We tend to look back at some of our ex-partners with resentment or even embarrassment. However, the truth is that even our most ill-advised dating ventures have brought a certain amount of positivity into our lives. Consider this list of ten things worth thank our exes for—it highlights just how much our self-development and long-term happiness can benefit from those relationships that don’t work out.
#1. Teaching us how (and how not) to argue
Whether you were trapped in a constant battleground of vicious arguments or resolutely avoided discussing your problems no matter how extreme they became, any failed relationship will have taught you something about how to engage in conflict.
You’ll have an awareness of what triggers anger in you, and you’ll have learned valuable lessons about which tactics might lead to resolutions (and which only breed hostility). Taking these lessons into new relationships gives you a greater chance to deal with conflict in a mature, effective way.
#2. Redefining love
Every ex-partner that you truly loved has probably challenged your ideas about what love can be. Learning that you could tolerate—or even enjoy—certain traits and interests will have given you a more inclusive conception of what a good partner might be like. In addition, having a variety of exes encourages you to surrender the assumption that you have “a type” and thereby reduces the chances that you’ll be close-minded about romantic possibilities that could bring you real satisfaction.
#3. Illustrating that love isn’t always enough
Your past relationships also serve as a reminder that a relationship can’t survive on love alone. It’s tempting to think that this most powerful and profound of emotions is enough to sustain a partnership. Still, in truth, there are equally important ingredients—such as consistent effort, empathy, and trust.
Exes who inspired head-over-heels love but couldn’t be emotionally open or were never reliable have ensured that you’ll look for more than mere passion and mutual adoration in the future.
#4. Showing us where our boundaries are
Most people have been in relationships in which a partner pushed boundaries, and you may not have even known those boundaries were there until you felt the pain or fury associated with having them breached.
For example, have you been with someone who tried to control your friendships, wanted to spend every waking moment together, or tried to convince you it was okay to play fast and lose with a commitment to fidelity? This person has given you a clearer sense of what you cannot tolerate from a partner.
#5. Highlighting vital needs
Many of your past relationships will have ended in part because you had unmet needs. As with boundaries, you may not have known quite how significant those needs were until you had a partner who refused to (or could not) meet them. Thanks to your exes, you now know more about what is required for your happiness.
#6. Connecting us with wounds that need healing
The uglier parts of your relationships may have brought your attention to old wounds that can still be activated in emotionally charged scenarios. Often, it’s the insecurities that go back to childhood that loom large in a relationship conflict, telling you that there is still important healing to be done.
If you’re inspired to do more self-reflection or work through your past with a therapist, your ex has indirectly done you a favor and promoted future strength of character.
#7. Offering acceptance
At some point, most of your exes probably accepted or even prized a part of you that you thought was unattractive or bland. Every exchange that made you feel witty, each compliment that helped you feel comfortable in your skin, and all of those moments of genuine engagement with your more eccentric interests have all benefited your confidence by making you feel good about being yourself.
#8. Proving our resilience
Your most exhausting relationships and most painful breakups have shown you just how much you can handle. As you leave such unhealthy, draining dynamics behind, you know that you’re stronger than you ever realized and that you have it in you to tackle all of the other challenges life will inevitably throw your way.
#9. Affirming that our identities don’t depend on our partners
Suppose you have often thrown yourself into your relationships and have had a tendency to become fused with significant others. In that case, it’s only through separating that you will have started learning that your identity goes beyond your role as a lover.
Becoming single again—however briefly—connects you with the authentic traits that define you, rather than just the ones you have suppressed or exaggerated in a quest to please your partner.
#10. Requiring us to let go
Finally, there is always something difficult about leaving a relationship behind. Whether the challenge is as huge as restructuring your entire life in the wake of losing someone you thought was your soul mate or as small as that niggling sadness associated with a sense of what a casual relationship could have been, you’re forced to learn new skills about coping with loss.
As you work to see the positive side of a failed relationship and nurture your adaptability, letting go inevitably helps you grow in new and meaningful ways.