Surviving A Breakup
Relationships are work, hard work at times. Loving another person is more than a feeling, it’s a choice. The sense and feeling most books and movies ascribe to love is just an emotional reaction. Real love comes from choosing to be with that one person over all the others. Sometimes that choice is easy and other times it is difficult, but one that we make. Sometimes the person we’ve chosen to love no longer feels the same way and does not make the same choice to love us back. In those cases, when they decided to leave but we want them to stay emotional pain and trauma occur.
Most of your romantic relationships will end in some form of break-up, that’s just the way dating works. It can feel devastating when a relationship ends. It can take time and several relationships to find the right person, very few very lucky people find the right one in their first relationship. For the rest of us we have to suffer through a few break-ups before we find the right one. If we do it right then we’ll learn a little about ourselves and others from each relationship. Understanding this can help to make break-ups easier. It will not take away the pain, but may put some perspective on it that will dull it a bit.
Whether you are going through a break-up, are the one who left, or are helping a friend through a rough break-up there are strategies that will help to reduce the pain and promote healing. No one enjoys ending a relationship, however there are things that you can do to ease the suffering of yourself and others as they go through the emotional turmoil of a break-up.
Relationships require effort to work, when they end it can feel like you’ve wasted time and energy. This feeling is healthy when brief right after the breakup, but don’t let it linger too long. These tips and strategies are not only for the person who has been dumped or left. They can also help the person who realizes they need to end the relationship. If a break-up is fresh you may have to just focus on taking it one hour at time, then you can move to one day at a time, then to one week or one month at a time. You may have solid relationship, or be single, knowing these strategies can help you to be there for your friends going through a break-up.
Let yourself grieve, it is a loss and you shouldn’t fight your feelings instead let them flow.
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid.” ~ C.S. Lewis
Grieving when you lose someone is a natural response, don’t fight this necessary step to recovery. Many people delay their healing because they don’t allow themselves to grieve or to fully experience the grief process. Don’t be too ashamed to cry it out, even us guys need the cathartic release of crying during a loss. It may feel like if you start you won’t be able to stop, well allow yourself time and space to cry it all out. You will stop, eventually.
Understanding the various stages of grief will help you to both realize where you are in the process and to know what to expect.
- Denial – Typically the first response to grief, it acts as a numbing agent to hold back the overwhelming emotions.
- Bargaining – Usually happens when you can’t deny it any longer so you look for ways to stop the breakup from happening.
- Anger – This comes about when the bargaining doesn’t work, so frustrations turns to anger and resentment.
- Depression – Often the longest stage of grief, it seems like there is no hope of ever feeling happy again.
- Acceptance – The final stage comes when you accept that you will not be getting back together, or staying together.
While there is a typical progression through the stages, that doesn’t mean that you will experience them in the same order. You will also go through them in cycles where you may move through the same stage multiple times. Just because you have accepted that the relationship is over doesn’t mean that you won’t have times you are depressed or angry about it.
Relationships take two people to work or fail, while you may have had a part in your relationship ending avoid ruminating or blaming yourself.
Breakups are a very personal matter so it’s not possible to not take it personally, especially where strong emotions are concerned. However, you don’t want to linger on blaming yourself for too long after the break up. You were part of the relationship so yes you do have some blame in the break up, but you were not in it alone so you are not the only one to blame. If you are not careful you can get into an endless cycle of self-blame.
A healthier way to look at the breakup is that you both had different needs and wants that were conflicting with each other. Each of you was trying to get your needs met by the other person, unfortunately in this situation you were not able to meet each other’s needs. People don’t start relationships with the intent of it failing, however they do typically because of an inability to meet the other person’s needs. Sometimes this is because of lack of communication of those needs, other times it is because of each other’s personalities or past events.
Get some distance from your ex to allow yourself time to heal.
While you will want to be around your ex because you miss them, do not allow yourself to spend time with them, physically or virtually. Doing so will prevent you from moving on and may be considered clingy behavior by your ex.
One of the most effective ways to help yourself move forward is to follow the No Contact Rule. This states that you should have no contact with your ex for at least 60 days, contact means more than in person, it includes texting, calling, gaming, and messaging. It seems a bit extreme, but this will give you time and distance from the relationship to apply and use the other strategies.
Do not expect your ex to be posting on social media about how much they miss your or how sad they are, you shouldn’t be doing that either. People tend to only present the best, most exciting parts of their lives on social media. Seeing your ex posting about going out with friends and having fun without you will be painful. Unfriend or unfollow them as soon as possible.
Finally, it may not be completely possible to avoid contact with your ex while you are going through the grieving process and moving on with your life. You may work together, have kids, or share the same social circle. Reduce contact to the bare minimum and keep it professional in tone. Politely ask your friends to not invite you if they know your ex will be at an event. When working or volunteering in the same place, ask your supervisor, within reason, to not schedule you at the same time as your ex. If sharing custody of kids, develop a routine so you can reduce the amount of time you are discussing plans with the ex.
The thing that shocks most people about break-ups is the intense amount of loneliness, make sure you have a support system for dealing with it.
Being in a relationship involves spending a lot of time with the other person, sometimes to the exclusion of friends and family as you are developing the relationship. This can create large gaps in you life when that person leaves. As humans we are not designed to be alone, we are pack animals. The pull of loneliness is exceptionally strong, you will need to have those around you who can be there for you when you need to just be around people.
You are going to want your ex back, even after you’ve moved through the grief and are getting your life back on track. You’ll start to wonder how they are or what they are doing. This is a dangerous line of thinking because it can lead you back into the grief cycle. During this time you’ll need to lean on your friends and family, especially early on to help you get through the loneliest parts. As you build new routines in your life without the other person the loneliness will fade.
Break-ups cause a lot of chaos in your life, immediately start building a new routine for yourself.
Don’t stop your established routines, they will give you stability and a sense of normalcy as many other areas of your life are turned upside down. Established routines may involve your sleep/wake cycle or when you to go bed and get up or things like when you leave for work. New routines may be how you prepare and eat your meals or what you do in the evenings.
Some people need to stay busy when going through a break-up because it helps them to process without ruminating on the pain or the issues they had with their ex. Other people may find themselves overwhelmed and need to drop a few extraneous responsibilities in order to focus on what is important. You will have to figure out which one you are. Getting back into your routines, or even creating new ones, will not only provide a sense or normalcy but it will put you back in control of your life.
Address your emotions and feeling around the breakup by talking about it.
Find a friend or family member you can trust who will be a supportive listener, you don’t want someone to give you advice here. You’re looking for someone who will listen and maybe even normalize your feelings by sharing their own stories of break ups. Talking it out will not only allow for another person to help you comprehend your emotions, but it will help you to gain new understandings. This is similar to the rubber duck effect but for emotions instead of coding, by talking them out you will see things that you didn’t notice when you were in the midst of feeling them.
If you do not have anyone in your life who can be there for you to listen there are several support groups for those who are recently single. If needed you may even seek counseling to help you through the roughest times.
There are times when it is not appropriate to talk about your feelings such as work, school, or other public places where you might become emotional. Also you don’t want to share your grief with everyone, instead pick a few people to confide in.
Create a journal to track your progress through the grief process and the breakup as a whole.
People aren’t always available when you need to express your feelings, even if you are paying them. Some of your thoughts and feelings may be too private to share with friends or family. Writing your feelings down can be very freeing. You are able to address them, put them down on paper, and then move on. You may even find yourself expressing emotions that you didn’t know you had or that you would never express in front of others.
The nice thing about keeping a journal is that you can go back later and see your progress. While going through grief and learning to live your life again you can get caught up in the next mountain you have to climb, forgetting about all the ones you’ve already crossed. If you haven’t read it, check out “A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis. It is a collection of journal entries from the time after his wife passed away.
A specific strategy that you can apply when journaling is to create a list of all the negative qualities of your ex.
This sounds harsh and mean, but you are not doing it to show anyone else. It is a way for you to start removing the filters you’ve put up while in the relationship that paint a better picture of them. It can be very easy to only focus on the positive aspects of your ex, especially if you did not want the break-up. Focusing only on the things about them that you miss will exacerbate your pain and grief.
Creating this list will provide an outlet when you are in the anger stage of grief that doesn’t have major consequences. Once you’ve created the list, spend time looking at it and thinking back on your relationship. You will start to see some of the incompatibilities you were blinded to when you were with the person.
Make sure to take time to care for yourself during the break-up and subsequent grieving process.
Depression resulting from a break-up can lead to several unhealthy behaviors, many of which are a lack of normal or healthy behavior. This can lead to health problems that will only exacerbate your grief. Make sure you are eating, even if you don’t feel like it. Sleep deprivation can lead to some interesting days and nights, be sure to get sleep.
Do something special for yourself, indulge a little bit. This can be something like going to a nice restaurant, getting a massage, or even going on a short trip or mini vacation for a weekend.
You aren’t going to be at your best while going through the break-up. Lighten your load a bit and take it easy. That is unless focusing on work helps you to process, then find simple tasks so that you aren’t expecting too much of yourself.
Nothing fights grief and depression better than physical activity. Now is the time to start exercising if you aren’t already. If anything it will help you get into better shape for doing activities when you are ready to get back out into the dating game.
You are not getting back together, letting that thought go will move you forward in your healing more than anything else.
It is very easy to hold onto the hope that you will get back together with you ex. You want to be with them so you allow yourself the fantasy that they will come back or there is something you can do to win them back. Unfortunately, holding onto this hope prevents you from closing out that time in your life. This lack of closure will prevent you from moving on and moving your life forward without them.
The temptation to call, text, or message your ex will be strong, almost overwhelming at times. You have to resist the urge to reach out for a little more connection. It will only hurt your self esteem if you reach out to your ex and then they do not want to talk to you or if they do when they are not the same as they were in the relationship. One of the hardest things in a break-up is to interact with an ex who has moved on and doesn’t have the same caring, loving manner they did when you were together.
Tricks of the Trade
The thing that hurts worse isn’t the stuff that breaks, it’s the stuff that you thought would happen that doesn’t. Be careful about dreaming, you may be pointing suffering in your own direction.