August 2, 2018

Going Solo: What happens after a Breakup

Most of us have been through this.  Be it a brief teenage romance or a major break-up later in life.  Recovering from a failed relationship is never easy.  A relationship fulfills our need to love and be loved.  It gives us meaning and fills our future with hope.   When a relationship comes to an end our plans are shattered, our hopes disintegrate and we are suddenly catapulted into isolation – a space that brings uncertainty and anxiety. Some of us manage to cope as we connect to our inner strength and slowly embrace the solo lifestyle.  For some of us though, the sense of loss can be overwhelming.  There is shock, anger and sadness over that part of life that is no more.  Those of us who are going through this difficult life experience often express themselves in simple yet heavily loaded phrases.  Some of us may be sadly too familiar with the phrases below: “I can’t believe all this is happening!” Following the news of the break up there is disbelief.  “How could this happen?  Probably this is just a phase…it cannot be the end!  My partner will have second thoughts and come back to me” you may think immediately after. When one expresses the intention to leave the relationship, the other experiences shock.  The mind cannot take this sudden painful change so it builds a protection from anxiety by denying what is happening.  One may refuse to admit that it’s all over and goes on contacting their ex as before.  When this goes on for too long it becomes more difficult to deal with the reality of the situation. “We can work it out.” “I am sure we can find a way to sort out our differences” you may say to your ex-partner when you realize that the break up is for real.   Here you try to bargain into the relationship by trying to find solutions to the grievances you think led to the break up.  You may promise to change; to give more, to be present more, to be more loyal, more independent or any other change you think may bring back your partner.  While doing this you are unintentionally shouldering all the responsibility for the break-up.  Unless both partners are willing to make it happen, one-sided efforts may be bound to fail. While some may try to win the partner back others adopt ‘a better this way’ attitude and convince themselves that it’s better to be out of the relationship.  This cover up may not work for long as other feelings of anger and sadness sweep over. “It’s not fair!” You feel angry at the way you were abandoned.   Very often this anger serves as a shield that fends off other intolerable feelings of rejection and insecurity.  Though anger robs your peace of mind it is also a way to discredit anything or anyone who tried to discredit you.  Your anger may be directed towards your ex-partner; your ex’s friends; the provocative colleague, the interfering in-laws, the demanding boss and all those whom you feel may have impacted the relationship.  You may even be angry towards yourself for allowing all this to happen.  When uncontrolled, anger can become destructive as you may seek ways to exact revenge.  Vengeance however makes it more difficult for you to move on.  The key here is to validate your anger and acknowledge the underlying feelings that are causing it. “Something is wrong with me.” Following a break up your self-worth diminishes.  You feel rejected and start thinking that you may be damaged or flawed in some way.  In this mind set shame creeps in bringing along the need to hide oneself for fear of another painful rejection.  A healthier attitude would be to revise your relational skills, keep what is good and improve the aspects that can sabotage a future relationship.  As you practice more self-love you will get new energy to relate to others in meaningful ways. “My life is empty.” Your hope of getting back together fades and along with this your sense of joy disappears.  You grief over your loss.  Your life revolved around your partner and now all you feel is absence.  Being single is a new identity imposed by circumstances and you are not sure how to live this new unwanted experience.  You may experience moments of deep sadness as you feel hopeless and helpless about the future.  Progress is done when you gradually adjust to the new situation and start seeing new possibilities for fulfillment. “We were not meant for each other.” Accepting the fate of your relationship takes time.  After you go through the torment of shock, anger and sadness you may realize that these painful feelings only made you more miserable.  You accept that the plans you held will no longer happen.  You may have wished to travel, to get your own place, to have children or just eat dinners together.  Letting go of this dream is hard but its’ also a big part of healing.  Your next step is to replace your failed dream with a new exciting one.  “I had to leave.” If you were the one who left the relationship you too suffered.  For a long time you may have contemplated till you sadly realized that this relationship was stunting your personal growth.  You also dreaded the consequences and felt guilty about causing pain to someone you loved.  Adjusting to solo living was neither easy for you but you found little sympathy as after all you were the one who broke it off.  Now that you see your ex-partner recovering you may experience a sense of relief as you realize that both of you gained from the separation.  It is when both partners move on to new beginnings that each can experience the freedom to be happy again. If you wish to learn more on the benefits of therapy send a message.

Shirley Galea MA Gest. Psych.
Shirley Galea is a psychotherapist and educator.  She works in private practice with adolescents,  adults and couples.
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