Here’s How To Forgive Your Ex After A Bad Breakup
Letting go of that anger actually helps you heal.
Relationships end for all sorts of reasons and in all sorts of ways. Even if you and your partner mutually agree to split, breakups can still often leave you feeling confused, angry, and resentful. And if there is the added layer of a serious betrayal — infidelity, lying, ghosting, or abuse — learning to forgive your ex can feel like a herculean task.
Breakup and relationship coach Trina Leckie says that forgiveness is often an important step in the process of moving on — and while it may seem like a selfless act, working to forgive an ex is likely to benefit you in the long-run.
“Forgiveness can be very challenging, especially when the sting runs deep,” Leckie tells Elite Daily. “That said, forgiveness is way more for you than for them, especially under less-than-pleasant circumstances, [so] you can relieve yourself of carrying around that heaviness on your shoulders. Don’t give them room to live rent-free in your head.”
Of course, when love is lost, it’s hard to muster up the energy or compassion for an ex who might have hurt you before, during, or after your breakup. But it’s not impossible.
Amy Chan, founder of Renew Breakup Bootcamp and author of Breakup Bootcamp — The Science of Rewiring Your Heart, says the process of forgiving your ex starts first with cultivating self-compassion. “If you don't have compassion for yourself, it is extremely hard for you to have compassion for another person,” she says. “And compassion is the necessary ingredient before you get to forgiveness.”
The end of a relationship is intense and full of conflicting emotions. In order to forgive your ex, you have to let yourself feel all of them. “If you loved fully and deeply with this person, if you shared the most intimate parts of yourself with this person, and then you were just fine when you broke up, you'd probably be a psychopath,” Chan says. “That's not normal. You're supposed to grieve.”
Read on for more about how you can learn to forgive your ex, even if they hurt you.
Understand That Forgiveness Is A Process, Not A Destination
Similar to Leckie, Chan argues that getting to a place of forgiveness is going to help you “alleviate the emotional charge” left in the void of your relationship, which is important.
“If you can get to a place of forgiveness — and this is a process, not just a destination — it's going to be beneficial for you,” she says. “When we don't forgive, and we have this resentment or this anger that we carry with us in our lives, it seeps into our other relationships. And I think it keeps us from living and loving fully.”
Just as there’s no one way to break up, there’s no one way to forgive an ex and no one way to cope with the loss of the relationship. Figuring out how you can forgive your ex is a personal journey that requires introspection and work. Maybe one day a few weeks after your breakup you’ll be struck with a feeling of openness and understanding for your ex, but then a few weeks after that you’ll be angry all over again. It’s all part of the process.
As for the timing, you can’t expect yourself to forgive your ex right away. This takes time and reflection and space away from your relationship and your ex to investigate your own emotional response to the loss of your relationship.
“Regardless of how it ended, whether it was infidelity, whether you were ghosted, whether it was situational, there's a process that happens for healing the heart. The first step in that process is understanding that you’re dealing with grief.”
Feel Your Grief Fully
Forgiveness can’t happen until you’ve experienced and processed your heartbreak. Don’t rush to move on before you’ve properly acknowledged and felt all of your feelings as they come up — good and bad.
Chan urges people to be patient with themselves. “Even though the person isn't dead, the relationship as you knew it has died and a part of your identity has died with it. And so you do go through a cycle of grief,” Chan says. “You have to look at a heartbreak as if you were treating a broken leg. It's common sense. You go to the doctor, you get a cast, you won't run a marathon, you're going to probably just rest. But when it comes to heartbreak in our society, we don't grieve and nurture the heart as if it was broken.”
Chan describes the six — actually, in her professional experience, seven — stages of grief: shock, denial, depression, anger, bargaining, accountability, acceptance. Forgiveness usually comes at the very end of that cycle, beginning with accountability.
“That's when you start to take the focus off the ‘they did this’ or ‘they did that,’ or ‘this is so unfair’ and it turns into like, ‘how did I contribute to this relationship between two people?’” Chan explains. From there, acceptance and forgiveness are natural next steps.
Don’t Put Your Ex On A Pedestal
While it can be tempting to over-romanticize your former relationship, Chan says that mindset can hold you back.
“In situations where the relationship was overall pretty happy and healthy, but for some reason they just weren’t able to be together, sometimes people will put their ex on a pedestal,” she says. “They’ll say, ‘It was so great. I'll never find someone like this. We were such a good match.’ That’s another form of not seeing reality because [your ex] could be great, but if they're not the right fit for you, then they're not that great. And they’re certainly not perfect.”
When you’re putting in the work to forgive your ex, be aware if you’re overcompensating and seeing your relationship in a skewed light.
This is an important time to treat yourself gently. It’s crucial to separate any criticism you have for your ex from criticism you actually have for yourself. Maybe you feel like you failed to achieve a happy relationship, or maybe you regret something you said or did to your ex. Maybe you wish you had broken up sooner, or maybe you’re afraid you won’t find love again. Whatever is weighing on your mind, try to practice self-compassion.
According to Chan, this is about “not blocking your feelings, not judging your feelings as good or bad, and recognizing that you're a human being and you're trying the best you can.”
She continues, “It's talking to yourself in a way as if you would talk to a friend that you care about. A lot of us, we don't have any self-compassion in the way we talk to ourselves. If we were to talk to our friends that way, we would have no friends. We can be so mean to ourselves. It starts there.”
Self-compassion is easier in theory than it is in practice. But as a start, Chan recommends slowing down and taking some time for self-reflection.
“You can [cultivate self-compassion] with meditation exercises,” she says. “You could even do an inventory of all the times that you insult yourself or you criticize yourself throughout the day. Just start to create some awareness.”
Put Yourself In Your Ex’s Shoes
Once you’ve found peace within yourself, you can start to find peace with your ex. Chan says this part of the process might involve a bit of digging, or even some imagination.
“Look at this person that you feel so hurt from and try to put yourself in their shoes,” Chan advises. She says that when she works with heartbroken people, she asks them to share how they think their ex dealt with emotions when they were child as a starting point.
“When you look at a person who ghosts people, for example, it's very common that at a very young age, they were taught as a kid that it was not safe to have any feelings,” she says. “They were taught that crying was weak and when they felt something, they were sent to their room as if they were bad and there was something wrong with them. And so what happens to these children is they learn how to survive and they adapt by avoiding emotions.”
“When you can start to see that they're not evil and they're trying the best they can with the tools that they have, it can help take away the sting.”
Trina Leckie, breakup and relationship coach
Amy Chan, founder of Renew Breakup Bootcamp and author of Breakup Bootcamp — The Science of Rewiring Your Heart