Dealing with relationship break-ups

Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom – RUMI

Relationships end for lots of reasons. Most of us will go through a break-up at some stage in our life and it is completely normal to feel sad during this time. Depending on the nature of the break up, you may feel as though your world has turned upside down and that you will never feel happy again. Whether you are one who initiated the break-up, or the one at the receiving end, it is important to remember that with time, and a bit of love and support from friends and family, most people will come out the other side as a stronger person. A break up can even bring on a sense of relief, especially if the relationship was unhealthy. Even if the relationship made you unhappy, it is normal to experience uncomfortable feelings such as denial and disbelief, guilt, shame, anger and sadness, which may lead to feeling lonely, rejected, confused and heart-broken[1].

Each individual experiences grief in response to the loss of a relationship in different ways. Many aspects in our life can be affected, including our physical, emotional, behavioral, social and spiritual self. The loss can take time to adapt to and often threatens our beliefs about the world[2]. Grief is experienced in a number of ways, namely through feelings, physical sensations, cognitions (thoughts) and behaviours[3]. Let’s have a look at these in a bit more detail:

Feelings: can include shock numbness, sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, loneliness, helplessness, yearning, despair, depression and relief. Some of these can be more difficult to work through or manage, such as anger directed at others or significant anxiety.

Physical reactions: can include fatigue, breathing difficulties, muscle weakness, oversensitivity to noise or a sense of depersonalization (thoughts and feelings not seeming real, or feeling like you are observing yourself) [4].

Cognitive reactions: can include disbelief, confusion, reduced memory and concentration, a sense of hopelessness or unreality, preoccupation with thoughts of your ex and hallucinations[5]. Preoccupation with thoughts, images and memories of a former partner is normal.

Behavioural reactions: can include crying, agitation, social withdrawal, sleep disturbances, appetite changes, absent-minded behaviour, searching and calling out, avoiding reminders of the deceased, restless overactivity, visiting places or carrying objects that remind one of your ex[6]

There are also a number of factors that influence and shape the grief that we feel after a relationship has ended. These include:

  • Previous life experience: Have you been through a break up before?
  • Religious and philosophical background: Spiritual beliefs can be comforting and protective.
  • Gender: men and women express the grief process in different ways; males through actions and females through talking and expressing emotions.
  • Current mental and physical health status/ or whether you have a history of past depression and trauma
  • Your available support base: friends/family/pets.

Here are some things to remember that will help you stay positive in the wake of a break up:

  • What you are feeling now won’t last forever. Moving on from a break up takes a considerable amount of time (months and even years). Take each day is it comes and allow yourself to grieve – there will be good and bad days.
  • You can find happiness in life without a relationship: you will have more time for yourself to enjoy things perhaps the relationship didn’t allow you to do. It’s also better to be single than in a damaged relationship[7].
  • You will become a stronger person by developing coping skills and learning to be independent. You will also learn more about yourself and what you want from future relationships.
  • If you decided to end the relationship, it doesn’t necessarily make the break up any easier to cope with[8]. It’s okay and completely natural to experience sadness and to miss your ex.
  • If you know deep down that the relationship has ended for good, let it be. It may be a good idea to un-follow your ex on social media and ovoid public places they may go. Many people try to remain close friends with their ex straight after a break up. In most cases this doesn’t work and prolongs the grieving process because the relationship is still alive in some way.

Here are some tips to feeling happier after a break up:

  • Allow yourself to be upset: facing your emotions will assist in the healing process.
  • Make your health and wellbeing a priority: try to stick to a healthy diet (plenty of fruits and vegetables), stay hydrated and maintain a consistent sleeping routine. Also – exercise!
  • Keep busy. With much more free time, it’s easy to stay still and obsess and about your ex. Maybe now is the time to learn a language or join a social sporting team!
  • Do things you enjoy and find relaxing. Also, re-arranging your habitat (bedroom/living area) can help in creating a fresh start for yourself. Just treat yourself!
  • Talk to friends and family. You can get a different perspective by talking through things with others[9].
  • Don’t rely on drugs or alcohol to deal with the pain. Though the immediate effects may make you feel numb and forget about your ex, the after effects will leave you feeling much worse.

References:

Bull, M. 2009. ‘Loss’ in Barkway, P. (ed.). Psychology for Health Professionals. Elsevier, Sydney.

Dealing With Relationship Break-ups. Headspace. Last Modified 2016, https://www.headspace.org.au/assets/Uploads/Resource-library/Young-people/Dealing-with-relationship-break-ups-web.pdf.

[1] Dealing With Relationship Break-ups, Headspace, Last Modified 2016, https://www.headspace.org.au/assets/Uploads/Resource-library/Young-people/Dealing-with-relationship-break-ups-web.pdf.

[2] Bull, M. 2009, ‘Loss’ in Barkway, P. (ed.), Psychology for Health Professionals, Elsevier, Sydney.

[3] ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] ibid.

[6] ibid

[7] Dealing With Relationship Break-ups, Headspace, Last Modified 2016, https://www.headspace.org.au/assets/Uploads/Resource-library/Young-people/Dealing-with-relationship-break-ups-web.pdf.

[8] ibid.

[9] Dealing With Relationship Break-ups, Headspace, Last Modified 2016, https://www.headspace.org.au/assets/Uploads/Resource-library/Young-people/Dealing-with-relationship-break-ups-web.pdf.

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