Recovering from a recent break-up
Theresa just got out of a three-year relationship. Since the breakup she’s experienced a roller coaster of emotions. She knew they had issues and that a breakup was necessary, but it doesn’t make her thoughts of him go away. Friends and family have been supportive, but she worries they’re growing tired of hearing her rehash what went wrong. She loses herself on social media, looking through status updates and pictures for evidence he is dating other people. It makes her feel terrible, but she can’t seem to stop.
Ricky used to think of himself as more a sophisticated relationship partner than others. Unlike his friends, Ricky seemed to have no trouble at all maintaining friendships with the women he used to date. However, one of them recently pointed out that every time he ends a new love affair, like clockwork, he reaches out to an ex to “see how [they’re] doing.” Sometimes this results in harmless banter, but more often than not, it involves an evening of drinking, nostalgia, and sometimes, sex. Being called out on this made Ricky wonder Ricky whether he’s keeping his exes on tap as “backups,” just in case he doesn’t meet anyone better.
Jess can’t stop thinking about her ex. Everything seems to be a reminder of the closeness they once had. She’s had to change where she works out, what she eats for breakfast, the shampoo that she uses, the music that she listens to… It feels like just about anything can bring back a memory of the way things were. The pain from these memories is almost too much to handle. She questions if she will ever feel emotionally stable enough to even think about dating again.
Breaking up is hard to do.
There is no easy way to get through a breakup. Everyone struggles with ending a relationship because it requires letting go — really letting go — which we know is much easier said than done. This typically means stopping phone calls, emails, texts, and…ahem, Facebook stalking! Getting over a breakup requires time and reflection so that you can get to a place where you feel like you can make sense of what’s transpired, and accept that you’re no longer together.
Breakups don’t always come with closure
Often, we struggle with ending relationships because we don’t get the sense of closure we really want. Many things are left unsaid and loose ends are left untied. In short, breakups often end differently than what we want. It’s nearly always ideal to part ways with a partner in such a fashion that both people walk away feeling good, like it was the right timing and decision, and generally okay, but this isn’t always the case. Because this is true, closure is sometimes something that we have to work at ourselves, and in a way that doesn’t directly involve the person we broke up with.
Time to reflect
Your ex may have been at fault for a lot of the issues that arose in your relationship. In addition to looking at that, it’s typically a good idea to take a look at how your behavior may have contributed to the relationship’s demise. One of the difficulties in doing this is that we often feel overwhelmed in so doing. As a result, we may not be able to see our part in what transpired, or at minimum, we may not be able to see it fully.
Bring in backup!
Breakups are hard enough without going through them alone. One decent strategy to mitigate this involves leaning on friends and family to help us get through. In fact, many people often remark that it is their closest friends and family who provide the most significant source of strength and resilience in times of relationship break-ups. And yet…friends and family sometimes have their own agendas. They may not be able to resist the “I told you so’s” and the “I’ve always had suspicions.” Or, friends and family may be completely pure in their intentions but execute poorly on providing true support. In the same way that friends and family often say “goofy” things when someone close to us passes away (ex: “You know, my aunt died of cancer last year…”), they may get tripped up offering support to us when a relationship passes away.
Strive to get to a place of acceptance
Another thing that can tank recovery from a relationship breakup is that there may still be some ambivalence on your part as to whether you wanted the relationship to be over, or worse yet, whether in fact it is actually over. It’s temping to hold onto the idea that maybe with enough time, the person you were with will come back to you. These things impede a sense of “acceptance,” and allow us to continue holding onto a relationship in our minds, and maybe even causing us to act out by doing things like sending messages or going through old photos and emails. While these are of course totally normal and understandable actions, they nonetheless impede our ability to move on effectively.
Some healthy ways to get over a breakup.
So, how can you resolve some of that ambivalence and get to a place of acceptance? Here are a few tips:
- Just Feel It! This is the quintessential counselor advice, but it is so for a reason — perhaps the biggest and most necessary component of any recovery process is to simply allow ourselves to feel the way we do, without labeling it as good or bad, or passing judgment on it that it needs to go away. This is difficult because our emotions can be so overwhelming that we feel as though we’re going to be swallowed up by them. They won’t swallow you up, even if it feels like it — we promise!
- Allow yourself to mourn. You are experiencing a loss, every bit as a real as a physical loss when someone dies — and thus, it is appropriate to have a mourning period. Remember that Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s Stages of Grief are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. These aren’t “linear” — i.e., they don’t occur in a straight line where you feel one, then the next, then the next. In fact, you may experience all 5 on a single day! Instead, they occur in concentric circles, where we tend to experience more of one than another at any given point (while still being in touch with the rest). In time and with help, you will eventually move to a place where you are resting mostly in Acceptance.
- Reconnect with yourself. It can be difficult to keep up with all of the things that you enjoy when balancing another person’s needs and time. Look at this time as a way to spend more time doing the things that you like to do, and give yourself permission to begin moving back in that direction. You may be somewhat out of touch with what you as an individual enjoy if much of your life was taken up by your relationship. No problem! Just take it slow and pick one thing you enjoy at the start. Commit to doing it weekly.
- Maintain your existing relationships. Nurturing the other relationships in your life can be a great way to get you through the breakup as well as strengthen the relationships that you still have in your life. One way to achieve this when you have low energy during a break-up is to ask others for help. For example, you may say to a close friend, “Could you please make sure to call me at least 2x each week? Our relationship is really important to me, and I need your support, but I’m not sure I’ll always have the energy to reach out myself.”
- Reflect on what worked for you in the relationship and what didn’t work. A wise person once said, “Not every successful dating relationship ends in marriage or long-term commitment.” This means that even though no relationship is perfect, there is a lot that you can still learn anyhow, perhaps especially when one ends. How can you use the lessons from your past relationship to help you choose a future partner who is compatible with you? This will help you make a conscious choice to start a new relationship that is important to you.
- Be kind to yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in what you may have done that caused the relationship to end. It’s good to be reflective but keep it all in perspective. Offering yourself kindness during this transitional time can help you heal.
Many times, these are difficult to execute on your own. Need some guidance? We can help!
Our therapists aren’t just expert counselors – they’re agents of change! They can help you move through your period of mourning day by day, one step at a time. Together, you can learn to experience life as new and exciting and open to possibility!
Looking for help with breaking up in St. Louis?
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