While it’s normal to go through a period of self-reflection when your relationship ends, it’s important that you keep things in perspective. Losing a partner, even if you made a decision to end the relationship, can disrupt your life on so many levels because your ex was undoubtedly a part of your daily existence. As a result, breakups can weaken your ability to sleep, eat well, and function at work and in social spheres.
To complicate matters, studies have discovered that experiencing a breakup can leave you with a diminished sense of self or self-concept (those things that make you unique). This makes perfect sense because your identity probably became incorporated with your partner’s sense of self and now you’re left with the task of redefining who you are and letting go of memories of your former life.
The reality is that breakups and divorce are hard. We’ve all faced them and been challenged by letting go of the why and how things could have gone differently. Goodbyes are never easy, but it’s especially hard to cope when you are the one who was left behind.
In terms of adjusting to the end of a relationship, the late Dr. Bruce Fisher coined two terms that shed light on how individuals experience different emotions depending on their role in the breakup. In Dr. Fisher’s groundbreaking book Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends, he writes “Dumpers are the partners who leave the relationship, and they often feel considerable guilt; dumpees are the partners who want to hang on to the relationship, and they often experience strong feelings of rejection.”
For instance, John, 52, made a decision to end his thirty-year marriage after six months of counseling. He initiated the process, filed divorce papers, and expressed some relief but also guilt during our last session. On the other hand, his wife Caitlin, 50, expressed feelings of sadness and rejection about John moving out. She stated: “The hardest part of John leaving is dealing with living alone, even though we were very unhappy.” She also expressed guilt at not trying harder to save their marriage and focusing too much on her career.
That said, if you were the one left (or the dumpee) feelings of rejection and loss can cause you to feel less self-worth and diminished self-love. But as you learn to accept what happens and begin to love yourself again, feelings of rejection will diminish. And when you’re connected to feelings of self-worth, you’ll have more energy to relate to others in meaningful ways.
Here are 4 ways to heal from a breakup or divorce:
1. Accept your feelings about the breakup. This includes your emotional reactions such as sadness, anger, fear, rejection, and guilt. They’ve probably been there all along (in your relationship) and are simply intensified during and after your breakup. There is reason to believe that you will feel better and things will improve in your life after a breakup.
2. Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. If you are not, devise a plan to nurture yourself and get your well-being restored (counseling, exercise, eating a balanced diet, etc.).
3. Adopt a perspective of seeing relationships as teachers. We learn a lot about ourselves from loss and can approach a new relationship with our eyes wide open. Just because your relationship is over, it doesn’t mean you’re inadequate or inferior – or there’s something wrong with you. Give yourself a break.
4. Develop supportive relationships and new interests. Being with people who accept and support you can help ease feeling of rejection and guilt. Get energized by a new hobby and invite a friend to join you. Consider trying something that causes you to go outside your comfort zone such as taking a yoga or pottery class.
Be sure to take an inventory of how your feelings may be impacting your behavior. Also be honest with yourself about the dynamics between you and your partner and your role in the breakup. Self-awareness will help you gain a healthier viewpoint and to move on to healthier relationships.
Also, ask yourself, are you neglecting your health, interests, family, or friends due to grieving the loss of your relationship? It’s important not to fall prey to a victim mentality and to make self-care a priority. Taking action and setting a goal to improve self-care (such as exercising daily) will lesson your feelings of being a victim who is being controlled by other’s actions.
Although it’s hard to understand it at the time, a breakup can be a catalyst for change and you can discover new aspects of yourself in the process. Consulting a counselor, support group, or divorce coach may help to facilitate healing. Lastly, developing a mindset that you don’t have to be defined by your relationship ending can help you to heal and move forward with your life. With time and patience, you can move forward to a life that is full of hope and love!
Find Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and, movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award-winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Her new book The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around was published by Sounds True on February 18, 2020. Both of Terry’s book are available on audio and in paperback.
I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry