What comes to mind when you think of them?
If you’re like most women, the first word that comes to mind is “heartbreak.”
Pain. Mistakes. Scars.
You have to carry that baggage for the rest of your life.
Common wisdom says you should forgive.
You can’t let go of the past until you’re completely at peace with what happened and hold no anger.
That’s a wonderful goal to aim for.
Forgiving your exes lightens your heart, helps you heal, and restores joy to your love life.
But it’s not easy. Not in the slightest.
Surely, if you could forgive, you’d have done it already, right? Because it feels so much better when you let stuff go.
You don’t want to carry that stuff around with you. You, more than anyone, know how much better life would be if you didn’t feel pain every time you thought about that part of your past.
That’s why I sometimes suggest a different goal:
Compassion with boundaries.
It accomplishes many of the same benefits as forgiveness, but it’s much more attainable. It helps you reap the lessons and discard the chaff, so that your future looks a whole lot brighter.
Let’s start by looking at boundaries.
How to Keep Bad Things from Happening Again
The reason so many of us hang onto unforgivingness is because we think it protects us. We don’t want to get hurt again.
So we remind ourselves periodically, “Look at what happened last time I trusted someone! Remember how that turned out?”
But what happened to you last time doesn’t predict what’s going to happen to you this time.
You’re smarter now. You’re stronger. You don’t need to hold onto those old memories in order to make wiser choices this time around.
Letting the past hang around just casts a pall over your future. There’s a better way to keep yourself safe.
And that’s by setting boundaries.
Boundaries are your limits. They define exactly how you’ll allow yourself to be treated. Some boundaries go without saying—no abuse, no violence, no cheating. But other boundaries are fuzzier. Let’s discuss a few of those.
For example, will you allow an intimate partner to crack a joke at your expense? Is it okay if he shows up late? What if he gets mad at you in a way you find intimidating?
Before, you may have allowed those behaviors. You didn’t want to lose the relationship, so you didn’t call him out on the stuff that made you uncomfortable.
But you’re not that woman anymore.
You’re not going to give up your power in a relationship again. You’re going to stand your ground. And boundaries are going to help you do it.
Get out a sheet of paper and write down a list of your boundaries. What won’t you tolerate in a relationship anymore? What’s unacceptable? Put it all down in writing (for yourself…no one else).
This is where you can gain useful lessons from even your most painful past experiences. Think back to behaviors that made you feel small, used, or powerless. As you write them down, feel yourself drawing a line between your past and your future. Tell yourself, “No more. Never again.”
Letting Go of the Anger
As you think about your past, you may find yourself getting angry that you allowed men to treat you the way they did.
It can be hard to consider forgiving them for behavior that was heartless, even cruel.
Try this instead.
Consider that these men who hurt you were themselves wounded.
Maybe they grew up seeing relationships in which both partners hurt each other, so they thought that behavior was normal. Maybe they never saw what healthy love looked like. Maybe they never felt loved, so they decided to take what they could.
That doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it helps you feel compassion.
If you still struggle to feel compassion, try to imagine your ex as a 5-year-old boy. That boy didn’t know he’d grow into a man who’d make mistakes. That boy was just like every other boy, full of life and energy. If you can’t feel compassion for the man, can you feel compassion for the boy?
The other place where you may need compassion is with regard to yourself. You may not just feel angry about what he did; you may feel angry with yourself for letting it happen.
If you’d have known better, you would have acted differently. But you did the best you could with what you knew at that time.
Can you feel compassion for your own mistakes?
We all make mistakes in love. Sometimes, they’re major mistakes. But those mistakes are our teachers. They show us what to look for in future partners.
Have you done the work of forgiving an ex? Let us know in the comments.