Choosing to move on from a relationship that isn’t working can be a difficult decision to make. Breakups can be messy and painful and leave both parties with unresolved baggage.
Feeling loss after a breakup is normal and even healthy. It doesn’t matter if your partner left you, it was a mutual decision, or you were the one who initiated the breakup. A person who had been a big part of your life is gone. It will take time to understand what that means for you and how you will adjust to the new reality.
Breakups are uniquely impactful. They can mirror childhood traumas and create new ones. They can lead us to question our beliefs about love and relationships, and our sense of self. Romantic relationships give rise to many of the most intimate interactions we experience. They require vulnerability and openness. And they don’t always work.
Our culture cultivates the idea of a successful romantic relationship lasting forever. Having one end can and often does feel like failure. Grief is mixed with guilt, anger, and loneliness. And the list of sorrows does not stop there. Breakups are messy, and complicated. But they are not necessarily bad. Relationships don’t have to last forever for them to be a success. They teach us things about who we are and how we interact with others. Sometimes they are good for a while, but naturally come to an end when partners outgrow each other or move on in different directions. Sometimes relationships show us what we don’t want or cannot accept. Relationships, regardless of their outcome, can provide valuable learning experiences.
Of course, the rules are very different if you’re leaving an abusive relationship. Read more about that in our article here.
We all do our best to deal with what life throws at us, but different people can develop very different strategies depending on what they have been experienced. Each of us finds individual coping mechanisms to deal with stress and conflict—minimise, tolerate, or master. However, not all strategies are equal.
It is important to differentiate between coping and avoiding, and to be able to identify the right strategy for a given situation. Some events may feel too big to handle, but once we’ve stepped away and gained perspective, they become more manageable. People deal with breakups differently—one person might need to process their emotions alone, while another will recover better in the company of friends. Trust your gut.
It can sometimes be helpful to limit interactions with your ex-partner. Close proximity can bring up doubts and what-ifs, making it more difficult to move on. Taking a break from someone doesn’t preclude reestablishing some sort of friendship in the future, if that’s what both of you want. In any case, setting healthy boundaries—both physical and emotional—will benefit both parties.
You might find yourself wanting to start dating again very soon after a break up. It can seem like just the thing to do to move on. While forming a new relationship isn’t bad in and of itself, starting a new relationship to fill a void can lead to problems. These relationships are called “rebound” relationships. They are often short-lived because they don’t start with genuine interest. However, not all relationships that start shortly after a breakup are doomed to fail. Be honest with yourself about why you are pursuing this relationship right now.
When someone who used to be with you every day is no longer there, you are bound to feel it. In this way dealing with a breakup is a little bit like dealing with the death of a friend—both are losses. And we recover from them by mourning what we have lost. But like coping mechanisms, our grieving patterns are unique to us. Some of us deal with a loss little by little, others grieve intensely, and others find they feel nothing at all for a while. Sometimes loss is followed by emptiness. One of the things we mourn is the loss of a future with our now ex-partner. And there is another potentially painful twist—the person you’ve lost will also live a different life from the one you had imagined. To fully recover from a breakup, give yourself time to mourn the loss and be able to imagine a different future.
Any of these reactions are valid. And perhaps even necessary. Dealing with loss takes time. Be patient with yourself and allow the emotions to come as they will and when they will. There is no right time for mourning, just like there is no right way to mourn. Holding on to anger for a while can help you make better choices, but don’t stay with that anger long after the situation has passed. Once you have given yourself enough time, find a way to forgive. Forgive yourself for all the things you wish you had done differently; forgive your ex for all the things you wish they had done differently.
Within a relationship both parties tend to take on certain roles over time. Each of us is better at some things and finds it convenient to rely on others to take care of we don't do so well ourselves. When a relationship ends, you are left to deal with everything yourself again. This can be a difficult transition, albeit a needed one.
Relearning independence is no small feat. Simply getting up in the morning and making breakfast for yourself can feel hard, not to mention going to social gatherings alone. Feeling unmotivated to take care of yourself is not uncommon. It takes time to readjust.
Independence is living a life separate from others, but this does not mean living in isolation. This is different from taking time for yourself. Cutting people off can be destructive to your mental health, but giving yourself enough space to process your emotions helps you heal. After a breakup, keeping in touch with friends is crucial. Even if we cannot meet in person, there are ways to reach out and stay connected. Read more about our article on isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic here.
Being single can be a very freeing experience—it’s a time for reimagining who you are as an individual, discovering your passions, exploring new places, reinventing who you want to be. Being single can give you a chance to put your mental and physical health first, mover forward with your career, or simply take time to enjoy yourself. Everything changes. Finding the positive in change and adaptation is what keeps us going.
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