Estimates suggest that more than 90% of relationships end in a breakup, which means almost everyone has suffered the loss of a romantic partner. There are some typical stages we go through, and there are also some actions that can help us heal.
What We Might Experience After A Breakup
1. Feeling Hurt
This is a big piece of the recovery puzzle. Breakups hurt! A large part of this is from our biological makeup. We are literally primed to feel pain when our love partner leaves, and as far as our brain knows, physical and emotional pain are not that different. So why are people encouraged to slow down and take time to heal for a physical injury, yet not for an emotional, or psychological one? Taking time to heal is very important after a breakup. Unfortunately, we often use that time self-doubt, self-blame, self-criticism, or obsessive thinking about the failings of ourselves, or our former love partner.
2. Feeling Angry
The anger that we experience after a breakup is often much more intense than in other situations. Input from participants in my classes (see description here) shows that the experience of rejection, abandonment, helplessness, having no control, feeling threatened, or having suppressed anger at years of mistreatment can all lead to strong feelings. Taking a stance of victim, or avenger can have its appeal. It’s normal to feel angry, yet it is important to use that anger to build a better future, and not to use it in a way that might be destructive to yourself or another. The seeds of destructive behavior are planted in thinking and talking. So, thinking about how wrong or bad the other person is should be an indulgence, not the main focus. Likewise bad-mouthing an ex with trusted friends is ok in moderation, telling the whole neighborhood and his dog could be a slippery slope.
3. Detaching Slowly
To really separate from another person can involve detaching physically, emotionally, financially, and legally. The extent to which the past, present, and future have been involved also has an impact. In fact, people often have to grieve the loss of joint hopes and dreams, as well as experiencing sadness about present loss.
These stages do not all happen at once, and each person goes through them differently. In separation or divorce, the former partners will be ready for different stages, so there is a kind of tension that builds up from feeling pushed to detach in some areas before we are ready.
What Helps After A Breakup
1. Take steps to nurture or care for yourself.
2. Lighten the stress load wherever possible.
3. Say yes to genuine offers of help.
4. Speak to a trusted friend, family member, coach, or therapist. Choose your confidants carefully.
5. Join a support group, such as this one – Picking Up The Pieces.
6. Go back to a favorite activity, or start a new favorite.
7. Remember grief and anger are normal, and seek additional support if either feels too much.
8. Add some supportive new habits (e.g. good food, light exercise, meditation, yoga, massage).
9. Let things unfold slowly if you need to. There is usually no urgency, even though it might seem that there is.
10. Know that it is common to feel a void that only the former partner seems to be able to fill. It doesn’t mean you are meant to be together.
11. Surround yourself with people who love you, whenever possible.