Recover and Flourish After a Difficult Breakup - Part 2
If you missed Part 1 - read it HERE.
As promised, even though a little late, this is the second part of the “Recover and Flourish After a Difficult Breakup” post. Sometimes, life throws curveballs, time warps, and a week turns into two and feels like a month or three days. In my case, I signed a lease on a new place and decided to move without delay, even though I had a whole month to do it. It was a matter of either trickling down the stress over a month or ripping off the bandaid and ending the agony.
That’s precisely how you may feel while contemplating a breakup. No time feels like a good time to deliver bad news. If you feel sure that your relationship has no future, then it behooves you to end it, for the sake of your future. Think about it. How much of your future do you want to keep wasting on a relationship that has no future? Time is the only non-renewable resource. You can’t take it back. The sooner you speak up and end it, the sooner the other person can stop investing their time and energy too. They can process and move on sooner. A new order will emerge from the chaos, sooner. The agonizing feeling in your gut will be gone. Your sleepless nights contemplating your situation will end. You can start planning for the transition and your new, separate lives.
Instead, most people stretch things longer than necessary. Uncomfortable being the bearer of bad news, they linger. The buildup of uncomfortable feelings and confusion keeps them vigilant and looking for excuses to start an argument hoping that it will escalate to a reason for leaving. Yes, this is the unskillful way. The skillful way is to sit the other person down, as soon as you are sure that you need to end the relationship, and talk to them nicely, compassionately, and rationally!
For the person receiving the bad news, this could be a complete surprise. It shouldn’t if they have been paying close attention. Sadly, most people ignore clear signs of incompatibility and trouble in order to perpetuate a fantasy or not rock the boat. Some are afraid of being alone. Others hate being left behind. Some feel desperate. Yet, others define themselves by the relationship they inhabit. When it ends, it leaves a void in their physical space and their ego space.
No matter which side of the equation you are on, time warps when life destabilizes. Each person’s world comes apart. Each person has to find a way to re-create it with new rules, characters, and schedules while feeling everything that comes from the uncoupling.
Acceptance should come first. If it does, you can move on faster. Unfortunately, most experience denial first. Things can’t possibly be happening as they are! Some say that denial gives you time to process more gradually. Often, it makes you want to argue, cling, and bargain for attention and explanations from the other person. It makes you hope beyond all hope. It makes you shift the focus from what is happening to what used to be and what could have been, which makes you feel the loss even more. Emotions you’ve been hiding, resentments, and private thoughts begin to arise. You do and say things you may regret later. I recommend to my clients to keep a journal instead.
If you write about your thoughts and emotions, you can experience them without making matters worse, without causing a fight, saying, or doing something regrettable. Your attention to your inner experience acknowledges it and gives you the space to become fully conscious of the nuances. You may still want to talk over a few things with your soon-to-be ex-partner, but you will come to the conversation prepared and increase the chance of having a more productive and intelligent experience. You will likely preserve your dignity too.
There is no shame in being sad, disoriented, and at a loss. There’s a lot to be ashamed of when you slam doors, yell, call the person ugly names, and throw F-bombs at them. You do have the right to be angry. You do not have the right to harm another in an attempt to release the anger pressure valve. In zen circles, they say that under anger is fear—usually, the fear of loss. Underneath fear is care. We fear losing what we care about. Therefore, anger is an unskillful means of expressing care. It also gives you a moment of instant significance when you feel rejected.
When you feel anger and the need to claim significance by powering over the other person, stop and get in touch with what you really care about. Speak and act from this place of care. If you care about the person and the beautiful memories you’ve created together, then don’t overshadow them with the ugliest behavior you can imagine. If you need emotional help to sort through powerful and overwhelming feelings, please seek a professional. Life coaches, grief counselors, and therapists are all standing by. Reach out to a friend or two who will let you vent and support you. When you do that, make sure to speak as respectfully about your ex as you can. Badmouthing someone who does not deserve it reflects badly on you. If your friend-confidant knows the other person and likes them, you will put them in a very awkward situation. Also, things do get around town through the rumor mill. Eventually, your ex will hear what you’ve been saying behind their back, and there go all your chances of remaining friends afterward, if you do care about that.
Definitely, do not ask your mutual friends to take sides. They will sort themselves out naturally. Just wait and see. By asking them to take sides, you get them involved in drama that’s not theirs to shoulder. Expect to lose some and don’t blame them or take it personally. Mutual friends exist in the awkward space between two people who can’t be around each other. They may want to keep their distance from both of you. Those that remain could be uncomfortable talking to you about your ex. Please don’t ask them for intel on what your ex is doing and with who. If you do, you run the risk of having fewer friends.
Perhaps, your default reaction to a breakup is depression. You feel no reason to get up in the morning. You feel devastated, with no energy, no direction, questioning your worth. While sadness and mourning are natural, prolonged depression is not. I will assume that you are not the kind of person who loves to play the victim. If you are, a breakup will be a great opportunity to get some extra attention from everyone you know. Everyone else usually looks for ways to overcome the sadness and depression.
Contrary to popular practice, jumping into another relationship immediately after could be a fun distraction, but I do not recommend it. Your still fresh and unresolved feelings will inevitably affect your perception of the new person, the level of your neediness, your mood, and likely make you talk about your ex all the time. No one wants to hear about it! If your rebound person is expressing a lot of interest in the drama in your life, you may have attracted the wrong person – one that loves drama. Or someone with low self-esteem feeling empowered by lending you a shoulder to cry on and helping you fix your situation and problems. What will happen when you finally get over it, stand firm on your feet, and don’t “need them” anymore? Chances are your perception of reality skews in the middle of an emotional shitstorm. You may judge someone’s character incorrectly and end up hopping from the frying pan into the fire.
I suggest some time alone. Think and feel what arises. Write about it. Talk about it with friends or professionals. Give it time. Go out for fun with others but don’t look for more trouble! Whatever you do, don’t get drunk in public! Even if you are a fun drunk! Also, do not get a dog just because you feel lonely. The dog will need you later when you no longer need it. Unless you are committed to owning the dog and providing it with the love and care it needs until its last days, you have no business being a dog owner.
Go on a retreat instead, a road trip, see some friends and family out of town, take a vacation. Use this time of transition to focus on things you’ve never found time before. Take up dancing. Learn to ski. Join a book club. Go skydiving. Fix up the house. Get in shape. You definitely should get in shape, feel and look healthy. Not just to attract a better mate later, but to feel confident, energetic, and happy. Read up on the mental benefits of exercise. It beats taking antidepressants, feeling stuck, and sluggish.
Inevitably, there will be nights when you can’t stop thinking of your ex. Your goofy state will make you call them or text them, even imagine that you can get together again. If they answer politely, you may misinterpret their politeness for willingness. Before you know it, you may be in an on-again, off-again situation, delaying your recovery and flourishing and increasing your emotional strife. Or you may find yourself confused when the person does not reciprocate the way you expect them to. This has been the beginning of many texting fights, leading to more hurt feelings and blocked numbers. On the other hand, if they don’t respond or respond rudely, you will feel more rejection and a stab in the heart.
A “no contact” period is often helpful for each person to get some space and clear their head after a breakup. It may be short or long. It may be permanent. Hopefully, it does not involve a TRO. Honor it either way. The day it ends is not a good day to start bugging the other person and if they bother you, consider having canned, polite responses for keeping your distance, if distance is what you need. “No contact” includes stalking on social media. I recommend turning off newsfeeds from the other person or even defriending them. In extreme cases, you may have to block them if they troll you or if you simply can’t help yourself looking them up and snooping around. By blocking them, neither of you can access info about each other. Depending on the situation and reason for blocking, you may or may not need or want to tell the other person. But you do need to have no contact during the “no contact” period.
Obviously, when children are involved, divorce lawyers, and court dates, things get more logistically complicated. Still, you can keep the spirit of “no contact” even if you can’t manage actual zero contact.
Depending on the emotional charge of your situation, you may consider limiting your trips down memory lane to a minimum. I would advise you to take down sentimental pictures of the two of you from the walls in your house and your screens. Facebook has the habit of reminding you of things by sending “memories.” You can turn them off. If it still bothers you, you can comb through your social media and remove images and tags. It’s like cleaning house. Make sure your social media profile displays only what you want of yourself and your life. Do change your status to single, whether it is publically visible or hidden. It contributes to closure.
It's bad etiquette and strange to send a friend invite or follow your ex’s new partner and all the new friends they make. Unless you already know each other and are already social media connected, asking for a connection shows that you may not be over your ex. Seeing what your ex is up to will not help you move on. Becoming friends with your ex’s other exes is a sign of your unhealthy attachment to the past. It shows that you are holding on to strings, however feeble, to anything that your ex touches. Occasionally, accidentally, or naturally because you move around the same circles, you may find yourself befriending some of your ex’s exes. That’s different than you seeking the contact, especially early after the breakup. There has to be a better use of your time!
In the end, your situation may be similar to others yet unique to you. How you approach your time during and after a breakup, though, will determine how fast you move on, how healthy you emerge from it, and what you learn. I hope this has been helpful to you. I am happy to delve deeper into details. Please, share your experiences and comment.
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Thank you for reading.