Despite what people may tell you, everyone has at least one relationship regret. In my almost 20 years of being a therapist, I have never met a client who didn’t wish they had done something different in a past relationship – it’s totally normal. The problem arises when you can’t let the regret go; when it keeps you tied to the past and prevents you from moving into the future. In this case, it’s important to identify exactly what the regret is about. Did you behave badly? Break someone’s heart in a way you’re ashamed of now? If so, perhaps you can make amends to them – write them a letter or email. If contact is not possible (or might make things worse for that person – definitely something to consider), then write a letter anyway without sending it. Pour into it everything you wish you hadn’t done, and what you would have done differently. This simple exercise can be a powerful aid in letting go.
But what if the relationship regret is that you’re afraid you’ve let “the one” get away? Many people struggle with this fear – oftentimes it’s an early or first love, and immaturity kept one or both people from being able to sustain the relationship. If this is your struggle, try to take an honest look back at the relationship, not just the best of times. Chances are that there were some valid reasons why the relationship didn’t last, despite the powerful feelings you remember. Sometimes even the most intense connection isn’t enough to keep life in a relationship; this is especially true if it lacks trust, honesty, empathy, or compassion.
Finally, take an aerial view: could there be another reason why you find yourself stuck in regret? Sometimes, even unknowingly, people keep themselves tied to the past – even a bad past – because it’s more familiar than an unknown future. Being bound to a regretful past can keep us from taking new risks, meeting new people, and daring to be vulnerable in a new relationship. If you’ve been hurt in the past, sometimes this can feel safer…but the truth is that it’s also pretty lonely. Depending on how long it’s been, you can use the passage of time to your benefit. What have you learned in the time since, and what will you do differently in your next relationship? The hurts of the past may just be the price you had to pay in order to get to a better future, a deeper relationship, and a new knowledge of yourself. Think about what it would mean to free yourself, and what you could gain…and when you might be ready to try to let yourself live without the regrets.