Scarred by a painful breakup? It’s worth re-examining the relationship–not to linger on the pain, but to learn from the experience with the hopes that your next relationship is that much healthier. From Total Memory Makeover: Uncover Your Past, Take Charge of Your Future, by Marilu Henner.
When you fear your past, you give it power. I’m often asked about bad breakups in one’s past, especially by women. They’ll say, “Come on, isn’t there some guy who broke your heart, and now you don’t want to remember and relive that experience?” Yes! Yes, of course I have that in my past. I’m a grown woman with two children, and I have been married three times. Before and in between marriages, I have dated, and my heart has been broken more than once. What woman or man, young or old, hasn’t had their heart broken? As for the second part of the question, whether I wish to forget and not relive that experience, no, not really. If you don’t reexamine those heartaches once in a while, it is even more disturbing and painful. Life has to be aired out. You have to find the humor and the lesson in everything, even (and maybe especially) a breakup. When I look back at every relationship I’ve had, even my short and tumultuous first marriage, I can see the passion and humor we both had together, and how much I learned about being married from such a bad example of what I would ultimately want. My ex and I (all my exes and I!) are good friends to this day, and I know a lot of it is because my memory has made it possible to refresh the good times and lessons for both of us, thereby making us more understanding and forgiving of one another.
When a relationship ends, a deep emotional impression is left behind. It is very difficult to walk away without spending days, weeks, even years ruminating about what went wrong. Like it or not, this has all the ingredients of what makes a lasting memory: adrenaline, passion, pain, deep thought, and frequent review. Although the source of this experience is pain, a great deal can be learned from all that ruminating and suffering. This is how we grow emotionally. Hopefully, after an experience like that, we have gained a lot of knowledge and experience on this particular subject and can enter the next relationship with much more maturity. The lessons provided by a grieving period can be a good thing, as long as this period doesn’t last too long. There comes a point where you have to move on. Getting past the negative thoughts and feelings is difficult but important. You have to be willing to look at the situation honestly. Admit to the negative contributions you were responsible for in the relationship, as well as the positive things your former partner contributed.
When we look back honestly at a traumatic experience, we don’t just relive the pain; we also relive the lesson. We learn and grow and become stronger. The negative moments from our past help us better appreciate the moments we embraced and enjoyed, in the same way that a blizzard outside helps us better appreciate sitting by a warm fireplace inside.
Facing difficult memories reduces their emotional impact through the natural course of repeated exposure. Revisiting helps you better understand a memory each time you analyze it. Instead of avoiding them, try to think of bad memories with the same appreciation you have when going through an archive box you haven’t touched in ten years. Each item that comes out tells a story, and seeing it many years later gives new insight compared to how you understood it when it actually happened. A current perspective gives you a more objective understanding. You begin to clearly recognize why you made certain choices and how you would respond differently to similar circumstances in the future. More often than not, it’s a way to conquer what you fear most. There may even be a grieving process as you heal from something you’ve been holding on to for a while. Allow yourself to feel all of it. If you block yourself off from a feeling, it’s just going to rear its ugly head somewhere else. It could even become an “emotional bogeyman.” Facing your life’s darker moments allows them to wash over you, and afterward you can say to yourself, “Okay, I can pick myself up and move on.”
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