3 Ways to Recover the Years You Lost in a Relationship

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.

Did You Waste Years in a Relationship?
Recovering From Years in a Relationship

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.

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?
  6. 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.
  7. 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.


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14 thoughts on “3 Ways to Recover the Years You Lost in a Relationship”

  1. Dear Mary,

    Thank you for being here, and sharing about your addictive relationship. I wish you could leave this man, because you and he are betraying his wife by cheating. I wish you could find the strength, courage, and self-esteem you need to break free and start over! I wish you could realize that you are more important and special than this, and you deserve better. I wish you were happy.

    I wrote an article with you in mind, but I don’t know if it’ll help. If a year of counseling hasn’t motivated you to get out of this addictive relationship, then a wee blog post won’t make much difference! But I believe you are working towards getting healthy and strong. Sometimes it just takes time, that’s all.


    I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers.


    1. I have made up my mind to leave now its actually doing it. I know he will continue to cheat on his wife but I don’t want to be a part of it.

  2. I am currently in a very addictive relationship and the most toxic one in my life.I am with a man that has abused me physically mentally and emotionally..and I am always the one begging him to stay with me. I found out over a month into the relationship that he is married back in his home country but by than I was already addicted to him that I didn’t end things at that moment and after that is when the physical abuse started…I am currently in counseling trying to get out of this relationship but its going to be a year this Friday and I am having such a hard time letting go.

  3. Interesting advice and perhaps I will read the book you suggested.
    I had a 5 year relationship I was sure would lead to marriage. I met the man when I was 50 and had finally recovered from a difficult 10 year medical problem.
    I had, up til then, been an open, honest and lively person. That person was the worst man I ever dated. He started out great and it ended so badly I was crushed. He had bad character which I did not see when we first met.
    Honestly, that relationship was a complete waste of time. If I were 25 and had never been sick I might have a different outlook.
    In midlife, never married, overcame terrible health challenge and then HIM!!!!
    Complete waste of time and wish I never met that person. Can honestly say that.
    I wasted precious time and emotional energy on a man who helped himself to my caring and loving nature. Then he hit the highway. I believe he mislead me. We talked about marriage but I feel in hindsight he planned to leave all along.
    This was a COMPLETE waste of my time.
    I don’t know if any philosophical way to look at it as “time well spent”.

  4. I am currently in a 7 yr relationship, which has been in trouble for at least 4 years due to my manfriend’s addictive behavior; he is an Alcoholic & as been drinking since the age of 14 & now he is 53. After 6 months I saw the warning signs and ignored them; he’s had 4 DUI’s, but incurred 1 within our relationship; After the DUI he tried AA, did not stick with it, and decided to his own thing, returned to the bottle. He will drink a 5th of SKY Vodka every night; on his days off from work, stays home in bed and drinks all day; he spends money on lottery tickets when he has a good payday. While intoxicated, he is ugly, belligerent and loves to argue, which i ignores him & he hates when I ignore him. We don’t go on dates, if we go to the movies, he will get drunk first, & fall asleep in the movie. Go dancing, he has to get drunk first, and drink like he never had a drink at the club; I have to drive us everywhere because he is intoxicated, therefore, I chose to stay home; I cannot take it anymore and he refuses to be delivered by the Spirit of God from his addiction; he says he loves to drink and get drunk. Since he doesn’t want to change for his own good, I am changing the circumstances after 7 years, I am leaving him for my benefit to have a life of enjoyment. I am looking to retire soon and cannot stomach anymore of this in my life. I am a great woman who deserves better.

    1. Good for you! It’s high time you realize you can’t save the world, only yourself. Let him destroy his own life. He’s a drain on your positivity. There are some people you just can’t help and he’s number one on that list! Good luck! There’s an awesome man out there looking FOR YOU!!! Leave this fool so he can find you!

  5. I am sure there are many women like me who believe that their long relationship with a certain ex was a waste of time. I personally wish I had never met that person because I am a middle aged woman and don’t have forever to find a husband. We were friends, then more, for about 4 years. Unfortunately it took me quite some time to realize this man had secret, very bad habits. He expressed his desire to change, but in the end he was not authentic.
    I was so drained at the end of that relationship – which had very poor closure – that I wasted even more years hoping he would get it together and return.
    I truly wish I had never met that man and I consider that I wasted a very valuable portion of my life with him and on him. My love was truly not reciprocated, although throughout I believed it was.
    I learned one lesson – don’t believe what any man tells you. Spy, be wary, be cautious. I had always been an open book until that point. Being with that man was the worst “love affair” of my life. Way easier to bounce back when I was younger. The timing was so bad – I had just recovered from a long illness and just getting back in my feet financially and emotionally. He was absolutely the worst person I could have picked. Really duplicitous. I made a terrible mistake trusting him and investing time in that relationship. It was truly a complete waste of my time.
    I appreciate your optimism. It’s pretty slim pickings on good men as time goes by.
    You are extremely lucky that you married at age 35. I am much older than that, never married, no kids. Life is hard when you are alone. The time I spent in that relationship I can never recover. It was a complete waste of my time and energy.

    1. Ha…I can totally identify with your experience…turning 65 soon…was involved with a younger IMMATURE man for 3 years…I gave and gave and gave…and got nothing in return.
      I ended it today..moving on…alone for now.
      Happy 2017..

  6. Dear Brandi,

    Thank you for being here. It sounds like you’re aware of the cycle – you get some distance from your boyfriend, but you keep going back because it feels good, safe, and familiar. Sometimes the hell we know is safer and better than the hell we don’t know.

    What would life look like in three months, if you got away and stayed away from him for the whole time?

  7. I have been in an “unhealthy” relationship for 5 years. He initially got me addicted to crack. I have free from that for 5 years. I am having issues with he being a narcassist and me being addicted to him. I am physically and mentally drained. I know what I need to do but I am struggling. We will fight, not talk for few days and then he will call and I pick up and the cycle starts all over. He is controlling, manipulative, demeaning and he blames me even if its his fault for everything. I get that “high” after a few days of not talking to him, he calls and I get that good feeling but its temporary. I don’t like to be alone and I know he is bad company but I still stay. I am truly at wits end and it’s destroying me.

  8. Dear Sarah,

    Thank you for sharing your experience about your addictive relationship here. I hope it was therapeutic to get it all out – sometimes it helps to write it all out and vent, even if you don’t receive any answers in return!

    One of my favorite quotes is something about loving a man, but not necessarily having him in your life. You can love someone with all your heart – a boyfriend, a parent, a sibling, even a child – but it may not be good to have that person in your life. It sounds odd, but sometimes love isn’t about being together.

    Sometimes love is about letting go, and being separate.

    You will create the life you always wanted for yourself, and you will be happy and free! It’ll take time to grieve the end of your relationship, and your loss. You may always love him, but you know you’re happier and healthier without him.

    I admire your strength and courage.


  9. I was in a very addictive relationship. I was with him for two years, during which the love of my life physically, mentally and emotionally abused me, to the point where I miscarried. He was controlling, didn’t want me to see my friends or family, borrowed crazy amounts of money which were never paid back. Little rules began to develops without me realizing… I had to call the second I got home, on the rare occasions that I did, call from house numbers if I was out so he knew I was where I said I was… he would flip if I ever forgot to call. He destroyed my car, kicking and punching dents into it, smashing the mirror, indicators and gear stick off and breaking both seats. But my god he could be so lovely and it happened very gradually and we still had amazing fun times even during the worst stages of the abuse, I felt at times so happy I could burst. I left the day he smacked me in the face for forgetting to pick up milk… we weren’t even having an argument, which was different as usually he was in a rage when it happened. I spent a year burying it and trying to forget. It was very confusing as I felt I loved him but knew it was wrong, I couldn’t be as angry as I felt I should be. He popped up again after a year saying he couldn’t live without me and knew what he had done etc. I was very weak. I started seeing him secretly behind my friends and families back. He was angelic. He didn’t put a foot wrong and spoilt me rotten. I couldn’t fault him but when I said to my sister I was thinking of getting back with him (to test the water) she was absolutely horrified. My best friend had the same reaction. I suddenly thought about all the lies I had told them over the last few months to see him… i thought about how i could still see the temper in him, and how he was trying to contain it and nearly failing. Then i thought about how, although he bought me things and treated my nicely, he would still spit and swear loudly in public, knowing how uncomfortable it made me, and made no attempt to stop. When he did buy me things it was “pick something, anything, have this, have that, take it take it” but was unconcerned whether it was something i wanted or liked. I realized that if i couldn’t tell the people who i knew loved and cared about me then it was because i knew deep down it wasn’t quite right. He brought out the worst in me too, turning me from an honest and supportive friend into a lying and evasive version of myself. It was difficult to leave. He has no family and moves around a lot – he told me i was all he had, how he couldn’t bear it the last time, how we were bound, how everything felt empty and pointless without me. The worst thing is i know how he feels because i feel the same, but i am now honest with my friends and, instead of acting on my need for him and hiding it from them, i talk to them about it and they remind me why i can be ok without him. It’s horrible because i do love him, but i am slowly starting to realise that to have the life i have always wanted for myself, i had to not be with him. (neither of my parents know officially about the abuse but have a very good idea, the also don’t know i got back with him as both would have upset them so much to hear) but my dads approval means more to me than anything in the world, he is the one person i know who Unquestionably has my best interests and happiness at heart, and he hated him. If i feel sad i look at him and it reminds me exactly why i did it. So sorry to rant don’t expect a reply thought it might be therapeutic to spit it out. Xxx

    1. Wow thank you for sharing your experience, I just got out of a 7 year marriage which was similar in the amount of love and fellow feeling involved, but in the end it was toxic and we now are co parenting a little boy together, but just couldn’t be together it would of only gotten worse, so thank you for sharing how to get over an addictive relationship. It means a lot to know somtimes you just have to walk away.