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How to survive a relationship break up

It is never easy when a relationship ends. Whether you initiated or were on the receiving end of a breakup, loss of a relationship; a bond between intimates can be one of the most painful experiences of our lives.

We are often not well equipped to deal with relationship break ups. Healthy ways of coping are rarely taught or modelled. Furthermore, when our feelings or experiences conflict with cultural gender expectations, the stories of our struggles are even more difficult to own.

We can however, develop effective strategies to recover from a break up and renew our sense of self.

Be patient

Healing takes time. It is normal to experience a range of intense, negative emotions. You may feel sad, angry, confused, frustrated, resentment, exhaustion, relief or regret. Uncertainty about the future may leave you feeling fear or anxiety too. You cannot evade the pain of loss. These feelings are normal and natural and will ease in time.

Be compassionate

Typically compassion isn’t our first response when we struggle or are in pain. We are more likely to self-protect. We often protect ourselves by looking for someone else to blame, going into fix it mode or shutting down our emotional experience.

Compassion involves drawing on our whole experience. To be human is to embrace our strengths and struggle. When a relationship ends this includes allowing yourself to grieve the loss of the relationship.

Relationship break ups involve multiple losses; companionship, shared experiences, social, emotional or intellectual connection, financial support, the loss of hopes, dreams and plans for the future. If the relationship was personally meaningful to you, then grieving the loss of a relationship is understandable.

We may however, fear that our emotions will overwhelm us, be too intense to bear or that we’ll be stuck in darkness forever. Yet, compassion allows us to recognise we are human.

Be kind

Compassion extends beyond self to others too. Cruelty is never brave. Avoid shaming, blaming or taking revenge.

Be courageous

Courage in everyday life is to be vulnerable, to speak honestly and openly about who we are and how we feel about our experiences.    

After a break-up, talking to others can be a powerful way of managing how we feel. Even though talking to others may be difficult, it can help us come to new realisations or understandings.

While all relationships are different, most people have endured the pain of a break up at some point. By finding the courage to talk to people that care about us, we usually discover our feelings are normal and that others have endured them too.  

If reaching out within your circle of friends or family doesn’t come naturally, then consider outside help. Sharing your experience with a relationship counsellor can provide a confidential way of making sense of what you’ve been through. A counsellor can also work with you to develop personalised strategies to help.

Be conscious

To be conscious is to be aware of what is going on within us (the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual) and beyond us. 

A relationship break up is highly stressful and brings about many changes. It is important to take care of yourself. When we start to notice what we need, we are better able to respond and feel better.

Nourish your body

The essentials of life; good nutrition, plenty of sleep and regular exercise may not feel like a priority when coping with a breakup. They are however, essential to boosting your mood and reducing anxiety, fatigue and stress.

Nurture yourself 

Turning to alcohol, drugs and food to escape your feelings may seem to provide temporary relief. In reality negative feelings can intensify and longer-term unhealthy patterns of coping with stressors can emerge.

Instead, make time each day for activities that are calming, fun or relaxing. Small things like indulging in a hot bath, massage, a walk in nature or just mindfully attending to the sensory stimuli in your surrounds can be soothing. Listening to your favourite tunes or watching a favourite movie may help you ‘be with’ the feelings of loss or lift your spirits to ease the pain of loss. 

Notice your needs

You may not be functioning at full capacity, so give yourself a break and adjust your expectations at home or work. When a relationship ends the routines and rituals of life may be disrupted. Where possible maintain routines, to provide a sense of stability, comfort or control. Be clear about your own limits moment to moment, and express your needs in a way that honours what is right for you.

Be connected

The comfort that comes from connection with others is fundamental to our wellbeing. When a relationship ends, we loose someone important in our life. Stay connected with friends and family who are a supportive comfort and truly listen to you, without judgement, criticism or expectation. The opportunity for social activities may provide a welcome relief too. 

Be solo

We may be drawn to the comfort of others but don’t rely on a new relationship too soon. It makes sense to not want to be alone and new relationships provide a sense of hope and possibility for the future, distracting us for the negative emotions associated with the break up.

Yet, it is important to fully heal from a breakup, understand what happened and the part you played. It is a time to reflect deeply on your own sense of self and you in relationship. We then open up the possibility of a healthy, sustainable, loving relationship future.