What regrets after a break-up might really mean

Having regrets after a breakup is no strange occurrence. After all, breakups are rarely easy, and this is true whether you and your partner were together for a long or short time. It's true even if you had some very compelling reasons to call it quits. Yes, no matter what, ending a relationship can hurt — both emotionally and physically. And, after the dust settles, you may find yourself battling another uncomfortable symptom: nagging regrets. Even with the pain of a breakup fresh on your mind, you may start to feel like you or your partner made a mistake in terminating the relationship. Soon, your brain floods with images of getting back together with your ex.

After a breakup, it can be excruciating to deal with all of this, but, before doing anything rash — like sliding into your ex's DMs —  you should consider what's going on behind the scenes. According to experts, this is what regrets after a breakup might really mean.

You may be experiencing "dumper's remorse" if you have regrets after a breakup

While breaking up is hard for both the dumper and the dumpee, the partner who made the call to end the relationship does feel less grief, according to research conducted by Craig Eric Morris, an anthropologist at Binghamton University who studies grief. "The person who initiates the breakdown gets a head start," Morris explained to Vice. Still, both parties are prone to feeling sad and regretful. In fact, the person who did the dumping can experience a unique form of regret. Barbara Neitlich, licensed clinical social worker and author of Stop Dating Like a Teenager, termed this phenomenon as "dumper's remorse" in an interview with Glamour

After leaving a partner, you may start to feel bad for doing so, which can cause you to experience regrets and even contemplate getting back with your ex. However, Neitlich advises asking yourself: "What would it truly be like getting back together again?" Additionally, the expert suggested, if you're feeling regrets after a breakup, making a list of qualities you like and dislike about your ex to objectively determine if the good outweighs the bad.

If you're feeling regrets after a breakup, you may be idealizing the relationship

You thought love-goggles were bad? They don't hold a candle to breakup-goggles. "A relationship ending makes us become nostalgic and you tend to remember many of the good things you shared with your former partner," Alisha Powell, a clinical social worker who works with couples, explained to Insider.

Why do we do it? "Remembering the positive parts of a relationship is our brain's way of validating the decisions we have made in the past (like getting together with that person in the first place and staying with them for X amount of time)," Kimberly Panganiban, licensed marriage and family therapist and certified Gottman therapist, revealed in an article for Thrive Global. "Nostalgia is also nature's way of ensuring that we get into another relationship. If all you remembered were the bad parts of a relationship, you may not want to get back into a relationship at all."

In some cases, idealizing your past relationship can cause you to want to get back with your ex and feel regrets after a breakup. Panganiban recommends "taking some time to yourself" to avoid succumbing to nostalgia. 

You may feel bad about "the way relationship turned out" if you're feeling regrets after a breakup

"Dumper's remorse" can involve regretting more than just that one final act of breaking up with someone. Marriage and family therapist Sophia Reed told Bustle, "Whenever you break up with someone, there may always be a feeling of regret. At some point, you did actually care about that person, and even if the breakup was the right decision, you can still feel bad about it because of the way the relationship turned out."

If your relationship was great at the start, you may feel regrets after a breakup because of how different the relationship had become by its end. Or, you may be tempted to put on those breakup-goggles and see things as not as bad as they were, but this is where your friends' opinions can come in handy. "If [your friends are] saying, 'You know it wasn't working. I think you're better off,' then pay attention," Tina B. Tessina, psychotherapist and author of Dr. Romance's Guide to Finding Love Today, told the publication. "They might be right."

It's also important to heed Reed's sage advice: "Even though you feel regret does not mean that it was the wrong choice."

You may be upset over hurting your partner if you feel regrets after a breakup

As the dumper, you may be feeling regrets after a breakup not for deciding to split, but for "having to hurt that person through the breakup itself," marriage and family therapist Sophia Reed told Bustle. If you love the person you broke up with, chances are you didn't want to cause any pain. But them's the breaks, right? Breakups suck whether we want them to or not. As such, it's natural to feel sad and even remorseful for hurting your one-time partner.

As hard as ending a relationship may be, relationship experts say clear-cut breakups are vital. "Don't drop out and ignore the person you are trying to end things with," relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein advised when speaking with Bustle. She added, saying, "No good comes from doing a slow ignore and fade out. It's disrespectful to them and it's not a conscious, mindful way to be living your own life."

If you're feeling regrets after a breakup, you may be "missing companionship"

When a relationship ends, it's difficult to switch gears and welcome single life. "After you break up with somebody, your brain isn't used to being alone," Danielle Forshee, a psychologist and social worker who focuses on relationship and marriage counseling, told Cosmopolitan regarding feeling regrets after a breakup. "When you're with somebody your brain releases feel-good chemicals like dopamine. It makes us feel really good — it's one of the chemicals released when we have sex, when we use drugs, when we gamble. All of a sudden that's gone."

Before long, you may find yourself thinking about your ex, regretting your breakup, and wanting to get back together. This is especially true when you navigate your social life without a plus-one, but you may not actually be missing the person that is your ex.

"Having regrets afterwards is often just a case of feeling lonely and missing the companionship," Marni Feuerman, licensed clinical social worker and licensed marriage and family therapist, detailed to Glamour. "It's better not to get fooled by those feelings that may keep you in a relationship way too long when it really is not going to work out in the end," she continued. 

You may be caught in a "what if" spiral when you feel regrets after a breakup

Amy Summerville, head of Miami University's Regret Lab who studies "what if" thought patterns and its after-effects, explained to Vice that such hypothetical thoughts are known as "counter-factional thinking." She continued, saying, "That's when you think things could have been better [and] the directions things could have taken and the factors related to that." This kind of counter-factional thinking (e.g. "What if he was the one?" or "What if we'd spent more time together?") commonly occurs after a breakup.

Although this kind of thinking may sound similar to ruminating thoughts, Keith Markman, an associate psychology professor at Ohio University who, like Summerville, specializes in counter-factional thinking, told the publication that ruminating thoughts are heated thoughts that "intrude on people's minds." Counter-factional thinking — and the regret that comes with it— is actually much healthier than rumination.

"People tend to have faux regret after the relationship happens," Markman described. "Their tone tends to be wistful, sentimental. They have a distant feeling of longing and nostalgia. It can be very functional."

You may be experiencing a perfect storm of regrets after a breakup

Despite counter-factional thinking being "functional" and not harmful, it can still be frustrating to spiral into "what if" thoughts after a breakup. And, as it turns out, breakups form the perfect storm for creating these sorts of thoughts and the feelings of regret that flood our brains after ending a romantic relationship. How so?

Amy Summerville, head of Miami University's Regret Lab, told Vice, "Individuals tend to regret anything that will be a threat to [their] sense of belonging." Yes, your post-breakup regret could actually be triggered by the perceived threat to this basic human need. This is the same feeling you would experience if you lost your job.

Additionally, Summerville explained that people are more likely to regret things over which they have agency or control — and what are breakups if not that? — as well as ongoing or reoccurring themes in your life, like a relationship. "Combine the three factors — social belonging, agency/control, and ongoing struggle — and you have a hotbed for remorseful thought," Vice stated. Sad, but true. 

Your brain may be playing tricks on you if you feel regrets after a breakup

Like a helicopter parent, your brain wants nothing but to protect you from anything it deems harmful — even breakups. This is why you may find yourself waffling after having made what you thought was a definitive decision to end your relationship. "Anytime we anticipate any kind of pain, whether emotional or physical, the brain will try to find a way to avoid it," Jianny Adamo, a certified relationship coach and licensed mental health counselor, detailed to Rewire, "even if it tricks us into staying or going back by using regret — even if in the long run there will be more pain by staying."

Unlike an overbearing mother, though, the brain isn't actually all that good at knowing what's good for you. It's simply looking for an easy way out to avoid pain. So, while your brain may find it comforting to fill your head with regrets after a breakup and ignoring all the previous signs that you were headed toward a breakup, remember that you know best — brain be damned. 

You may have jumped the gun in calling it quits if you feel regrets following a breakup

Let's be real: Not all breakups happen after careful thought and planning. Sometimes relationships implode after a huge fight in which both parties say some seriously awful things — many of which they don't actually mean. If this is how your breakup happened, regret is likely to follow. Because there wasn't a lot of thought put into the breakup, you may consider getting back together. That's not necessarily a bad idea. After all, not thinking straight is just one of the many things that happens to your body when you fight with your SO.

Tina B. Tessina, psychotherapist and author of Dr. Romance's Guide to Finding Love Today, recommends thinking over the relationship and breakup. "Was there a lot of drama? This probably indicates you and your partner were just reacting to each other, and the breakup wasn't really thought out. It's worth going back, apologizing, and seeing if you can talk about what is wrong and work through it," she told Bustle. "If you two fought all the time," she stipulated, "that may be a good reason to break up."

If you feel regrets after a breakup, you may be confusing your emotions... and social media isn't helping

Breakups bring up a slew of emotions and with those emotions come confusion. "The most common mistake post-breakup is to confuse emotions with signs that you should be back together," Chelsea Leigh Trescott, breakup coach and host of the podcast Thank You Heartbreak, told Elite Daily. "Missing your ex and refreshing their Instagram feed every few hours — or minutes — isn't a sign that you lost the love of your life. It's a sign that you're experiencing the very real and natural tensions of heartbreak — emotions like longing and fixation that skew our perspective and hold our attention at a backwards glance."

Checking in on your ex on social media is also a surefire way to regrets after a breakup. "For some people, they may second guess their initial thoughts because they may see the positive highlights online and neglect the other feelings that they may have had in the relationship," Brandi Lewis, owner and lead therapist at North Carolina-based Reach Counseling Solutions, told Rewire. This is why the expert recommends blocking your ex across your social media platforms when you first break up.

You may not have tried all you could have to make it work if you feel regrets after a breakup

Although you're likely to experience at least some regrets after a breakup, you should pay attention to feelings of remorse related to not trying, or not trying hard enough, to make it work. If, instead of communicating about the issues in your relationship, you and your partner broke up, there may have been more that could've been done, like couples therapy or marriage counseling. And every relationship could benefit from couples therapy.

"You may need to try a couple of counselors before you find one you can work with," Tina B. Tessina, psychotherapist and author of Dr. Romance's Guide to Finding Love Today, revealed to Bustle. "Look for a counselor who is demanding, who expects you to change what you're doing. It will be the best investment you ever made in your [relationship] and your own happiness."

Counseling provides an opportunity for both parties to effectively communicate their feelings. "If you haven't calmly told the truth about how you're feeling, and it only comes out when you fight, then you haven't created a chance to fix things and restore your loving feelings," Tessina continued.

When you feel regrets over a breakup, you may be obsessing about what went wrong

When a relationship ends, it can be all too easy to obsess over what went wrong. You may try to pinpoint just where exactly the relationship took a turn for the worse. Of course, wondering what, if anything, you could've done to patch the relationship before it fell apart is only going to propel you further into regret. 

However, Brandi Lewis, owner and lead therapist at Reach Counseling Solutions in Charlotte, N.C., advises looking back on the relationship through a new lens. Instead of trying to come up with hypothetical solutions, it would be more constructive to look for the lesson. As much as you may want to go back in time and alter the past, there is always something to be learned that can be applied to the future. 

"For example, instead of saying, where did I go wrong, ask, what did I do to honor my own feelings?" Lewis explained to Rewireregarding feeling regrets after a breakup. "What is good about me that my partner may not have appreciated? What did I learn from this relationship about myself and my partner?"

You may not be giving yourself enough time if you're feeling regrets after a breakup

"Someone once said that for however long you were with someone, cut the time in half and that's how long it takes to get over them," author and marriage life coach Shellie R. Warren revealed to The List. That sounds like a solid technique, right? Not so fast. "Eh, I don't buy that," the expert confessed. "All of us are individuals, which means all of us are unique. It's not so much about applying a formula as it is about applying a certain set of habits."

When you feel deep regrets after a breakup, it could be that you're simply not giving yourself enough time to recover. "The relationship didn't take a day to develop, so it's not something you're going to be able to get over overnight," Warren continued. "Give yourself at least a couple of months before coming to the conclusion that you regret your breakup."

If you feel regrets after a breakup, you may want another chance

"If you're sure you broke up for a good reason, trust yourself," Tina B. Tessina, psychotherapist and author of Dr. Romance's Guide to Finding Love Today," advised when speaking to Bustle. After all, who knows you better than, well, you? "Just the upset of being alone and not wanting to date again isn't enough to get back into a relationship that wasn't working," Tessina further noted. But, what if — after careful consideration — you realize that the regrets you're feeling after a breakup stems from a place of knowing you made the wrong decision in breaking up? It does happen.

"Sometimes it takes losing someone for you to realize what you had," author and marriage life coach Shellie R. Warren revealed to The List. Warren advises "reaching out" to your ex and seeing where things go. She added, "Sometimes the second or third chance really is the charm. And that's okay."