Is there such a thing as a healthy breakup when it comes to relationships? Too often we hear about people becoming nasty, turning what were once loving feelings into aggression and vindictiveness? Then there are the stories about those men and women who stay permanently wounded, so hurt that they never again trust themselves to get into another relationship. Fortunately most of us avoid these extreme reactions.
Even so, breaking up from a partner almost never happens without both parties feeling some emotional pain. It’s just that some of us get over this better and quicker than others. Why is this? How is it that some people seem to get through the hurt, rejection, disappointment, rage, guilt, depression, loneliness and so on that often comes with a breakup, while others get stuck in their misery?
I have often see men or women who have spent the last two or three (or even more) years thinking about their ex. They spend a lot of time going over and over why it didn’t work, either blaming themselves (now that’s a good recipe for low self-esteem) or blaming their ex-partner (and that’s a good recipe for a stomach ulcer). Guess what they are not doing? They’re not enjoying life now! How can they, when all their attention is on the past? And if there’s a new partner on the scene, what chance has that relationship of being successful? Not much chance at all.
So, what are the secrets to getting over a relationship soon rather than later/never? Unfortunately there are many well-meaning souls who will tell you to “just let go the past and enjoy life now”, “stay in the now”, “say positive affirmations regularly”, “feeling bitter isn’t good for you” and so on. There is always someone ready to offer you their bit of pop psychology gleaned from the current guru or celebrity who has supposedly ‘seen the light’. Well, sure, enjoying life now blah blah blah is a great idea, but how on earth do you get to that point? After all, feeling miserable and angry after a breakup is a fact of life for many.
Here are some suggestions that have helped my clients:
(1) Permanently separate yourself from your ex at a physical level. By that I mean, cut ALL ties. Don’t hang on by phoning, emailing or visiting. Unfortunately many people do this. And some ex’s also do the phoning, emailing etc – just to keep you dangling. And that’s exactly what all this contact does – keeps you hoping for something positive to happen between the two of you. Except that it rarely does.
Forget about trying to get an apology or some sign that the ex understands your feelings. Forget trying to get revenge. And definitely forget hoping he or she will fall in love with you again. It rarely happens. Once the “in love” turns to feelings of companionship or dislike that seems to be it, I’m afraid.
So, break the ties as soon as possible after the break-up. Of course, if you have kids this isn’t easy to do but you can still reduce all contact to brief exchanges about the school concert, holidays schedules and so on. Don’t be surprised, however, if breaking the connection throws you into more grief for a short while. There’s always some of this stuff hidden away behind our hopes and dreams. It doesn’t mean you should go back – just that you are sad it didn’t work out.
(2) Separate at an emotional level. Easier said than done, I know, but nevertheless, it’s an important step. Don’t mistake caring feelings you might have for your ex as the potential to regain that ‘in love’ feeling. Try this exercise: say: “my relationship with ………. is finished” out loud several times a day for two weeks. It doesn’t matter if you can’t (or don’t want to ) believe what you’re saying. Hearing what we’re most afraid of – the truth – helps us to face the reality and also our grief.
You might even consider writing a good-bye letter to the ex that you never send (hint: keep a box of tissues handy). This allows you to write exactly what you’re feeling without worrying about how it will be taken. Just remember that it’s a goodbye letter, not a “please-take-me-back-I’ll-do-anything-you-ask” letter.
(3) It helps to have a good support network while you’re making the break from your ex-partner. Friends are great to have around, but so too are work colleagues, neighbours and family. Don’t be too fussy – anyone who’ll listen when you feel the urge to phone your ex will do. In other words, call someone else instead and stay on the line until the urge to phone has passed. Later you’ll feel pleased with yourself for resisting the urge.
After you’ve written your goodbye letter read it out loud to someone else who cares about you. Hopefully you’ll get a hug for having the strength to do it.
(4) When you do the things I’ve just suggested you are, in effect, taking care of the part of you that is hurting. You are nurturing yourself. Unfortunately, some people aren’t good at doing this. They want someone else (their ex, perhaps?) to make them feel better and don’t know how to do this for themselves. This will only make you more miserable so get some help from a counsellor who can show you how to take better care of the yourself. Dr V
PO Box 1127 Bentley DC 6983 Western Australia