Any break-up is a shock to the system, coupled with self doubt, regret and the normal process of analysis that follows. Unless you are a person devoid of emotion, it is a truly nerve-wracking experience to end a relationship or to be on the receiving end. Tough as this time is, there are things that can be done to ease the process and of course, many things to avoid. We have to keep in mind this is an emotional process and that often means the very logic that could help is not seen or is noticed but not applied. Time is a great healer and many clients I have worked with have looked back on the time just after a break-up and were quite amazed at what they did. However, much of the dysfunction is a natural reaction to loss and trying to fill the hole left by an ex-partner. So what should you be doing to get through this painful period and what is best to avoid? First, let’s look at the latter.
The common advice from most experts and theorists is that you should block your ex out of your life as soon as you can and eventually forget him or her. While this is easier said than done, there are things to avoid. Sending endless texts, virtual stalking on social media, finding excuses for contact, feigning illness and obsession are all going to leave you mired in destructive thoughts. We tend not to have a realistic view of a relationship when we “idolise” the ex, forgetting that you can learn more about a person from the way they break up than how they start a relationship. This is cold turkey time, a painful time that will ease as time progresses. How long will depend on the individual.
So what can be done to make things better and be able to move on? As previously stated, most advice talks about erasing the ex from your life and memory as soon as possible and moving on with new people and experiences. This can happen but is extremely difficult just after a break-up and for some impossible. The ex was maybe sown into the fabric of your life, could have been the reason you eat what you do, wear the clothes you wear, even why you chose the car you did. These factors are not easy to just wash away overnight. This view of close relationships is based on the general principles of attachment theory, which proposes that we carry remnants of our earliest relationships with caregivers into our adult years. These are the most fundamental influences on our so-called “working models” of ourselves, but not the last ones. According to a summary article led by bereavement researcher Margaret Stroebe (2010), it is not unhealthy for our attachment bonds to live on even after our loved ones have departed.
Stroebe, working on bereavement models to help people cope with the loss of a loved one, proposed the dual-process model of adapting to such painful loss. One part of this process is the restoration process where time is taken to rework lives and figure out how to manage things and the second part of the process is dealing with the emotional loss, which Stroebe recognised as the most difficult, though also noted that those who coped the best after bereavement tended to move between the two functions. We can see how this model can also be applied to the ending of a significant relationship. While you are in the midst of the pain of a relationship’s ending, it may be hard to see how you will emotionally survive. By using the dual-process model, you can benefit by applying both restoration and loss to your own adaptation to a relationship’s ending:
Restoration. To ease the burden of dealing with the pragmatic changes the break-up will bring, start by making a list of what needs to be done to rework your daily life. Depending on how life was with the ex, it may be the case that you that you need to take on more responsibility for such things as household maintenance, bill-paying, childcare, etc. This can seem a massive extra burden to some while they are coping with loss but can also be seen as an opportunity if positively reframed. Many clients have said to me what an empowering experience it was to deal with new things and take responsibility. Though for some, it will always be hard.
Loss. The loss function means that you psychologically come to terms with the relationship’s ending. Of the two processes, this is definitely the tougher one. Adjusting to the absence of a person who was so much a part of your life will not happen easily, but the burden may be reduced somewhat when you realise that you do not have to rid yourself of all of the relationship’s remnants. It is important to avoid the temptation to label everything about your ex as “bad”, or, in fact all “good” even though when the wounds are freshest, you will find it hard to acknowledge any of his or her redeeming qualities. In time, you will see that the experience of being together also brought valuable experiences that can be taken forward in a functional way. After that immediate pain subsides, you can start to look back and find positive meaning from both your ex and that part of your own identity that was wrapped up in his or hers.