex, or relationships for that matter) they usually think about popular depictions in media. Big blow ups and arguments about some major transgression, betrayals of trust that tear whole families apart, all the things that make for compelling entertainment. Most people’s breakups are a bit more mundane. You grow apart, you realize you aren’t a good fit, one or both of you stop trying, things like that. As a society, we tend to focus on the more scandalous aspects of breakups, or at the very least, the pain of the person who is broken up with but rarely do we ever focus on the pain of people who do the breaking up. It would be really hard to sell tickets to a movie whose premise is “amicable breakup that hurts both parties, but overall it was a great idea for both of them”, you know?

Let’s assume that the reason for your breakup is a good one and your partner isn’t a bad person, just a bad person for you to be with. In that case, I’ve found that this is often a much harder thing to bounce back from than being left abruptly. For one, you’ll always have a little bit of lingering doubt. What if I just tried harder? What if I gave them another chance? What if they could change? That little voice in your head can become a booming echo.

What helps me, and maybe what will help you, is putting it all in perspective.  Pros and Cons sound good in theory, but it makes people assign weight and value to things that often can never even out. Whatever the primary reason for the breakup really is, there’s more to it than just a tally of good or bad. Here’s how to put it into perspective: Not knowing the cause of your breakup, I’ll just hypothesize that the primary reason was that you felt that she was selfish. What would that mean in practice? Well, it’d probably mean that felt like you put in more effort than she did, that you felt the relationship was one-sided, that you felt like you couldn’t count on her for anything major, and so on. Keep going down that path. Even if it’s a different reason, really think about why you wanted to end things. Then, start getting specific. Hypothetically speaking, If you think that she was selfish, what does that mean in terms of specific actions that she took? How often did you feel like she didn’t prioritize you? When was the last time she did something for you primarily, and not for her, but secondarily for her benefit? What did she do when you asked her to do the things you wanted to do, and what did she expect of you when the tables were turned?

Just try it out, and do so without malice. Something that helped me when dealing with breakups is the idea that most people aren’t purposely malicious, they just are who they are.  Don’t make it an exercise in trying to find reasons to hate your ex, use it as a reminder that you made the right decision. That decision may have been one you mostly figured out subconsciously, so try to tap into why ending it was a bad idea on a conscious level. While you might want to avoid hurting people, sometimes that’s just a part of life and love. Breaking up with her hurt, but it’s probably better in the long-term for both of you. Someday, this pain will be useful to you both.

Good Luck Out There.

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