A broken relationship shatters much that we have known and dreamed about. Our relationships, especially intimate relationships, help us define who we are. Our values, our views of the world, and how we define our most intimate feelings are all embodied within our love relationships. When our relationship comes to an end, our lives enter a chaotic period for which we may be unprepared. We suddenly find ourselves dealing with a host of emotions and thoughts – grieving, despair, anger, revenge and retaliation, hoping for a miracle, negotiating, feeling out of control, hoping for happiness again and not knowing how to get there, fear, and loneliness – and little of it seems to make sense. Most of us have never acquired the tools to deal with a loss of this magnitude. When we entered the relationship, we put our energies into building a life with our partner. We put little effort into learning to be alone again. A breakup forces us to jump into an overwhelming, and often dreaded world of new experiences.
There are stages of grief that we all go through whenever we experience a loss. During a Break-Up individuals will undergo a Grieving Process. These are predictable stages commonly experienced by those in the process of a breakup. They include:
Denial – Denying the truth of the breakup actually helps us postpone the pain, so denial certainly has a place in the process, at least initially. A problem occurs when we experience so much denial that we are unable to come to terms with the reality of the task before us. There comes a day when “this is not happening to me” is no longer an effective way of coping. Ending the denial stage involves a major shift in our thinking about ourselves, what our partner means to us, and where we must go from here.
Fear – Most people experiencing a breakup are forced to come to terms with a number of fears. What will people say? Whom can I trust to talk to? How can I handle my partner’s anger toward me? How do I deal with my own anger? Am I a complete failure? How can I be a single parent? What about money? Can I do the banking and buy groceries and pay bills and fix the car? Can I handle my loneliness? Am I completely unlovable? Will I ever love anyone else again? Do I have the energy for this much change? When we are dominated by our fears and feel unable to do anything about them, we increase the likelihood that these will be the very areas where we experience trouble. The best way to handle fear is to accept it, with awareness, planning, and support.
Loneliness – The loneliness a person experiences at the time of a breakup may feel overwhelming. The finality of ending the relationship, uncertainty about the future, as well as the knowledge that your partner will no longer be there to comfort you or to spend time with you, all contribute to an empty feeling that seems as if it will never away. While you were in the relationship, you defined yourself as being partnered and you felt that you always had someone there to share your experiences. And now you don’t. The clue to dealing with this is to change the feeling of loneliness to “aloneness.” Loneliness suggests a longing to be with another person. Aloneness can be a time to observe who you are – you have the opportunity to explore your independence and challenge yourself to do things on your own. It can be a valuable time of self-exploration and self-enhancement. Because aloneness may not last very long, or not long enough, it can be seen as a valuable opportunity.
Friendship – The breakup is a true test of just who your real friends are. It is important to draw on the emotional support of friends during this time. Unfortunately, many of your friends were those who knew you as a couple and they may have to choose between you. Those who try to stay neutral may find it difficult. Some may feel that your breakup somehow threatens their own relationships, and some friends may now find it difficult to relate to you as a single person. Not only that, but you may find it difficult to trust others during a breakup. Getting out, feeling free, trusting wisely, and opening up to others become major goals of healthy adjustment.
Grieving – It’s normal and necessary to experience a period of grieving over the end of the relationship. You may feel depressed for some time and experience changes in your energy levels, as well as your sleeping and appetite patterns. You may dwell on negative thoughts for a period of time and find it difficult to find pleasure in everyday events. If your negative thinking turns into self-destructive thoughts, you should find a therapist who can help you through this challenging time. As unpleasant as this period of grieving may feel, comfort yourself with the knowledge that this is a temporary phase and it is how you are saying goodbye so that you can move on to a healthier and happier future.
Anger – People ending their relationships usually say that they never knew they could have so much anger. The rage seems overwhelming at times. Think about it – you have just lost one of the most important things in your life and your partner may seem like your enemy. You have a lot to be angry about. Use this opportunity to look within – explore your anger and find out how it helps and hurts you. One rule: don’t engage in any behavior you will regret as in Acting Out Behavior. Because it may be difficult to contain your anger at this time, your partner is not the appropriate target for your anger. Instead, process your anger by talking about it with a trusted friend or Counselor. Anger is helpful in the sense that it helps us end the loyalty and trust we used to feel for our partner, and this allows us to move on.
In Marriage Counseling I help Couples and Individuals think of the ending of their relationship as a process, which is taken one step at a time. Some of these steps are challenging. Not only do we have to confront all of the stages listed above, but we must also deal with making the final break emotionally, understand what really went wrong, learn to feel comfortable with ourselves again, see ourselves as single people, make new friends, forge new purposes and goals, and learn about trust and love again. There’s never pressure in rushing through any of these stages as everyone grieves losses differently. As painful as this journey may seem at first, it can lead to a life which is more satisfying as being in a relationship that isn’t working isn’t healthy.
You don’t have to do this alone. For more information on the process of breaking up please contact me at (858) 735-1139