'No Hard Feelings': 7 People On What They Really Owe Their Exes

Our exes deserve a shout out, Little-Mix style, not for leaving us, but for what they leave us.
Getty/HuffPost UK

You’re reading Shout Out To Your Ex, our series on breakups, bouncing back, and why the end of a relationship can be the start of everything else.

If Little Mix have taught us anything, it’s that once the wounds have healed, we can all take something positive from a breakup. “You made my heart break and that made me who I am,” sing our favourite group, as love-struck teens and divorcees triple their age nod along – or punch the air – in agreement.

Few lyrics resonate quite so universally. A breakup can alter our understanding both of love and ourselves, says Counselling Directory member Samantha Adams – and that’s why it can feel so transformative.

“Some relationships aren’t meant to be forever, but may be right for a ‘season’ of your life. By the end of a relationship, you are not the same person as you were at the beginning, nor will you be if you decide to commit to another relationship,” she tells HuffPost UK.

From opening our eyes to new passions to helping us discover something life-altering about ourselves, we asked readers to share the positives they’ve taken from past partners to mark the launch of our series, Shout Out To Your Ex.

“Take with you what you’ve learnt and collect the experiences about what you need,” Adams advises, “even if that lesson was a difficult and painful one.”

Takeaway #1: Breakups can be a show of strength

“I learnt from my first love and turbulent, heartbreaking relationship that love doesn’t always mean compatibility, and that was the hardest lesson. I also learnt a breakup is not a failure, it is a show of strength and of respect for you and the person you are with.

“My most recent ex came into my life and was a huge support. We’re just friends now, but that relationship was a real eye-opener and allowed me to realise I am capable of love and being loved in equal measure, and that I can commit to one person (this was a previous fear from the psychology of someone who has split parents).

“He honestly helped me to become the confident and mentally strong person I am today. We didn’t make it long term, but I believe he came into my life for a reason and I’m thankful to have had his support.” – Tilly Haines, 25, Wiltshire

Takeaway #2: There is power in forgiveness

“My ex taught me the greatest thing ever, the power of forgiveness. After my three-year relationship ended with my ex because we grew apart and he found someone else, I felt rejected and not worthy of love. I was so mad at him and carried that emotion and resentment into any new potential relationships, which all ended as quickly as they took to develop.

“That was until I met up with him and saw how happy he now was. By forgiving him for cheating on me I was able to move on and fall in love with my current partner of five years. My ex and I are still friendly and there’s no hard feelings.” – James*, 38, London

Takeaway #3: The joy of coffee and confidence

“From my ex, I got the love for coffee, some boxing lessons and pick-yourself-up-and-hit-again resilience, how to love my body just the way it is and, even though I am still struggling with it, he tried to convince me that living my life without constantly worrying about others’ opinions is the key to fully embracing yourself. He taught me about music and comedy and, most importantly, he taught me about himself. This really is a grateful shout out to him.” – Annie*, 24, Glasgow

Takeaway #4: Dogs are pretty great

“I was a confirmed cat lover from childhood and simply didn’t have the space in my life for dogs. My ex convinced me that getting a dog would be great for my health, 11 years on, I have the ‘Bear Family’ and own an award-winning dog business.” – Rae Radford, Broadstairs, 59

Rae Radford's dogs, aka 'The Bear Family’
Rae Radford
Rae Radford's dogs, aka 'The Bear Family’

Takeaway #5: Look out for those red flags

“My ex taught me that if you spot warning signs and red flags early on, end the relationship. No matter how hard they try to win you back, you’ll only end up doing it years later after discovering many more red flags. Another lesson: it’s far better to be ‘alone’ and actually rather fun, than losing yourself by being in a relationship for the sake of that ‘security.’” – Roxanne*, 30, London

Takeaway #6: Live for yourself, not others

“My ex-husband and my previous life with him taught me that living a life that was built on the expectations of others – however full of material goods and how good it looks to the outside world – is miserable and exhausting.

“My favourite uncle died suddenly and I found myself in counselling and seeing my relationship, marriage and life through a different lens. I realised I needed to get out and found the courage to do so, pushing back against a lot of family and friends who thought I was mad. It completely changed my life and now work with others as a mentor/coach to help them grow their self-awareness and make changes that fit who they truly are.” – Sue Tappenden, 57, Kent

Takeaway #7: Accept that all things pass

“From my ex I learnt a few things, one of which is impermanence: that sometimes relationships come to a natural end, and that it’s important to recognise and respect that when it happens. We were together for about 10 years, and about seven or eight years into the relationship, we both went to different universities. It slowly caused us to drift apart. The relationship became more something we were both in because of how long we had been together, out of habit, not necessarily because we still wanted to be in it.

“We met up a couple months after she broke up with me and we both said: ‘You know, we probably should have wrapped this up a couple of years ago.’ The way that helped me is an understanding that all things pass and that’s okay, whether that’s jobs, adversities, relationships (in the broadest sense of the word, not just intimate ones), illnesses and so on. It’s been very liberating.” – Dan, 29, Cheshire

*Some surnames have been omitted to provide anonymity