Maybe you feel like you wasted years – or even decades – in a relationship. You held onto a boyfriend or relationship for reasons that made sense to you. Perhaps you stayed married for longer than you should have. How do you recover the years you “wasted” in a relationship? You’ll never get the time back…but that doesn’t mean you didn’t learn or gain something valuable.
“I feel like I wasted the past three years of my life on hopes and plans for the future that are now just gone,” says Joey on How to Deal With Regret After a Breakup. “My boyfriend is clinically depressed and has broken up with me. We’re both in our mid-forties and have been together for three years. He refuses to go to his doctor to get help. I’m heartbroken and at my wits’ end – he said he wants to be friends, that he is a waste of space, and that I deserve to be with someone who can give me the time and affection I deserve. I don’t think I can put myself through this again. Any advice would be appreciated.”
The first and most important thing to do is stop thinking of your relationship as a waste of time. You stayed in it for a reason. Perhaps you had several good reasons to stay married or hold on to your boyfriend. It’s time to dig out of the trip of thinking you wasted time in your past relationship! That kind of thinking only spirals you deeper into pain, grief, regret and depression.
While you can’t literally recover the years you spent with someone you love, you can recover yourself. And you – right here and now – are much more important than the past.
3 Things to Remember About the Years Lost in a Relationship
Byron Katie’s Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life is one of my favorite books about recovering from the past and accepting reality. You can’t change what happened. Nor can you regain the years spent in a relationship that wasn’t going anywhere.
You can, however, learn to accept the truth about reality. And the truth will set you free.
1. Your relationship took the exact amount of time it needed
Here’s the rest of Joey’s comment: “Why did I waste so much time in that relationship? Now I have a new problem, I can’t be friends with him but I’m worried about him. How else can I keep contact and make sure he’s ok? Is there any point? Should I just try to move on and accept that the relationship is over? Can someone with chronic depression really have a successful relationship?”
Yes, people with serious depression can be in successful love relationships if they’re taking care of their emotional and mental health.
You chose to spend every year in that relationship because you needed to. You were making the best decision you could at that time in your life. Whether you stayed longer than you “should” have doesn’t matter. It’s a moot point; your relationship unfolded the way it did because that was what it needed to do. You needed your relationship to go on for as long as it did. So did your boyfriend or husband. Those years weren’t lost or wasted…they just were. Why fight reality? You will drive yourself mad.
If spending too much time in unhealthy or incompatible relationships is a pattern in your life, read 4 Reasons You Keep Getting Involved With the Wrong Men.
2. The past is distracting and exhausting
The past is none of your business. Every moment you spend reflecting on, living in, regretting and ruminating about those years you spent, lost, or wasted in a relationship is another moment stolen from your recovery and healing process. Note the difference you feel when you think of the past as “spent” versus “lost” versus “wasted.” No matter how you define it, the years are gone.
In The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment Eckhart Tolle encourages us to live fully present in this moment. Not the past, not the future. The past is depressing and the future is terrifying! Why choose to spend time in depressing or terrifying thoughts – especially when they are not happening right now? Learn what it means to be fully, joyfully, peacefully immersed in the present moment.
Every moment you spend regretting your relationship is another moment lost right now. In other words, you are wasting even more time in your relationship or marriage when you think and regret. You’re just stealing more time and more energy from your own life. Every thought and emotion about the past keeps you stuck there. You are compounding your own problems – and wasting your own life – when you descend into regret and guilt.
3. You can find at least one practical way to heal from love addiction
You may not find it helpful to focus on the present moment, accept the past for what it is, or even just let go of someone you love. Maybe you’d be better off shifting your focus to something more practical. “I was addicted to a relationship,” women often say to me. “I couldn’t leave, my boyfriend (or husband) was my addiction. My drug of choice.”
Some women stay in relationships for too long because they’re addicted to their boyfriends or husbands. We often become addicted to specific thoughts and behavior patterns; when it’s drugs, we call it drug addiction. When it’s exercise, we call it a healthy lifestyle.
7 Practical Ways to Recover From an Addictive Relationship
- Enlist a strong support system. Ask your friend, sister, or someone you trust to be your “go to” person. Then, when you feel compelled to ruminate on the years you wasted in a past relationship, call her. She will help you remember why you broke up, why you need to let go of this relationship, and how happy and healthy you will be when you’re further down the recovery road.
- Make a list of the reasons you stayed. And, list the reasons you need to leave the relationship behind you. When you’ve lost someone you love, you may be tempted to obsess about the best parts of your relationship. You may magnify your ex’s strengths and dismiss their weaknesses and flaws. Instead of obsessing about the years wasted – or trying to recover them – make a list of the reasons you need to move on. Pull this list out when you feel lonely or sad.
- Do something different – make a change in your life. Starting something new won’t recover the years or energy you spent in your last relationship, but it will shift your focus to the current moment. Take a scuba diving class, go on a singles cruise, or join a hiking club in your city. Do something unexpected, something you’ve always wanted to do but were too busy or scared to try. You’ll meet new people and learn new things about yourself.
- Clean up and air out your surroundings. This means putting, throwing, or giving away everything that your ex gave you or left behind. Deal with everything that you accumulated as a couple or that reminds you of your ex. Eliminating tangible reminders of the past will help you move forward and recover yourself.
- Focus outward. What have you done lately to move closer to your life goals? Start thinking about the things you’ve always wanted to experience in your career, personality, health, life, home, or relationships. Daydream about the life and years you have left! What will you do with this one wild and precious life?
- Take a vacation from your daily life. You may not be able to afford a trip to Maui or Belize, but you might be able to take a day trip to a nearby city or town. Getting out of your everyday surroundings is a great way to temporarily pull out of your normal life.
- Be gentle and compassionate with yourself. How are you treating your body, mind, spirit and soul? Remember that if you aren’t loving and caring for yourself, then nobody is. Take good care of your emotional and physical health. Tune in to what you think, feel, and need. Love and nurture yourself like you would a sad, lonely, lost little girl.
What do you think? Your thoughts – big and little – are welcome below.
If you’re struggling to accept the past, read Is the Past Haunting You? How to Find Peace and Freedom.