Joni Mitchell put it best in “Big Yellow Taxi” when she sang, “Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you got 'til it's gone?” If you’ve ever found yourself reeling after a breakup — worrying you made a big mistake and wishing you had that person back in your life — then you may wonder whether there’s any truth to the old saying, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” And while it’s totally possible you didn’t realize just how awesome your ex was until after you ended things, it’s more likely that you’re missing the comfort of what was.
As Todd Baratz, a psychotherapist who specializes in relationships, previously told Elite Daily, there’s no one way to grieve the end of a relationship. “It’s a huge transition that is often accompanied by longing and even regret," he said. "People’s experiences after the end of a long-term relationship are often more intense because of the cultural misinformation and judgment that is out there about relationships.” Whatever you’re feeling is valid and legit — but if you feel like you never appreciated what you had with your ex until now that’s over, here’s what you should be asking yourself.
What’s The Difference Between Missing An Ex & Missing A Relationship?
Right after a breakup, it’s pretty impossible to separate missing an ex from missing a relationship. Ask yourself: What specifically do you miss? Is it the person themselves, or is it the experiences you shared with them? Think about the images and memories you keep replaying in your head. If those memories include the sound of their laugh and the smell of their hair — things that have to do with them and them alone — then it’s most likely that you're missing your ex specifically, not just the relationship. But more often than not, newly-single people miss the little, everyday things they now have to do alone.
As clinical psychologist Dr. Joshua Klapow previously explained to Elite Daily, “If your distress is focused on not doing the things you did together, not having the certainty of a mate, not having someone to talk to, but at the same time you can envision yourself with all those things [on your own or with a different partner] and not your ex, you know that you are missing the relationship more than the person themselves.” And when you’re missing the relationship you once had, it’s easy to see the person you were with in a positive light, when really, you probably ended things for a reason.
What Should You Do If You’re Second-Guessing Your Breakup?
When you break up with someone and you're hurting, it's natural to wonder if you made the right choice in ending the relationship. But according to Nicole Richardson, a licensed counselor and marriage and family therapist, you’re doing yourself a disservice when you wonder if you didn’t know what you had until it was gone. “You are going to second-guess your choice. Your brain is hardwired to seek pleasure and when you do something big and hard, even if it is the right thing to do, your brain is going to fight you on it,” she previously told Elite Daily. So how do you resist that urge?
According to Richardson, whenever you find yourself reflecting back on “all the good times” you shared with your ex, remind yourself why you broke up in the first place. “It is important to have a list of all the reasons you broke up, and remind yourself when your brain starts to play the tape of all the 'good ol' times,’” she said. And while it may feel impossible in the moment, she said if you can push through that, “you can get to the other side and work towards the relationship that you really want.” Remember: Your ex is gone from your life for a reason.
Why Can It Be Harmful To Believe You Don’t Know What You Have Until It’s Gone?
It’s OK to hurt after a breakup, and it’s OK to take as long as you need to heal. But when you idealize your ex and wonder if you made a big mistake in losing them, then you’ll only delay your own healing process. As breakup coach and host of the Breakup BOOST podcast Trina Leckie previously told Elite Daily, “The most important thing is to not lose sight of the reality of the situation. When people break up, so often they say ‘I have no idea what happened! Everything was perfect!’ This is because they are basically panicking that the relationship has come to an end and are merely focusing on how to get it back — even if they were really unhappy in it.”
Before you consider getting back with an ex, it’s essential to get honest with yourself about whether that person really made you happy — or whether you’re only convincing yourself you were happy because you’re lonely now. As Leckie pointed out, the problem with this thinking is that, if you don't accept why you broke up, “you are staying in a state of denial, which then only prolongs your healing.” She added, “Not saying that healing doesn’t still take time, but acceptance is the first step in moving on.”
Yes, it’s true that sometimes you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. But more often than not, your memories are an idealized version of reality, and when something is gone, it’s gone for good reason.
Todd Baratz, psychotherapist who specializes in relationships
Dr. Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist
Nicole Richardson, licensed counselor and marriage and family therapist
Trina Leckie, breakup coach and host of the Breakup BOOST podcast
Editor's Note: This story has been updated by Elite Daily Staff.
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