Post-Breakup Regret: How To Tell If Ending Your Relationship Was The Right Choice
A breakup is usually accompanied by a mix of conflicting emotions—but what if you're filled with a persistent feeling of panic and regret about the decision?
How do you know if you've made the wrong decision or if you're just in a momentary tailspin of second-guessing that's normal in the process of getting over a breakup?
It's never easy to leave a person you care for. So, take a deep breath. Here are a few key things to keep in mind that can help you feel more confident in your decision and begin navigating the difficult process of letting go and moving on.
First of all: Feeling grief doesn't mean you made the wrong decision
According to therapist Dennis Nguyen, LCSW, (no relation, by the way!) the feelings of paralysis and uncertainty are a perfectly normal reaction and should be expected. After all, decoupling signifies a time of intense and overwhelming change.
"All change comes with some grief," Nguyen tells mbg. "When we break up with someone, many folks may see that person less, have to change their living situation, or figure out how to navigate any shared friendships. Humans love routine and patterns—even when they're not helpful—and to disrupt this can lead to anxiety and fear about a new and unknown future."
As you're sorting through your feelings, your mind might be spinning with what-ifs and fickleness. It can be tempting to go back to what you knew and emotionally avoid the pain instead of going through the necessary journey of feeling the emotions and meeting your needs at a higher place.
Signs your breakup was the right decision:
You simply grew apart, and there's nothing left to repair.
Value differences and incompatibilities may be the reason the relationship cannot continue to sustain itself. Sometimes, love needs more than love and hard work—it requires mutual negotiation and reflection that the relationship honors your individual paths.
"Take a hard and honest look at your values. Remind yourself what led to you and/or your partner deciding to separate. For a breakup to happen, there must have been a rationale that made sense, and it's good to honor that," Nguyen says.
He shares a visual example of two people walking in a field: "When our values are in line, we're walking in the same general direction. When it feels like we're drifting apart, perhaps we may talk and find a common direction. When it feels like a relationship isn't in line with your values, people begin to consider heavily if it is in their best interests to stay the course or go off into a different path. Sometimes that can be repaired, and both of you can continue on a common course. Sometimes it's not worth the energy."
For the most part, you feel an overriding sense of peace and relief
Even though you feel peace, keep in mind those feelings may also be accompanied by emotions like fear, grief, anger, jealousy, sadness, and uncertainty—some of which are yours, and some which may belong to your partner. Not wanting to hurt someone you care about makes it harder to immediately land on acceptance about your decision.
But if you've been looking for a reason to end the relationship, it's usually valid, even if it's covered in anguish at first glance. Some partnerships can be suffocating and limiting to your progression as an individual, and leaving is essential to continue on your journey. Just because you're sad and feel like an emotional wreck doesn't mean it's enough of a reason to stay.
"Accept that you made a decision based on the limited information available," Nguyen advises. "No one will ever be able to get a full and impartial view of what happened. Give yourself some empathy that you did the best that you could with what you have."
You're more scared about what's next than actually missing them.
Will I feel lonely?
Will I be able to meet anyone else?
What if this was a mistake?
These questions are all normal after a breakup, says Nguyen: "All change, even if it is largely positive, comes with some anxiety, fear, or regret."
When you're thinking about the breakup, there can be a lot of sadness and pain around shared memories. Perhaps your life with them was easy and comforting, and imagining being on your own is terrifying. But don't let fear enable you to regress from your decision. It doesn't help you, and they don't deserve to be with someone who only wants to be with them because they don't want to be alone.
"The problem with the unknown is that it is precisely that: unknowable. We may not know answers to these questions for a while, if ever. All we can do is routinely ask ourselves what we need and try to walk toward that as much as possible. Sometimes we find out more information and have to change course, and that's OK," Nguyen says.
And remember: Breakups aren't always permanent
If you're still feeling uncertain about the decision, it is helpful to remember that breakups are not always permanent. You can always go back to that person with the added bonus of maturity and self-work, but sometimes it takes time alone to do it. If the ending of the relationship was done in love, there's always an opportunity to re-meet them later; just make sure it's for the right reasons and not because you're using them as a scratching post for loneliness.
"Remember that you are never truly trapped," notes Nguyen. "While we can't change the past, there are many more options in the future. Maybe there is room for an ongoing conversation with this person. Perhaps we have to move on and begin dating one of the many other wonderful people in the world. Or even give time to ourselves to be single. Thinking of the infinite possibilities may give you a headache, but at least remember there are options to move forward."
At the end of the day, no one can tell you if the breakup was the right decision—only you can. You may never feel 100% about your decision, but what's critical is you are honoring your present desires, which will help you grow into yourself. Take it moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day, until you are in a present where you're on your own path and not looking back into the past.
Julie Nguyen is a writer, certified relationship coach, Enneagram educator, and former matchmaker based in Brooklyn, New York. She has a degree in Communication and Public Relations from Purdue University. She previously worked as a matchmaker at LastFirst Matchmaking and the Modern Love Club, and she is currently training with the Family Constellations and Somatic Healing Institute in trauma-informed facilitation.