When my marriage ended, I went through a period of self-reflection and found myself ruminating over what went wrong. It took me awhile to realize that this is a normal part of grieving and moving on after a relationship dissolves.
The reality is that breakups are hard. We have all faced them and been challenged by letting go of the why and how things could have gone differently. Goodbyes are never easy regardless of who initiates the breakup. However, I discovered that it is better to let someone go than staying with a partner out of insecurity, guilt, or fear of being alone.
The Grieving Process
After a breakup, it is normal for self-defeating thoughts to invade your thinking because you’re vulnerable and trying to make sense of things. However, it is crucial 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.
Like most people, I experienced feelings of rejection, anger, sadness, guilt and regret after my divorce. I mistrusted others—questioning their intentions and actions. While others saw me as a strong, self-confident person who was in control of her emotions, my feelings where in flux and my identity was in question. Since I had been a wife for almost seventeen years, it took time for me to regain my sense of self after my marriage ended.
Diminished Sense of Self
Truth be told, 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). My identity was incorporated with my partner’s sense of self. As a result, I had morphed into someone else and had to redefine myself.
Letting go of a romantic partner involves becoming more aware of the feelings and memories that hold us back. Lisa Arends explains, “Getting over someone is a process of repeated exposure to the triggers and the desensitization of their influence. As time passed and I faced each trigger again and again, they lost their power and their hold. The emotions have faded. But the memories remain.”
Fear of Being Single
A recent study at the University of Toronto confirmed that a fear of being single can lead people to stay in unfulfilling relationships. Part of the grieving process at the end of a relationship is accepting that what you wanted to happen no longer will happen. Thoughts might range from: We will never have children together. To the mundane: We won’t ever eat another meal together. While these feelings are more common for the person who is left, both people typically experience a grief process.
For example, Amanda and Jason are a couple who made a decision to end their nine-year marriage after four months of counseling. Jason was clearly the person who initiated the process but six months later he expressed some relief but loneliness and guilt. Whereas, Amanda told me that the hardest part of being divorced was facing coming home to an empty apartment after he moved out and feeling rejected.
Learning to Trust Again
Learning to trust is one of the biggest challenges that individuals face after divorce. Experiencing the breakup of your marriage can intensify trust issues. Because of your past, you might approach relationships warily and come to expect the worst. It may seem at times as if you’re wired to recreate the past. However, with courage and persistence, you can learn to trust again and restore your faith in love.
The breakup a relationship or marriage can set the stage for feelings of mistrust—even if you’ve never had trust issues previously. After an intimate relationship ends, especially if you’ve endured infidelity, it’s normal to doubt your ability to trust yourself and others.
Meeting someone new and dating again can be invigorating but scary at the same time. An inability to trust a new partner may take on several forms—ranging from feeling they are dishonest or secretive or doubting they are going to keep their promises or be dependable.
Taking an inventory of how your feelings of mistrust may be impacting your behavior can help you gain a healthier viewpoint. Are you neglecting your health, interests, family, or friends due to grieving the loss of your marriage? It’s important not to fall prey to a victim mentality and to make self-care a priority.
Here are 6 ways to heal from a breakup and restore trust:
- Acknowledge and accept your feelings about the breakup. This includes your emotional reactions such as sadness, anger, fear, and guilt. They’ve probably been there all along (in your relationship) and intensify during and after the breakup or divorce process.
- Observe what’s going on in your life. This includes some examination of your part in the relationship ending. Are you taking care of yourself physically and emotionally? If not, devise a plan to nurture yourself and get your physical well-being restored such as counseling, exercise, and eating a balanced diet.
- Practice forgiveness. Focus on those things that you can control. You can’t control the past but you can make better choices today – such as letting go of hurt feelings. 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 and try to forgive (or at least accept your ex’s behavior).
- Challenge Mistrustful thoughts. Ask yourself: is my lack of trust due to my partner’s actions or my own issues; or both? Learning to trust is a skill that develops over time. With courage and persistence, you can turn hurts from past betrayals into lessons.
- Adopt a perspective that focuses on seeing relationships as teachers. We learn a lot about ourselves from a breakup and can approach a new relationship with our eyes wide open.
- Cultivate supportive relationships and new interests. Being with people who accept and support you can help ease feelings of rejection. Get energized by a new hobby and invite a friend to join you. Consider something that causes you to go outside your comfort zone such as ballroom dancing or photography.
Developing a positive mindset is crucial to divorce recovery. Your breakup or divorce doesn’t have to define who you are. You can take control of your life and move forward to a more fulfilling life. Although it may be hard to understand it at the time, a breakup or divorce can be a catalyst for change and you can discover new aspects of yourself in the process.