By Caroline Crotty
We enter romantic relationships giving our trust and our hearts to another with the hope that neither will be broken. The reality is that most of us know how it feels to have our hearts broken or at least scarred or dented! People of every age attend counselling or psychotherapy following the ending of a relationship. Any relationship ending, regardless of its length, can leave us reeling. If you are experiencing loss following a relationship breakup, here are some pointers that might help:
Firstly, allow yourself to feel however you feel. When grieving the loss of a relationship and the loss of future plans, it helps to identify emotions rather than block them. There’s nothing wrong with crying (although it’s awkward at work or in the supermarket)! Be reassured that the intensity of the emotion lessens over time. Initially, we might go through a vast array of reactions including shock or disbelief, sadness, anger, fear, guilt, jealousy, regret, swearing off any future relationships, etc and although we think we are stuck in our sadness forever, our feelings change.
Sometimes the overwhelming sense of loss follows a period of numbness or vice versa and both reactions are equally human! There is no single, linear response to loss. Our reactions are as individual as we are so there’s no right or wrong way to experience grief or loss so we go through it and we recover bringing our new learning to the next relationship.
Because we may not have been the person to end the relationship, we may feel rejected and get stuck on questions such as ‘What’s wrong with me that he doesn’t want to be with me?’ and if our ex is in a new relationship ‘What does his new partner have that I don’t have?’ This is typical but unhelpful. Try to manage your thoughts so that you don’t enter a wormhole of rejection. We rarely think, ‘what’s wrong with him that he doesn’t want to be with me’ which might be more useful!
Be supported by others. Talking about the loss is helpful regardless of how private you are. Share your thoughts and feelings in confidence with a trustworthy friend or with a therapist. Your G.P. will have contact details and www.mymind.org provides a sliding scale of fees and can be contacted on 076 680 1060.
Although we might not feel like meeting people, stay in friendly contact. We might find ourselves in a position where our friendship group changed as a result of the relationship loss, so try to say ‘yes’ to social invites because spending time in the company of others is a welcome distraction. It takes our minds off ourselves even for a short while. Be with people who are easy to be with and who value your company. If it seems like committing to social engagements is simply too much of a struggle for you then consider taking time out to heal and decline invitations. However, put a time limit on the social break so it doesn’t extend indefinitely and become social isolation.
Invest in a journal and start writing! You might use it as a positivity notebook – despite the presence of dark emotional clouds, writing something positive daily or a positive word that you like can be helpful. Reminiscing on past achievements or issues that you’ve previously overcome can feel pleasant in the present. If you find journaling about your feelings helpful, then go for it! Write what you have learned from your relationship so you can improve future relationships. Examine what you might have done differently, but not in a self-loathing way, more from a learning perspective – what’s the lesson to be learned from all of this hurt and heartache?
Communication is difficult and we may feel like we were never heard or listened to by our former partner. Rather than carrying negativity, blame, and resentment towards the other person, remind yourself that you tried your best and the intention was never that anyone would be hurt.
Concentrate on how you can best look after yourself now and into the future. Make a plan of action (in your new journal) or start a new routine for meeting your basic needs of diet, sleep, exercise, relaxation, social interaction, etc. Write a daily or weekly schedule, regardless of how simple, because it can help to provide a sense of purpose and achievement when completed. Include self-care as part of the new routine whether it is to walk in a forest or play music you love (or both at the same time!), making time to care for yourself is important for healing and recovery. Exercise is beneficial to your recovery – it helps utilize stress hormones that can cause physical symptoms e.g. aches and pains, an upset tummy, or digestive issues.
Avoid unhelpful choices following a relationship breakup such as using illicit drugs or relying on alcohol to cope or overeating, self-harm, over-working or excessive gambling. Instead, pay attention to what you need to soothe yourself and consciously encourage yourself.
Try not to keep false hope that they’ll come back, and all will be well – life is too short to wait for someone to return after a break-up so allow them to leave. Being independent and meeting our own needs will benefit us and our future relationships.
The best of life, love, and happiness is ahead.