How To Learn From Your Past Relationship

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Digging into your past can be a pretty daunting prospect, but it’s also going to be an incredibly eye-opening experience, enabling you to see things for how they really were instead of how you wanted them to be. If you want to learn from your past relationship, you have to address it head on, willing to both accept responsibility and recognise the things that were wrong but that you maybe still continued to accept.

It will stop you from making the same mistakes in the future, if you can really address it all properly now. Which is going to be a major turning point – regardless of how confronting it may seem.

Know that you strong enough for this and it will lead to better things. Life is a learning process. We grow and evolve as we go. But self-awareness is fundamental for the transformation, so buckle up my lovelies, because we’re about to get super honest with ourselves!

“Self awareness doesn’t stop you from making mistakes, it allows you to learn from them.”

How To Learn From Your Past Relationship:

To get the ball rolling here and help you learn from your past relationship, I want us to try to create a Relationship Inventory.

To do this, you’re going to need your notepad and pen. Create two columns: to the left write the question and to the right allow space for your answers. Take a whole page for each if you need – it will enable you to write freely, cross things out, jot down new things.

Now if you’re anything like me, this is kind of my worst nightmare, because I’m such a perfectionist – I feel the pressure to remember everything and write down everything in one go.

But it doesn’t need to be perfect. Really it doesn’t. There’s actually no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer here, nor will anyone else read anything you say. So be open to different viewpoints, challenge the way you thought before and try to look into the relationship subjectively.

It’s going to really help you to process things, gain control over your thoughts, feelings and emotions, stepping out of the fantasy world we so frequently find ourselves in after a breakup.

See, we tend to view our former relationship in a light that doesn’t accurately reflect reality, remembering the good parts and blocking out the bad; craving what we miss. We compartmentalise the good and the bad, only revisiting only the parts we want – even if these are the ones that do not give us comfort. Instead, they keep us stuck in an unhealthy place.

To truly move forward, we have to assess our relationship for what it really was, gaining perspective again. So without further ado, let’s make a start.

Creating Your Relationship Inventory:

1) First up, make a list of all the positive things about the relationship. Please note: this is not specifically about your ex, but the relationship itself.

For example, you liked the closeness, the intimacy, the affection, having that company. Or more specifically to this particular relationship, you may have liked that you did lots of things with each other, perhaps you’d made a home together, or liked the dynamics you had as a couple integrating with his/ her friends or family.

2) On the contrary, write down all the negative things about the relationship.

So maybe you couldn’t go out with your friends as much as you’d like, you argued a lot, or -as hard as you tried – you still weren’t able to communicate effectively.

3) Now move onto all of the positive qualities you liked in your ex (and don’t let yourself get upset about this bit. He’s not so unique that you can’t find these things in anyone else!) Look at the traits he / she had which were important to you.

Things like being funny, creative, strong-minded, driven, supportive etc. Be honest with yourself though. With every trait you write down, make sure you truly believe it was actually him – and that it meets your standards. So for instance, one nice gesture doesn’t justify them being romantic – even if that was a big deal for him! Paint him for who he was, not who you thought he was or who you wanted him to be.

4) Again now, make a list of all the negative qualities you didn’t like in your ex: the things that you wanted to change.

Perhaps he was quite selfish, very negative, lazy even. It’s really important to get clear on what you do and don’t want, and by analysing your last relationship – you will have experienced some of these things first hand, which gives you a better idea of how things sit with you.

5) Now think back to any positive qualities in your ex, that turned negative over time. This is an interesting one because it gets you to potentially challenge the things you thought you wanted, and whether this person was actually a good match for you. It is therefore a key step to helping you learn from your past relationship.

For example, initially you may have been attracted to how laid back your partner was – only to then go on to resent their lack of drive or how they don’t really take control of their life. This doesn’t mean that they’re a bad person, but it should make you reconsider the kind of person you gel with. On the other hand, there may be things like – confidence turning out to be controlling. This is definitely not what you want, but by recognising it, you’re able to become more familiar with the warning signs in future potential partners. Which leads me onto our next assessment…

6) Think back to the start of the relationship and have a look at any red flags you saw, but ignored. What were they and what did you tell yourself for why it would be okay?

Did you have arguments early on? Notice behaviour you didn’t really like? Have certain concerns you just blocked out? What did you do about these issues? How did you try to rationalise it? Or did you just ignore them completely?

What compromises did you make and why? What price did you pay for the compromises?

A lot of questions there, but make notes to everything you can, as you start to then build a bigger picture around it all.

7) For the last couple now, it’s time to shift our focus and look a little closer to home. We’ll be helping you to learn from your past relationship with self-reflection! So, I want you to first think about the kind of person and partner that you were in the relationship. Did you like that person? Are you proud of the way you typically behaved? Were there areas that you didn’t like? What were the areas that you did? Did you change throughout the relationship at all? And was this for the better or the worse?

With every statement here – try to dig into the ‘why’ behind it. It’s easy to just automatically blame your ex but that’s not going to help you learn or develop. For example you might say, “I was paranoid because I just couldn’t trust him.” If that’s the case – why couldn’t you trust him? Did he do something to loose your trust, or did you already have trust issues before you met him? In which case, was the lack of trust really justified or fair? If he did genuinely break your trust – what was the severity of it? Did he deserve a second chance or did you stay because you didn’t have enough self-worth? Spend a good amount of time on this one.

Things aren’t just black and white. You might find that you acted in certain ways, not necessarily because your ex was a bad person, but because you were a bad match, so it brought things out of you that weren’t necessarily good.

Also try to find the positives. The things that your ex or the relationship enabled you to be or do. The things that did work and why. Maybe this guy was pretty genuine so it enabled you to feel comfortable enough to open up to him more – something that you’d never really done before in past relationships and what you were able to gain from that (a better connection most probably.) Maybe he was funny and so he brought out your fun side too. Or he was quite a driven person so he inspired you to push yourself more. We want to get a rounded view on both the good and the bad things.

8) Last but not least I want you to write down the things you feel you did wrong. Not what your ex said you did wrong, but what you know in your heart wasn’t right. Include both things you did and didn’t do, plus anything you wish you could change or take back.

I know it’s hard and there may be some things that you’re even quite ashamed of. But don’t bury them, otherwise there will be a slight risk of you repeating them. Think about anything that happened that you wish you could take back. Any major incidents that stemmed from your own issues or behaviours.

What was it that you did and what were you thinking at the time? Or were you just not thinking at all? If this was the case, we’d look at developing your self-control and how you handle intense situations in order to truly learn from your past relationship. We’re not dragging these things up for the sake of it, but so that you create positive changes from here. And remember – no-one else will be reading this. Nor are any of us perfect, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

Did you find you were controlling? Did you make your ex feel bad for doing things that he should have been able to do? Did you take out your frustrations on him? Did you bring up issues that weren’t really important? Pick fights? Not really take his points on board?

We want to identify the bad habits and situations so that we can better establish your thought process and the reasons behind the behaviour. We might find there are underlying problems that we can then work through so that the same things don’t happen in new relationships moving forward. This is going to be a fresh slate for you, so long as we can properly wipe things clear before.

NOTE: If you’re struggling to let go of the mistakes you made, have a read of this post. It will really help you…

There’s a lot to work through there I know. Don’t feel overwhelmed. Get through it bit by bit aiming to complete it over the course of a week. Yep, that’s right, we’re not expecting you to do this in one go! If you’re unsure or want someone else’s perspective, speak to your friends or family – ask them what they think. It might help you to see some of the things you’d been hiding, or to remember situations that you pushed to the back of your mind.

What Next?

If you think you’ve missed anything or there are certain things you think you need to specifically address, you can create your own questions and work through them in the same way.

This is a pretty standard relationship inventory so you can tweak it if you need to spend more time on the things that may be more important and relevant for you. Either way, it forces you to look at the things you may have otherwise avoided, and can then better know on what you will work on from here.

Once you’re done and you’re happy with it, take a break for a week or two and re-visit it again to review it. When you do this, I want you to circle the things that matter the most to you and maybe put a line through the things that don’t really matter at all.

It’s a great exercise because we’re actually going to then use these reflections to shape what you DO want in a partner and how you can become a better version of yourself beforehand. But for now, I want you to feel so proud of yourself for doing this.

It was a big step and one that actually something that the vast majority of people won’t bother doing at all. This is going to put you ahead in the healing process if you’re still struggling after your breakup and I am so so pleased you’re looking out for yourself.

If you’re still finding things difficult and have a lot of thoughts continuing to race through your head after this, use your reflections to write a letter to your ex, including all the things you want to get off your chest. You won’t sent it.

The letter isn’t actually for him. It’s for you. Don’t fuel it with hate or anger. Instead, allow forgiveness. Because forgiveness means you are letting go. You’re no longer holding onto the past. You’re accepting what happened, freeing yourself and moving on. After all,

‘You can’t expect to have a sweet life if you’re bitter…’

Once you’ve written the letter, pop it in a box, rip it to shreds or even burn it – whatever sits best with you. This will be like the last goodbye. The end of that chapter and the willingness to embrace the next one with optimism. For more Breakup Coaching, click here.

But well done for making such a huge step forward!


Learn From Your Past Relationship

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Ella Stearn
Ell is a Breakup, Dating & Relationship Specialist & Coach, with over 3 million annual readers, globally. As the Creator of Forgetting Fairytales, her mission is to help you learn to love yourself, find the right person to give your love to, then make it a love that truly lasts.

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