Ever since my relationship ended last year, I have been ravaged and consumed by guilt. He broke up with me in part because I was unwilling to go to therapy with him. I have long dealt with depression and anxiety that meds have never helped, my issues put a strain on our relationship, and I basically wasn’t the partner he needed me to be. I had very little energy toward the end of our relationship. I resisted everything, didn’t want to do anything, didn’t do my part around the house, put my needs first, and even lied at times to manipulate situations so they were more comfortable for me. I have since been in therapy and come to understand and even empathize with his decision to break up with me, but at the time, it felt like my world came crashing down. I felt abandoned when I needed him most, and I was angry. I said and did things I am deeply ashamed of, things that aren’t consistent with my true character—nothing violent, but I scared him, without really even meaning to. He cut me out of his life completely at that point. I feel like I ruined any positive memories he may have carried with him of our time together. It almost feels like those four years were a complete waste, for both of us, because of how poorly I handled things at the end. I can’t fix any of it. I can’t make him love, like, or even appreciate the good times we had again. I could have left the relationship on much more dignified terms, but I didn’t. I am solely responsible for the fact he’s gone from my life forever. I am extremely saddened and guilt-ridden about it. My therapist has been encouraging me to recognize the lessons and to forgive myself—she says forgiving myself is essential—but I just can’t seem to do it. All I want to do is go back in time and change things, make things right. I know I can’t, but nothing I have the power to do seems sufficient to take this pain away. Please help. —Broken Up
Dear Broken Up,
Your very sad story is touching. You’re worried that you’ve wasted four years of your life and clearly miss the man who was your partner, and you long for the good times you spent together. Nevertheless, your memories of the good are almost buried in your regret. I’m glad you’re seeing a therapist to help yourself grow and develop and learn how to hold onto the good, so you can learn to care for yourself and how to take care of yourself, too, and become a better partner. It’s apparent to me that you have accepted responsibility for your role in the way things ended, and that shows growth.
Part of human development is learning to accept yourself and your actions, your history, and use it as a springboard to move forward in your life. As your therapist says, forgiving yourself is essential. Once you do that, it’s time to shut the door on it. You cannot return to your past.
Clinging to the past and especially to regrets about your behavior may feel unconsciously like a way to cling to the person who was once your partner, but in fact it’s only a memory you’re attached to.
You seem preoccupied with thoughts about how your partner thinks of you now. You’re worried that the bad times will outweigh the good ones, and the good will be forgotten. This may or not be so for him—we don’t really know that—but what we can be sure about is what your feelings are. You can remember the good and the bad that you both experienced, forgive yourself, forgive your partner, and move on. The best testament to the good times you enjoyed in your relationship is the ability to hold onto the good and go forward with your life. The past has a vote, not a veto. It can vote to show you better paths in the future, but it cannot have veto power over the rest of your life.
After some time of healing and mourning, I hope you will be ready to move on and use all you have learned to forge a new relationship filled with compassion and love for yourself and the person who becomes your next partner, if and when you choose to pursue another relationship.
Clinging to the past and especially to regrets about your behavior may feel unconsciously like a way to cling to the person who was once your partner, but in fact it’s only a memory you’re attached to. The person has gone away, and you deserve something real, solid, and present.
I wish you patience and success as you continue your journey with your therapist.