Forcing yourself to forget about painful past experiences is impossible. But holding onto negative feelings from past relationships can hurt your present and your future.
While it’s completely normal (and healthy) to grieve failed relationships for a time, dwelling on anger, resentment, and regret long-term can cause harm and prevent you from healing – or finding happiness with a potential new partner.
Maybe you’ve just had your heart broken. Or perhaps you’re struggling to move on peacefully from a relationship breakdown many months – or even years – on.
Whatever your situation, we hope these tips help you let go of your relationship baggage.
Let yourself grieve
There’s no way around it: breakups suck. Let yourself feel the feelings. Be gentle with yourself and don’t rush to ‘get over it’ before you’re ready.
Losing a relationship can cause real pain and grief, and denying yourself that grieving process can lead to more problems down the track.
Give yourself permission to explore your strong emotions in a safe space, like in your journal, with a loved one, or with a counsellor.
Don’t: Express your anger in unhealthy or unsafe ways you might regret later. You might find it helpful to write a letter to your ex and then burn it, or try exercises like running or boxing.
Remove painful memories
It might be tempting to scroll back through your texts from happier times, but this can cause more harm than good.
Remove anything that brings up painful feelings or memories. Delete text messages, throw away photos or letters, and return their belongings back to them.
If you like to hold onto items from the past for sentimental value, it might be a good idea to put them in a box in the back of your cupboard until you feel emotionally ready to reminisce again.
Don’t: Hold onto photos or items from past relationships if they prevent you from healing and moving on.
Look for the lessons
There are often some valuable lessons we can take from relationships that didn’t work out.
Self-reflect and consider what you can learn from the experience. Take responsibly for your part in the relationship breakdown, and use it as a springboard for self-development. Maybe you have issues with jealousy, or perhaps you’d like to work on asserting boundaries.
Be honest with yourself about where you might have room for improvement and what you might want to work on for your next relationship.
Don’t: Ruminate on what you could’ve or should’ve done. Thinking obsessively about something over and over can prevent you from accepting what’s happened and moving forward.
Work on yourself
Breakups can make us feel lonely. We’re no longer factoring that person into our daily lives. But this also offers a great opportunity to be a little selfish.
Maybe you put some dreams on the backburner while you nurtured your relationship. Or maybe you’re not quite sure who you are as an individual. This is the perfect time for self-discovery and self-care.
Get a fulfilling hobby, nurture your other relationships, try something new, and work on your goals. This is your chance to think about what you want in life without having to consider someone else.
Don’t: Post your highlight reel to your socials to rub in your ex’s face. If you find yourself taking photos of your good times and fun activities just to spite them or remind them what they’re missing out on, it might be time to unfriend/unfollow.
Consider what’s important to you in a relationship
A breakup provides the time and space to think about what you’re looking for in your next relationship.
List the things that are important to you and the deal-breakers you’re not willing to compromise on. For example, your ex might’ve struggled with communication or didn’t make the effort to get to know your friends. These might be things on your ‘red flags’ list moving forward.
Don’t: Get caught up comparing everyone to your ex or unfairly judging them based on small similarities to your ex (e.g. they both work in the same industry or they’re both an only child). There are bound to be some overlaps here and there. As long as those overlaps don’t include toxic or disrespectful behaviours, try to give people a chance and get to know them before writing them off.
Don’t excessively talk about your ex to your new partner
Finally, if you do decide to get back out there and meet someone new, avoid making your ex a regular topic of conversation.
It’s normal to discuss past relationships to some degree, put it can be a red flag for a potential new partner if you’re talking about your ex all the time – especially if you seem to have some unresolved feelings.
If you’re having a hard time healing from a past relationship, talking to a counsellor can help. You can learn more about our counselling service here, or call 1300 364 277 to book an appointment in person, over the phone, or via Zoom video call.