Recover and flourish after a difficult breakup - Part 1.
You were hoping for a happy future together, but instead, you broke up. You find yourself on an emotional rollercoaster, struggling to make sense of how things are, lonely and hurting. Or perhaps, you are the one who walked away. It’s not easier, despite what others think. How do you pick up the pieces and start over? How long will it take to heal? What should you do?
I am going to tell you what lies ahead, what the path to wholeness and happiness looks like. I hope it will help you with your situation, or someone else in your life. Please share with whoever needs to read this! Help me to help you and to help them 😊.
I’ve been there, and after recovering and healing, I’ve appreciated the breakup because I’ve found myself in a better place every time! I’ve lived to grow stronger, smarter, pickier, and so much happier. I’ve always landed on a better relationship, more amazing experiences, and unimaginable possibilities.
People break up every day. For some, it’s been a long time coming. Others regret even starting the relationship and feel relieved when it ends. Yet, for many, it’s the most devastating, disorienting, and depressing moment in their lives. Plagued by unanswerable questions, grief, anger, confusion, betrayal, and fear, they find it challenging to care for themselves and their responsibilities. They feel torn, rejected, unlovable, abandoned.
Even if you are the one leaving, the thought of hurting the other person can be unbearable. Trying to figure out what’s next, how much contact, the logistics of separation, the mourning of lost dreams and hopes, the feeling of guilt, sorting out through the disappointments, remembering the good times, and the fear of being alone are at best frustrating but usually painful as you doubt your sanity and try to keep going.
At 49, I’ve had my share of breakups, experiencing both sides. The longer the relationship, the harder the breakup, and the longer it takes to create a different life. I’ve also witnessed friends' breakups and listened to my clients, seeing them to process their convoluted situations and looking for answers. I’ve even advised some to break up!
Thankfully, a breakup is not terminal cancer. It doesn’t have to be the end of your life, just the end of a particular way of living. It can also be an opportunity for a much better life, a much better you, and a much better future relationship. Also, true, it’s up to you how long it takes to close this chapter, open another, and stand confidently on your feet. With the right tools and support, your process can be productive, insightful, and shorter than you think.
One thing you must never do is place the blame exclusively on the other person, regardless of who broke up with whom. Even when your ex was emotionally and physically violent or difficult, spend a little time figuring out how you put yourself into the situation, how long you kept yourself there, what you allowed, and what you compromised. Ask yourself why? It’s in the answer to this why-question that you will find your disempowering beliefs about who you are, what you deserve, and what you should tolerate. You will discover what strengths you need to build, the legacy of growing up in your particular family environment, key decisions you made about the world and your place in it.
What needs to change within you must change, or your next relationship will resemble the one that just ended. Wherever you go, you take yourself there!
You also must not accept all the blame upon yourself! It takes two to tango. Each relationship has a lead-and-follow dynamic that either flows well with the music or people step on each other’s toes, pushing and pulling, getting in each other’s way, and communicating poorly while expecting a perfect understanding in return. In other words, make sure you spend time sorting through the rubble and uncover that which is your responsibility. Don’t add the other person’s crap to your baggage. You do not want to carry more than your share. It’s hard enough as it is!
I had a client once who left her husband of one year after feeling neglected. He never consulted with her about things that should concern them both. He didn’t follow through on promises and plans. He left her out of almost everything. Her rational, intelligent self understood that this was not right. No improvement came even after multiple conversations between them. In the first year of marriage, people are still on honeymoon. If things were this bad now, how bad could they get later? Yet, she somehow accepted full responsibility for the way he treated her. She excused his behavior with her perceived personal shortcomings. I asked her why she married him. She saw the same behavioral patterns while still dating, but she thought she was overreacting and expecting too much. She felt that she would change. Then, that he will change. Then, a year after they married, that was time for a change. And good for her!
Blaming yourself or blaming the other person occurs naturally after a breakup. Your mind attempts to make sense of events, looking for reasons to explain to itself what is happening and why. Before the breakup, you lived with a specific understanding of the way things are. The breakup causes you to question this understanding. The mind finds comfort in explanations. Blaming is an explanation. When the blame focuses on the other person, it also relieves guilt, taking some weight off your shoulders. For some, blaming themselves fits well with a victim mentality or low self-esteem, a sense of not being good enough, not being lovable, not being enough. Sadly, if this happens, the person only reinforces their own wrong self-perception. The breakup becomes proof of their unworthiness. I hope this is not you!
For otherwise well-adjusted people, blame and guilt are passing phases in the post-breakup reshaping of reality. Understand that you are grieving. Even if you initiated the breakup, you still mourn the loss of your dreams, what used to be great, even things like comfort, certainty, your home, the predictability that made life easier, the intimacy, friendship, the shoulder you used to lean on. Most relationships are a mixed bag of positives, negatives, and negotiations. Just because the negatives prevailed, it does not mean that you won’t miss the positives. You will. It will never be the same. You know it. You grieve it.
Grief will make you do funny things. One moment you cry and blame yourself. The next, you feel angry and blame the other person. If they could only change a little, you won’t have to leave them. If they could see how much you love them and understand you better, they wouldn’t leave you.
It makes you want to argue, bargain, run away, hold them close, call them, hide… It’s hard knowing what to do, and even when you do know, it may be excruciatingly difficult to do what you should.
That’s what I will write about next week in the second part of this essay. Make sure you stay tuned for the continuation. Meanwhile, please comment below if you want me to address specific questions you have or share your story. If you subscribe to this blog, you will get the next part in your email directly! It’s free, and it will be helpful to you or someone you know.
Thank you for reading Part 1!