Once people get a few breakups under their belt, they usually realize that the end of a relationship can stir up anything from grief to an overwhelming sense of relief. But first breakups are often devastating and, if they're traumatic enough, they can set the tone for all of our relationships moving forward until we've fully processed the heartbreak. With the gift of hindsight, how people would change their first breakup varies. Experiencing a breakup's powerful emotions for the first time — whether it be rejection, guilt, or a sense of failure — is challenging and confusing enough on its own. Add on top of that the loneliness and isolation that usually accompanies them and you've got the perfect recipe for a gnarly mental health spiral.
It's useful to keep in mind that navigating relationships is a never-ending, information-gathering experiment. There's no such thing as doing it perfectly, and no magic combination of words or actions exists that will prevent either of you from ever getting hurt. But sparing yourself emotional pain isn't really the point of relationships or their endings, so rolling with the feelings that accompany them — whatever they may be — is almost always the best way forward. Here are a few ways people said they'd do things differently in their first breakups.
1. Do It Sooner
"If I could go back and change my first breakup, I would’ve done it sooner. For months, I knew that the relationship was just not going to last, but I let it linger on until things got awkward, uncomfortable, and feelings were hurt. Once you have that realization that things are not going to get better, the sooner you break things off, the better — for both of you." —Alissa, 23
2. Don't Be So Mean
"I wouldn't have been so mean to the poor guy. I was so uncomfortable with my own feelings, rather than attempting a conversation, I just flipped out and became very angry." —Becki, 31
3. Pay Closer Attention
"If I could change my first adult breakup, which has happened in the last year, I would’ve paid attention and taken action to end it sooner. After being in a three-year relationship, I look back now and see signs from the very beginning where I knew it wasn’t going to last. But it was new to me. It was my first real relationship. I liked having a person to go on dates with, to go home to at night, to lounge on the couch with, and to invite to family functions. I didn’t want to sacrifice that just because of these minor red flags I saw within the first three months.
I won’t waste as much time in future relationships. In the end, it made the breakup harder when it finally happened. You go that long with someone, spending majority of your time with them for three years, and when it’s done, you don’t know what to do. What your time and energy has been put into for so long is over, and you feel lost and empty." —Korryn, 23
4. Find Common Ground For A Mutual Breakup
"My first adult breakup was wild. I was 22 and had been with my boyfriend since high school. We moved in together and had been living together for a year. However, we started to grow apart and become different people, which typically happens. I remember in my head, I knew it was over when, on the day of our breakup, he chose to spend time with his friends over me. I lost it. We had been together for five years and something in me just snapped. I think it was the fact I was unhappy for awhile and took all that frustration out on him. I was verbally abusive, and instead of just being like, 'This isn't working,' I went off. Reflecting back, I would have changed the way I handled it and reached a common ground where both of us acknowledged that it wasn't going to work. For the longest he didn't have closure." —Kiedra, 33
5. Stand Your Ground
"I would have been more combative (or maybe just stood my ground more firmly). I had a feeling in my gut that he was cheating or that something weird was going on for awhile without having concrete evidence. I would ask him about it and he would obviously gaslight me and tell me it was all in my head because of my insecurities. I was afraid to fight him on it because I was afraid of being dumped for not having anything solid against him. It wasn't until I actually friended his other partner on Facebook that he finally acknowledged what he was doing, confirming my suspicions all along. I've since learned my lesson and am definitely not afraid to stand my ground in all relationships as a result of that relationship." —Kira, 25
Ultimately, questioning your intuition in any first-time scenario is totally normal, and it's often difficult to parse the difference between a red flag and a personal defense you're trying to overcome. But we're taught to ignore our intuition in so many situations for other people's comfort that we frequently shut it down altogether. Standing by your gut and voicing what it's telling you with your partner — whether it leads to the end of the relationship or not — is an honesty that will get you closer to the right fit in the end.