Recently, a young woman told me about a guy who had disappeared after exhibiting some fairly skittish behavior. Now she was questioning herself, wondering why her relationships never lasted.
I asked her to consider her behavior in this relationship. Did she have any regrets? Is there anything she’d do differently?
She was silent for a minute. Then she said, “Well, it sounds arrogant, but no.”
The young woman assumed I was trying to coax her into coughing up some terrible mistake she had made, but everything she told me gave me the sense that she had managed the experience extremely well. She had handled herself with dignity and treated her ex with understanding and kindness. Yes, it didn’t work out, but when she examined her own behavior she didn’t see anything to regret.
Like a lot of people, she approached her post-breakup analysis from the perspective of “What did I do wrong?” This can be valuable, but many people neglect an even richer source of data: “What did I do right?”
Were you genuine in this relationship? Were you a good sport when she said she had to work late? Were you kind to his grandmother? Did you generally treat your ex with consideration and respect? Did you maintain your dignity?
These things are just as worth noting as, say, the fact that you felt jealous or insecure sometimes. In fact, I think it’s more valuable, since it’s easier to build on strengths than to correct flaws. So after you’re done beating yourself up over a breakup, consider these questions:
- What did you do right in your last relationship?
- When you look at your conduct in it, what are you most proud of?
- How are you progressing overall? When you look at your past relationships, or your time on your own, what have you learned?
- How can you build on this wisdom and strength?
I’m not saying you shouldn’t acknowledge mistakes or weaknesses—if you were overly demanding or rude, sure look at that.
But don’t use the fact that a particular relationship ended as evidence that you’re hopeless. There is a lot of insight and wisdom to be gained from relationships that don’t last forever. And often, these more difficult relationships can show us what we’re made of—you don’t really get tested when life is candlelight and roses. A breakup is actually a perfect opportunity to see how you perform under emotional stress, and understand how those qualities can serve you in the future.
Sara Eckel is the author of It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. You can get a free bonus chapter of her book at saraeckel.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Ask her any questions here.