It is an experience shared by most people around the world. A romantic relationship is coming to an end and you can’t seem to get the person out of your mind.
For weeks – and even months – you’ll be plagued by memories and thoughts of regret.
The phenomenon appears to have a name: ‘Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda syndrome’, according to some psychologists.
“I hear a lot of people use the phrase, ‘I should have done it differently’ or ‘I wonder what my life would have been like if I had just done that (insert lost dream or missed opportunity)’. The cana, Woulda, Shoulda syndrome can make our lives very difficult and even bring them to a standstill,” says Eric Sudler, a psychologist at the Albert Ellis Institute.”
But your broken thoughts are completely normal after a breakup; in fact, our brains are primed to have them. Especially if you have unfinished business.
One notable figure who can now relate more than ever is reality star Scott Disick – Kourtney Kardashian’s former partner, who is rumored to have deep regrets that the pair didn’t end up together.
Kourtney Kardashian and Scott Disick dated for nine years and had three children together – insiders say Disick found her new relationship with Travis Barker difficult to digest
Kourtney, 44, is expected to give birth to her first child with Blink 182 star Travis Barker any day now. She has three children with Disick.
According to psychological science, suffering has everything to do with a phenomenon known as the Ziergarnik effect: the innate tendency to focus more on incomplete tasks than on completed ones.
Brain scan research shows that information deemed important is quickly moved to a part of the brain responsible for short-term memory, the hippocampus.
Many of these memories are discarded or moved to a deeper layer of the brain where they are not easily accessible, to make room for new memories.
But if a task isn’t completed, we’re committed to keeping it accessible. Brain signals are sent to instruct us to keep repeating the information, to keep it as accessible as possible, research shows.
Kourtney and Travis tied the knot in May 2022 and the couple is expecting their first child together
Only when we have completed the task can we store it in our long-term memory.
Studies from the 1960s found evidence for the phenomenon. Tests published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology showed that volunteers were better at remembering anagrams they couldn’t solve, compared to those they could solve.
Psychologists say it’s this curious effect – coupled with the acute emotion – that keeps a recently ended romance at the forefront of your mind.
So what do you do to stop it?
According to Kelly McMenaminan organizational and behavioral expert, the trick is to plan something to do about the situation to ‘relieve the cognitive tension’.
In the case of a failed relationship, this may include discussing regrets, desires, and hopes with a loved one, or making plans for your life after that person.
But experts also say it’s important to give yourself a break. Time is the ultimate healer.