A broken heart is just the growing pains necessary so that you can love more completely when the real thing comes along. ~ J. S. B. Morse, Now and at the Hour of Our Death
Romantic break ups are painful regardless of who initiates the separation or if it is mutual.
Reflecting on some of my past break ups, there are a few where I still cringe. That palpable ache in my chest. The anxiety of a new beginning. The acute sense of loss.
In hindsight, I am thankful these relationships ended, but I wish I would have had the tools to learn important lesson about myself and figure out how to become a healthier, happier person faster.
In a survey done by rebellove.com, men and women were asked to rate the pain of their break ups on a scale from 1–10. A whopping 85% rated the pain an 8 or higher.
In an article in Psychology Today, John Kim, LMFT, suggests six steps to take after a break up to begin healing and carve out a new path to a bright, positive, and hopeful future.
Accept the fact that the relationship is over and resolve to let it go. Clinging onto a skewed reality will only make your suffering last longer.
Kim says the hardest thing about a break up is wondering if it could have been different. Don’t play a continuous reel of “what if” in your mind with questions like:
- What if I had done something different?
- What if I am making the wrong decision?
- What if he/she can change?
- What if I promise to change?
When we focus on the break up and not consider the entire spectrum of the relationship, we are just spinning our wheels and make it more difficult to find traction to move on.
Your relationship has expired. It was not meant to last one day more or less. It has run its course. Not because of you or your partner, but for a different reason: your relationship hit its expiration date. You have to believe that.
Cut all the ties
It’s hard to cut yourself off completely from someone you once loved, but at the beginning of a break up it is necessary. There’s no sense calling or texting when you are feeling lonely or questioning friends to find out what your ex is doing. It’s not fair to either of you. It can foster false hope or annoy, even scare, your ex.
It can be hard to set firm boundaries, but if you don’t, you are reopening a wound and not allowing it to heal. Someday, maybe the two of you can find your way back to a friendship, but that won’t happen unless you create space needed for both parties to recover and move on.
You may insist this is an impossible suggestion if the two of you have children together. Kim concedes parents must communicate but urges couples to limit conversation to things related to the kids and warns against using the children as pawns.
If your ex refuses to respect boundaries or wants to play games, Kim suggests requesting a mediator or couple’s counselor. The goal isn’t to get back together, but to respect each other and protect the emotional well-being of the children as you navigate your new life apart.
If you can’t respect your ex, at least respect the expiration of the relationship. There is you. There is him or her. And there is what you guys built. It is a living breathing thing that has died. Respect that death by staying on your side of the fence. By not gossiping and lashing out. By not using your child as a tug-of-war rope. By drawing healthy boundaries.
Suck it up and take responsibility
Some people are quick to point out what their ex did wrong. They rattle off a long list of their ex-partners faults and want everyone to know all the injustices they endured during the relationship. All this does is make yourself a victim — and victims are powerless. Of course, many people are abused — and that is never okay, but constantly focusing on your ex isn’t going to help you recover.
A relationship involves two people and neither are perfect. Take ownership for mistakes you made in the relationship and accept your faults while desiring to do better. Excuses and blame doesn’t leave any room for growth. Don’t fixate on your need to be “right.”
When you own your part in the break-up, you can start growing again. You circle what happened with a red marker, but you also remind yourself that you’re human. Taking ownership makes you accept the break-up, learn from it, and form a desire to be better. No space for growth can be created when you’re defensive, make excuses, pull away from logic, and tell yourself and everyone else all the reasons why it wasn’t your fault. You’re running away from yourself instead of toward yourself. You’re moving on, but you’re not moving through.
Put your focus on yourself
If you mask your grief and pain by jumping into another relationship, you are bound to repeat the same mistakes.
Take this time to get comfortable with yourself. If you only are comfortable when you’re in a relationship, you don’t know the authentic you.
Do something you have always wanted to do, but never prioritized. It could be something like auditioning for the local theatre, joining an exercise class, or going back to school. Find out what you like to do when you don’t have to consider what a partner may want to do. Learn how to enjoy and be comfortable being alone.
It’s about being alone. On purpose. Sitting with everything that comes up, however uncomfortable. Finally breaking the patterns you fall into to cope and numb when you are alone by noticing what comes up and why. This is the inner work. The hard work. This is what focusing on you looks like. As you do this work, you also practice self-compassion and forgiveness. Accept your story, let go of what you need to let go of, and start leaning into your evolution.
Decide what your new deal breakers are
When you are newly single, you have a clean slate. Decide which behaviors you will never put up with again. These are new standards that will nurture your self esteem and sense of self-worth.
You may decide you will never tolerate a partner who openly flirts with others. Maybe you will vow never to be with someone who has no ambition or treats impoverished people with disdain. Perhaps you will set down a hard line of not dating anyone who uses drugs, speaks profanely, or has a history of anger issues.
Form deal-breakers for all the areas of your life — not just a potential romantic relationship. Decide what the limits are for how you are treated at work, by strangers, and by family.
Remember: there’s a difference between non-negotiables and preferences. Telling yourself you will date only men who are six-two, make six fugiures, and drive a vintage Porsche are not non-negotiables. That’s called being picky. Non-negotiables are new standards you’ve created for yourself that line up with your new story.
Don’t keep track of time
There is no magic amount of time that it takes to get over someone. Don’t worry if your best friend seemed to recover from her last relationship in two months and you are still struggling with loss after four months.
Don’t beat yourself up if you feel like it’s taking too long. Gift yourself the time you need. There’s no way to rush the grieving process.
Every relationship is different. They make imprints on us that vary in depth. Who you are or were in that relationship is different now. There are too many factors involved to be able to judge or compare your expired relationships this way. It’s going to take as long as it’s supposed to take to heal and move through.
Recognize the fact broken hearts hurt and don’t shame yourself for feeling devastated.
Instead of focusing on your ex, or the relationship itself, focus on yourself. The relationship you have with yourself hasn’t ended and you have an opportunity to learn from this dark period of your life. By looking within, you can navigate your way through the black clouds and maneuver your way to brighter, happier days.
Previously published on medium
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want a deeper connection with our community, please join us as a Premium Member today.
Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS. Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: iStock