A relationship break up is never easy.
Whether you are the instigator, or on the receiving end, it rarely comes without a tornado of conflicting feelings, frustrations and regrets, bad words or actions, and logistical, practical problems. Relationships can end for many reasons, and no break up is the same, but what is for sure is that if it truly has ended, your life will be different from this point forward, for all parties involved.
How you choose to embrace that new path, and how different it is (or needs to be) is entirely up to you. Regardless of who is to blame in your opinion, you are in control of what happens next, at least a large part of it. Your mindset, outlook and strategy can make this easy or hard.
I went through a ‘surprise divorce’ recently. A surprise because we had only just got married in a fairytale wedding ceremony six-months before. A surprise because it was not a long-drawn out process, but a ‘rip-the-band-aid’ off end. Perhaps there were catalysts that I was guilty of, perhaps not, but at the time, I honestly did not see it coming, and neither did any of our friends or relatives. It was a tough and confusing time that I won’t get into specifics of, as I believed from the start that the best approach is to stay dignified, don’t trash-talk, and have empathy.
I feel calm right now. Content and happy. Present and grateful. I have had new experiences, new friendships, new loves and losses, and new passions. You will too. Friends have often told me they admired how I handled such a troubling time. On reflection, I have looked back and realized that these are the main tenets of my organic strategy, and I hope they help you also.
1. Keep a schedule.
This is something that should be adhered to and executed immediately. Following a break up, it can be easy (and even seem desirable) to wallow. Stay in bed late. Cancel appointments. Resist plans. Snack, and binge, and faff through the day. This can lead to knock-on emotions of feeling unproductive, worthless, pointless, and undesirable. Slippery slope.
Set an alarm. Get up, walk outside, get some fresh air & vitamin D. Go to your gym or your job or your appointment or whatever else you normally do. You lost a partner, not your existence. These things are still important for your well-being, and many of them need you too. You’ll feel accomplished and distracted, and that cycle repeats positively.
COVID-19 TIP: Just because you’re in quarantine doesn’t mean you can’t keep a schedule. Plan your day still with home-based tasks and activities, or video-chatting friends.
2. Be selfish, and selfless.
Many people in relationships spend a considerable amount of time doing things for their partners, whether mundane tasks and chores, or romantic efforts, assistance or gifts. Start taking that time back for you. What is it that you like? For me, focusing on my self- care meant going to gym workouts, guided meditation classes, and getting a massage a couple of times a week (instead of the rare treat it was prior). It meant eating foods I craved, driving to places I like, watching thrillers, attending entrepreneurial events and seeing a counselor. Do the things that represent treating yourself. You’ve been through a lot – find the distraction in your enjoyment.
However, being selfish doesn’t mean you can’t be selfless too. A wonderful way to ease the soul can be using your reclaimed time to give to others. Remember all the times you helped your partner study, or work through their family arguments, or drove them to their appointments? You can redirect that attention and time to someone else in need, maybe a friend or charity. You’ll reap the rewards yourself, as the dopamine hit from a good deed, especially one recognized, will give you continued motivation and reiterate your inherent and unique value outside of your partnership.
COVID-19 TIP: Self-care can also be done in the home. Make use of meditation apps like Balance or Insight Timer. Give yourself a spa day. Join a supportive group challenge like James Swanwick’s 30 Day No Alcohol Challenge. Sew face masks for others at home.
3. Prioritize things that are good for you.
Look after yourself and you’ll feel better all round. Ditch the junk food. Stop slobbing on the couch. Exercise regularly, eat good healthy food, meditate, read, inspire yourself. You need to recalibrate your body and mind – it’s taken a hit, so give it the best chance of handling that.
COVID-19 TIP: There’s an abundance of guided exercise programs available online, or if you can get outside, run. Get through your book list, or find healthy delivery groceries.
4. Identify the positives of being single.
Following a break-up it can be automatic to view everything as it was before, and think it was better. Certainly, if you were in a fun, loving and rewarding relationship like I was, you can feel like you’ve lost a partner who enhanced your experience, made things better. You’ll miss the camaraderie, the teamwork, the inside jokes, the passion. All these things may be true for you and they can’t be ignored. But try writing a list of the advantages of being single. There will probably be more than you think.
You can flirt again. You can watch those movies you like, or stay out late. The bathroom is always free. Going out costs half the price. You can leave the house when you want on a whim without waiting for someone else to get ready. You don’t have to endure their annoying cousin / friend / boss. There’s a silver lining in almost every bad situation – it’s your job to identify it and embrace it.
COVID-19 TIP: Self-isolation can be tough if you are used to being with a partner. Use dating apps to flirt from a distance. Redecorate to reflect your character. Spring clean.
5. Travel & experience.
This one was a game-changer for me. I chose to pack a bag, and be nomadic for an undefined period of time. It’s over a year later and I’m still on that journey and it’s been wonderful and healing. Obviously not everyone can simply pick up and travel the world, however you can do it in your own way.
Book a vacation, either alone or with friends, or maybe a group retreat. If you can’t do that, take a quick road trip, even a staycation or day out. The planning and new environment will be a welcome distraction to your mind’s repetitive thoughts of the past – it forces you to concentrate on something new. Experience and culture can be rewarding and exciting. Perhaps most importantly, you will be making new memories and friendships that are yours alone, and not tied to your previous partner, which soon the brain will prioritize.
COVID-19 TIP: Obviously travel is restricted, but make a wish-list of destinations for the future, research and plan. Give yourself something amazing to look forward to.
6. Give old memories new positive-associations.
Especially if your relationship was a long-term one, you will likely have so many elements of life that are inextricably linked to your ex. Exposure to these may drag up old memories so powerful that simply a reference like a song or a color can invoke sadness. You can choose how to respond to these triggers. The neuroplasticity of our brain means we can literally rewire the way we think for long-term change and benefit. If you can give yourself a new and positive memory for things that were significant in your relationship, you will find you can remember the old times with fondness for what they were, but have another replacement memory to prevent the regret.
For myself, I revisited symbolic places that we went to together, but with different people. I played our key wedding songs as soundtracks to things I enjoyed like a beautiful sunset hike or as celebration of a career win. I continued to wear items of clothing from my wedding day or important dates to reclaim them for myself. I liked that shirt or tie-pin and so I would not deprive myself of it.
7. Actively pursue new interests.
You’ve probably always had a list of things you’ve wanted to do or try, right? But never got the time? Or maybe your ex wasn’t interested or supportive of them. Now is the time to indulge. It might be a new course or hobby, or a group of people you longed to be part of but didn’t involve. Perhaps you have some repressed romantic or sexual desires that you can now explore, or a calling or mission you missed. New interests also bring distraction, new friends, new memories… entirely your own that never involved your partner. Get the theme here?
8. Reclaim your identity, connect & communicate.
Now you are doing all this work on yourself and embarking on new experiences, you might start to notice that you are looking better and healthier, feeling better. Your friends may compliment you on this, or the fact that the “old you” is back. This doesn’t necessarily mean they dislike who you became in your relationship; but they are appreciating the things that made you uniquely you, that they see again. You’ll have that spark, that excitement, that joy. You’ll be more attractive. You’ll have more time for others and you’ll reconnect with people you lost touch with in the shuffle, or felt it was inappropriate to continue friendships with. Reach out and be social, but don’t let it be a one-way street. Your friends are there to help you, hear you and heal you, but remember to ask about their day & life too. Be interested, and interesting. Also, even if you’re not ready to date, don’t discount dating apps. They can be a great training ground in regaining confidence to flirt, feeling attractive and assessing your qualities. Just be respectful and don’t lead people on.
9. Empathize, forgive & move on.
Be the bigger person. Have dignity. Do your best to see things from your ex-partner’s side, and understand why they did what they did. It may not make sense to you, but everyone has their reasons. Remember this mantra too: if it’s not right for them, then it isn’t right for you. Relationships are a mutual encounter and there’s no point forcing someone to stay that doesn’t want to. It won’t be authentic for you either. Find it in your heart to forgive them, and move on, just as they have.
10. Acknowledge the end, and let your future excite you.
I hope that you exhausted the options of working on your relationship. A good relationship will have its ups and downs – we are fragile, complex, changing beings, and ebb and flow is natural and to be expected. You shouldn’t discredit the investment or throw in the towel without a concerted effort.
However, if the relationship is truly done, and you know it, then don’t deny it. Acknowledge it. It is over. It is not coming back. You will be ok.
I like to use the analogy of a good book. I may have read a chapter that I love. It had magic, and twists and turns, and thoroughly consumed & inspired me. But when that chapter reaches its end, I turn the page, excited to read the next.
Welcome to the next chapter of your book.
You are going to be just fine, if not, better.
11. Get Counseling.
If you are going through relationship troubles, a professional counselor can really help navigate and advise you through this, so seek help together early on. A counselor can also be a wonderful support after a break up. For me personally, just a couple of sessions with a counselor clarified my situation, and gave me insight and knowledge that I wasn’t even aware of. The sessions prompted me with resources and research that helped me get very clear on a few aspects of my relationship and partner which made profound sense, so that I could steer my healing and recalibration with intent. I can say emphatically that professional counseling was the key to me unlocking the 10 steps above for myself.
COVID-19 TIP: Many counselors are offering online sessions through video-chat.