Your Relationship Ended. Does That Make You a Failure?

In my practice, it is unfortunately common for clients to end up blaming themselves when their relationship ends. This is especially true after a breakup when they sometimes will even consider themselves a failure. For some clients with depressive tendencies, the breakup can trigger a negative thinking spiral where they become hyper-focused on their faults and inadequacies.

If you can avoid becoming stuck in a self-critical loop and learn from what happened in the relationship, you are much more likely to have a healthy relationship in the future.

How These Clients See Themselves

When a relationship ends, some clients see themselves not just as failures but also tend to have deeply flawed self-perceptions. For example they

  • Think that there is something fundamentally wrong with them.
  • Think that they are unlovable.
  • Think that they will never be able to find a partner or spouse.

One helpful place to start for these self-critical clients is to first re-evaluate what should be considered a “successful relationship.” Is the one that ends in wedding bells the only kind of successful relationship? Different people will have different answers, but a relationship requires continuous hard work. There is always a risk that a relationship won’t last forever. However, these self-critical people often they believe they are 100% responsible for the end of their relationship.

Generalizing the Blame

People who have depressive tendencies or who are already depressed are going to mostly focus on the negative side of life and apply that outlook to most situations in their life. They also tend to generalize where they take one negative event and apply it broadly in their life.

For example:

  • (after a breakup) “I must not be good at relationships.”
  • (after a negative interaction) “I am doing something wrong.”
  • (after a relationship ends) “Something must be wrong with me – I can’t make relationships work.”

Yet there are many reasons why a relationship ends. There could be a mismatch of personalities, styles, or financial goals. It is never the case that one person deserves 100% responsibility when a relationship ends. One overlooked reason for the end of many relationships is that two partners are simply not compatible. After all, it takes two people to make any relationship succeed.

Not too long ago, one of my clients made the mistake of piecing together events and drawing the wrong conclusions. This client had recently ended his relationship and was spending time out with friends. However, a conflict ensued between him and others in his group, which caused him to focus on the negative things. He wound up thinking, “something must be wrong with me.”

This was specifically problematic with regards to his perceived lack of appeal to the opposite sex. The event confirmed his negative beliefs about himself and unfortunately reinforced his self-doubts. It was only by discussing and logically examining his situation that was he able to realize there had been a lack of compatibility between him and his partner.

So Are You a Failure or Not?

However you end a relationship, it is important for you to learn from the experience. Some questions to consider:

  • What did new information did I learn about myself or qualities that I did not realize before?
  • What worked and what did not work in the relationship?
  • How did I approach conflict or problems in the relationship?
  • Was there anything I could have done differently?
  • Is there something about my past that contributed to my attraction to a partner that in the end was the wrong fit for me?

It can be fairly challenging to do this kind of self-assessment. However, the alternative is not very desirable! Do you really want to end up stuck in similar unhealthy relationships with the same results? I hope not! 

From my perspective, the only failure that comes from ending a relationship is not learning from the experience. If you are struggling and can’t seem to stop blaming yourself for these failed relationships, consider getting professional help. A skilled therapist can help you re-balance your negative thinking patterns and assist you in your self-discovery so that you can find a satisfying relationship in the future.


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