How to Cope When You Want Your Old Life Back

Something has changed in your life – or maybe everything is different now. Your relationships, routine, thoughts, normal way of being and even how you saw the world has changed. How do you cope with a new life when all you want is your old life back? These ideas for starting over will help you see your new life differently, and perhaps even help you stop wanting to go back in time.

Earlier today, I wrote an article called When You’re Forced to Move to a New Home. Then I received an email from a friend who said she can’t move forward. Nothing will help her stop wanting her old life back, she said. She’ll never be happy without her ex and she’ll always want things the way they were. “Is it true?” I wondered. “Is it absolutely true that she will never be happy and will always want her old life back?”

If you’ve heard of Byron Katie and The Work, you’ll recognize those questions. Is it true that you want your old life back? Were you absolutely 100% happy with everything in your old life? A couple of simple little questions that can change everything – including how you cope with thoughts that you want your old life back. Maybe you’re like my friend; you’ve been telling yourself that you’ll never be happy the way things are now, in your new life. If so, you’re in luck! You have more power than you think. You can change how you feel about your new life by examining your thoughts.

Here’s a comment from a reader who wants her ex-husband back:

“I was married for 12 years and pregnant with my second child when my husband left me,” says Janine on When You Regret Getting Married. “He said he wanted out of his old life so he could start over. I divorced him and a year later met someone else. We are now married and I love him dearly. The problem is I long for my first husband and our marriage. I just want my old life back. I cry a lot and feel like I maybe got into my new relationship too quick. I don’t feel I will ever get over what happened to me.”

Is It True That You Want Your Old Life Back?

These tips will help you question and even let go of what you miss about your old life. Perhaps you’ll discover that there are parts of your old life that you miss and wish were alive again…and there are parts of your old life that you are glad are over! For this is the case with every season that ends. There were both good and bad aspects of that stage of life.

You may find yourself stuck in regret, sadness, pain and suffering if you focus on everything you miss about your old life. But, if you can sit in the question “Is it true that I want my old life back?” you may find freedom and peace in this new life you have.

How to Cope When You Want Your Old Life Back
Do You Want Your Old Life Back?

1. Be specific about what you miss

Do you miss the people, places, or pets in your old life? Your lifestyle, routine, or schedule? Sometimes it helps to identify what specifically you’re missing. Instead of a vague “I miss my old life and want it back”, it can be helpful to think about exactly you miss. This might give you ideas for creating what you’re missing in your new life, which can help you heal and be happy.

For instance, I often think of my old life in Africa. I lived and taught there for three years, and after I moved home to Canada I felt hopeless and sad. I needed to learn how to hold on to hope when life seems hopeless – and I eventually did! But it was hard, and it took time.

I wish I could go back and do re-live my old life, but I can’t. So I started to think about what I missed about the past. I miss the feeling of adventure and excitement, of starting something new in my life. I was bored and uninspired after moving home. I wanted to feel alive again. Just realizing this helped me let go of my old life in Africa, and start moving forward into a fresh season.

What are you holding on to?

2. Reflect on the parts of your old life that that you don’t miss

Remember the good parts of your old life, the loving people and wonderful moments. But don’t forget that there were parts of your old life that were uncomfortable and even painful! Sometimes your old life was boring, frustrating, and even unhealthy. You have sad memories because you experienced difficulties in the past.

When you are honest about your past, can you say that it is absolutely true that you want your old life back? Often when we look back on our lives, we remember them as better and more fun than they actually were. We look back at the past with truth-altering rose-colored glasses instead of the truth. For instance, when I lived in Africa I often thought: Africa was so beautiful and interesting, and much more exciting than living in Canada! My old life was more fulfilling and fun than this one. Everything was better in my old life. 

The truth is that I experienced bouts of homesickness, pain, boredom, loneliness and even depression when I lived in Africa. But now that I’m living my new life here in Vancouver, I forget the worst and idealize the best. This is normal; we often think the past is better than it really was. But the truth is, our old lives had problems and frustrations, too.

3. Learn how to love the life you have now

Can you, I wonder, weave the best, most cherished parts of your old life into your new life? This may feel impossible in some cases, such as if you have to learn to live without a husband or boyfriend you love. But you might be able to incorporate those feelings into your new life. For example, maybe you miss the feeling of security and companionship of being in a relationship. Maybe the time isn’t right for a new relationship, but you can choose to remember the past with joy and look toward the future with faith and hope.

When you miss your old life – and you can’t let go of the past – find ways to comfort yourself. What this means to you depends on you. Maybe you’ll identify the specific experiences, feelings or people you miss. You’ll find ways to remember or somehow bring them into your new life. Maybe you’ll even do The Work with someone like Byron Katie, and you’ll learn how to love the best parts of your new life.

How to Cope When You Want Your Old Life Back

Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life is a valuable book that can help you learn how to let go when you miss your old life. The Work is simply four questions that, when applied to a specific problem, enable you to see what is troubling you in an entirely different light.

Katie says, “It’s not the problem that causes our suffering; it’s our thinking about the problem.” Contrary to popular belief, trying to let go of a painful thought never works; instead, once we have done The Work, the thought lets go of us. At that point we can truly love what is, just as it is.

How are your thoughts about your old life causing you to suffer today? Your comments – big and little – are welcome below. Or, read How to Reinvent Yourself When You Have No Guarantees :-)


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21 thoughts on “How to Cope When You Want Your Old Life Back”

  1. I miss my old life my father and all other family members that are gone.and my pets that I have lost.But I could never go back.I do not like this era.I loved the 60s when I was a little was wonderful. A great time. I love vintage things. I was raised in upstate New york. I loved it there.I wish that I was still there.everything changes.but not for the better.

  2. I recently ended my relationship of 2 years with a guy that i lived with. I was madly in love with him and even though he and i were no good for each other ( he was abusive and i was co dependent and we were both unfaithful) it broke my heart so much when i decided to leave him. I was mostly the only one working and i felt guilty leaving because he was gonna be on his own and doesn’t really have family he can go to. We also were a stoner couple and when i wasn’t working or with my family, him and i were always getting high. Shortly i moved back in with my mom i decided to quit smoking as well and that has been an even bigger challenge. To this day I miss my old lifestyle so much. I already had anxiety and depression to begin with and now that I’m sober I’m no longer numbing everything out, I have to actually feel my feelings and it feels like hell most days. I’m trying to be grateful that my parents let me stay with them and i have a job that pays well, even though i hate the job itself, and i have my physical health, but i feel so damn restricted. I know it’s going to take time but everyday’s a struggle, especially since weed is mentioned on most tv shows, movies, in music and most of my friends and family members my age still smoke and i just feel so lost. I miss living with him and being carefree, because when things were good between us it felt like heaven, but maybe it is true that you mostly remember the good stuff from the past. Maybe that’s where they get the term “you don’t know what you got until it’s gone from” because our mind tricks us into thinking we have it much worse now. I want to move forward and finish school, reach my goals, be able to be my own Person and not have to have someone validate me to feel good enough, but i feel stuck in my old ways. I quit smoking because i couldn’t think clearly anymore and my brain still feels all scrambled, although it could be the stress too. I feel so depersonalized, where i can’t connect with anything or anyone and I feel like nothing is real and I’m so sick of it. All this just feels like a nightmare that i won’t ever be able to wake up from, and i know other people have it worse, but I’m in my own mental prison. I feel like I’m suffocating in here and I just want to be ok.

  3. I miss my old life. In my old life I had it all. A perfect dream job as an HR Organizational Dev consultant. I was fresh out of grad school scoring a 4.0 gpa and working at the most elite diversity consultant company in the U.S. We were just starting off in the business and it was booming. Soon after I gave birth to my first daughter. My husband and I built our dream house together and I was meeting and befriending all kinds of new people from work, the neighborhood and in my Moms club and book club. I was busy and felt loved and accomplished. Now I do nothing. I’m divorced. I lost my girls and rent a shabby apartment with my new boyfriend. I dont work bc I’m on disability due to some mental health issues that took me down hard. I dream of venturing into new things like writing a book or articles for magazines but I have no self- confidence or worth. I really want to help at-risk youth who are homeless and suffering from mental illness and addiction but I dont have the credentials to even get my foot in the door to begin a career in non profit. Besides I’m 52yrs old now and I feel I’m too late in the game to start something like going back to school to get a second Masters or get a few certifications. I dont know who I am anymore and when I look in the mirror I cry because I hate who’s looking back at me. I’m so disappointed in myself and all I want is to turn the clock back. I hate my life now so I’m stuck reminiscing about the past and wishing I was that girl again but I know its futile to try. I’m too old so I might as well just hang things up. Did I mention I have not one friend? I lost everything after my divorce and I haven’t seemed to come back out of that tragedy. I’m stuck. Help me.

    1. Hi,
      I am a stranger, but your words touched me, I have been through similar and I pray you find the light you need.
      With love

    2. Ami,
      After reading, I can understand your hopelessness
      I do hope you can find the strength to move on, one day at a time. Don’t think for a moment that God cannot help you change your outlook. Even though you felt you lost much, your still here and God still has a plan for your life. Begin by believing and don’t let the past still haunt you and make you believe you’re without hope. Begin by seeking some positive friends in a good Christian church near your home and find some way you can help Others. Start now, you still have much to do.

  4. I came across this thread today. I am married and on 13 th year with my husband. We got to know each other by internet and had long distance relationship by phone and emails. We got married after 2 yrs. We have two kids now. I was going through my old emails and went through those emails that we used to write each other. It brought all my memories back. Now I am missing my husband from that time though he is still with me. I am feeling like he was someone else. And I qm getting deeper and deeper into past. I read those emails now everyday and freshens my memories with him and trying to get those past moments now on the present. Dont know how what id happening with me. I miss my husband v much. He is with me but I still miss him a lot. Am i getting insane ? I dong know what is happening with me. Hoping to get some answer here.

  5. I’m a new mom, moved to a different state to be with my child’s father. I moved without knowing what I was getting myself into. There are times when I feel happy in my new changes but then there are moments when I miss my family, friends and that freedom I had to myself. My child is my greatest blessing and I don’t regret her but moving in with someone could take a toll if ur family or friends aren’t around.

  6. I miss my friends from Bannockburn Stirling, Louise Sakoura and her good friend Abby especially. Never got the happy closure I wished for before I left. It still saddens me deeply and I regularly think about them. I miss them. I miss their love and friendship, how we would spend time at my place. I was a strong headed blind-sighted fool and left in search of a new life. …Did I find it? No. I simply replaced it. But it was a much lesser life. It’s hard to explain. Louise, if you ever happen upon this, I’m sorry.. I really loved you and cherish those memories.. trust me. I regret just about every single day never showing that more.. Above all, I just want to say – thank you. X

  7. I’m a totally blind woman and a year ago, I moved from a town of 40000 people to a town with 10000. I miss my independence, as in my former town, I could get around much easier. my family lives here, I do see much more of my extended family but I’m so depressed here.

  8. The past 6 months have really been hard. Sometimes I search what’s on my mind and this is it. I miss my old life… 6 months ago I had my best friend, my girlfriend of 2 years and an amazing job. Now I’m left with the memory of all three because of nothing but my own mistakes… It’s been really hard. Not wanting to be alive, but be so scared of death. In tears every night remember all the amazing memories. And now I’m left with nothing… I’m trying so hard to move on and make the most out of what I have now, but life is kicking me down every step of the way.. Every time I feel like I’ve gained a step in the right direction, something puts me 2 steps back.. My only comfort is in memories… Sometimes I lie awake and smell my other pillow hoping that somehow her smell with still be there… I know sometimes there aren’t answers, but it makes it so much harder to cope. To keep going… I just feel like that was it. That was the peak of my life and it’s just downhill from here..

  9. Thank you for sharing these coping methods. It is very hard for me to move on right now simply because things instantly turned so different from before. This year is by far the worst year of my life so far out of my 15 years of living. In January I suddenly lost my cat to chronic kidney failure. We had no clue she had it until her last few days. We had the biggest bond together and I expected her to live until I moved out of my house at least. She was only 10. I spent 2 weeks crying about it constantly because I had no idea if animals even exist after they died. After doing tons of research on if animals go to heaven and not finding anything I decided to just pray about a sign of her existence. After 2 months of praying and nearly giving up, God gave me a vision of my Bella. A month later my second cat died from natural causes. This time it was much easier because I had a vision of my other in heaven. I’m happy that they’re alive and I’ll see them again someday, but I will always miss them, and wish I can re-live a day of my life with them until that day that I’ll see them.

  10. I moved from a small village in Ireland to London U K in 1987 and loved London and my life there. I always feel that I met my husband too soon and he was from London. I had good jobs there and a decent life and made good friends in the are where I lived. Last year we moved to a brand new home about 3 hours from London and its in the countryside. I have been one year here now and I don’t like it very much, the house is lovely but I wish it was back in the suburbs of London where I used to live. I feel that I am existing and not living and I have started to get depressed and lonely. I was never depressed or lonely in London and I want to go back. I made a huge mistake and should have never sold my home in London. I have no interest in this house or the area.

  11. Thank you. Just those words set me back on track…back to reality. Oh those wonderful memories are so powerful. The ones that made me move on get diminished and yet they are key why I am moving forward in a direction so much more peaceful, full of real love, gratitude and a future of wonderful.

  12. Thank you for posting this. I took a big step and moved away from my home state a little over a year ago. At the time, I was so ready to leave. I made a few plans (living and work) and then made the leap rather quickly. Well, it seems to have been a quick step considering I had been talking about moving for 5+ years, but never took the leap. I found a new city, took a job offer (which didn’t work out at all and left me scrambling to find work), left behind my career, said goodbye to everyone I knew, established a living situation all within one and a half months. The first year was rough. My partner, who was supposed to move up after 3 weeks, didn’t make the move for five months. I was alone in a new city, winter had approached, and nothing I had planned worked out. I wasn’t making money, but I was working 3 jobs that didn’t pertain to my field. I had no furniture in a house I hated within a neighborhood I despised. Nothing seemed right. All I had was my dog and an air mattress.

    A year later, things have improved greatly. Although I still haven’t found work in my field, I work two jobs that I find fun and fulfilling. I have to remind myself that I wasn’t happy with my career. It was a big, big stressor, and one of the reasons why I left. But now that I can’t find a full-time job, now that my schedule is all over the place, now that I never see my partner (conflicting schedules when we actually used to work together in our former city), I keep telling myself that my life wasn’t so bad. And I’m sure it wasn’t, looking back. And now, every morning, I feel like I have no purpose. I hate telling my partner bye for the day. I hate getting rejection letters from countless jobs opportunities. I feel so empty and out of place. It’s almost as if I can’t connect to my body. I don’t feel like myself. I feel like I’m not actually in my body. Like I’m just here and there and doing things without being a part of the process. It’s such a strange feeling. I tell my partner I want to move back. I want to go back to the way things were, but he doesn’t care to. And honestly, I can’t imagine moving back without him. He’s truly the best thing that has ever happened to me (besides my dog, of course). We work so well together. We’re such a strong team. One of my biggest fears is losing him, so I can’t move back home and just leave him here.

    But then I’ll go out to museums and the library, and everything feels good. Everything feels great! I’ll paint and cook and go to the movies, and life feels right. But those moments are brief. Very, very brief. I try to remind myself of those feelings when I’m thinking of my past, but they don’t quite measure up to those memories.

    I miss my schedule. I miss the sunshine (we get a lot of grey days here, and I’m sure that contributes to a lot of my sadness). I miss a very select few people. I don’t miss the city. I don’t miss not having cultural opportunities. I also miss our tiny, sweet little cottage house. I miss seeing my partner every day at work. More importantly, I miss being so close to my family (who I didn’t visit as much as I should have when I was only 4 hours away instead of 14).

    I’m sorry. I’m just rambling. I found the post helpful, and I’m glad I can let some of this out as I’m sure my partner is tired of hearing me talk about moving back home. Thank you for sharing your experience with this subject, and thank you for allowing me to share my troubles.

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I am in a similar situation, although it’s only be 6 months since my move. I often wake up disoriented and think a lot of all the things I took for granted in my old life. I am grieving my old life, 18 years spend in that town. Like you I moved to a city with more cultural amenities and less sunny days. My move was not planned and was due to a sudden crisis in our family which necessitated me to be closer to extended family. I had an established career (well paying) and have had to take a different lower paying job with a challenging schedule (weekends, evenings). Also I left deep ties in terms of friends and church/ community. In counseling, I have learned I have to accept that I did the best that I could and to stop being hard on myself for those choices. I am grateful for what I do still have (health, my kids, family support) and I try to keep in mind that this is a growth & learning experience. I hope we both find more days that are positive and can move forward in this new chapter of life. Walking outside and cooking do help!

  13. I agree that these tips on coping when you want your old life back weren’t very helpful! I wrote this article 7 years ago, and have learned a few things :-) So, I updated this blog post.

    Even so, there aren’t any easy answers or quick tips on coping when you want your old life back. The truth is that it’s hard to move forward into a new life – even when you chose it! But hopefully, my ideas will help a little.


  14. Good advice. I’m in that situation of missing so many aspects of my previous life, even the hard parts. With no family close by, it was a seismic blow when my elderly father died 3.5 years ago whilst I was processing the pain of my then husband leaving me. Then, life just seemed to collapse around me, with people drifting away and loneliness and isolation setting in.
    For a long time I felt powerless and not in control of my destiny. Very slowly I’m pulling it together again but it’s been really tough. I’m still unsure of what my purpose and I now have limitations imposed upon me, but I’m still hopeful of a wonderful life, catching up on the ‘lost’ years.

  15. Thing is when dealing with thoughts of an ex…and believe me I know. I was in a relationship for 8 years with my ex and we had a kid together whom I love very much. She however decided randomly she wanted to relive her youth again and cheated. I myself still have not fully recovered from it but the fact of the matter is that the best advice in such situations is just to try and blank out those memories. Instead, fantasize on a glorious future where it blows that old life out of the water and you finally meet “The One” who will make all your future memories much more pleasant than the old ones. I know it will be hard to forget, but you must try and let go of what is now a dead memory. All it will do is haunt your soul if you let it consume you. I myself had to endure the grueling prospect of forgetting her and what she did to me after considering her my best friend and that took quite a toll on myself before I managed to finally break free. I have not met another as of yet but I will consider the smiles and looks at much prettier girls than her that keep coming my way and may just settle down however as of now…I am enjoying the single life where I meet women and get to know them as well as dates and see how that comes about.

    As grim as this kind of sounds…The quote “The Past is Dead.” sit’s very well with me and actually relieves any attempted reoccuring past memory.

  16. Ahhhh I am so pleased I stumbled on these tips for when you want your old life back. I just left a career that involves a lot of travel to go into medicine. I was starting to feel as though I REALLY missed it, but couldn’t figure out why, as I was always desperate to leave. After reading this, I think it’s time alone, socialising, and new experiences I miss, all of which i can apply to my new life :)

  17. I’m so sorry for J but then before being sad and crying she should think about her kids and her hubby who married her after knowing she’s having kids and all. I mean I know it must be very difficult for J to forget her past but why to remember a dark past ? Move on………….