How To Cope With A Relationship Break Upby Dr Emma Gray - 16th April, 2018
Techniques to help you to cope
When a relationship ends it can be devastating, especially if you did not anticipate or want the ending. You can find yourself completely overwhelmed by feelings of rejection, anger, anxiety, loneliness and hopelessness about the future.
Coping with the end of an important relationship is a process that we must go through, this process has been designed, in a way, by nature, to enable us to adapt to the loss, so you are not going to be able to skip it. However, the following 8 steps will ease your path through the difficult months that follow a break up.
1. Remember, How you are Feeling is Normal
When a relationship ends this loss triggers the experience of a number of well documented stages (traditionally associated with grief). These include Denial, Anger, Anxiety, Bargaining (e.g. if only I had done things differently it would have worked out differently) and Depression. At some point in the months following your break up you will experience all of these stages before reaching the final stage, Acceptance, where you can move on with your life and feel able to make a new relationship. Each one of these stages is normal, and indeed necessary for your emotional health and wellbeing and each serves an important function in getting you to a place where you can live comfortably and happily without the person and relationship you have lost.
So, trust the process that nature has designed for you, try to allow it to take its course, don’t panic about the uncomfortable feelings you are experiencing, they are not a sign that something is wrong, just that your mind is trying to adjust to this new reality. Most importantly, don’t try and truncate the process by rushing into making a new relationship (see No 7 for more on this).
For more information about this process and these stage see our video on grief counselling.
2. Don’t Catastrophise
It is human nature when we are faced with an uncertain future to catastrophise, basically we try to create certainty by making the worst case scenario our reality e.g. I am going to be alone forever. Recognise when you are doing this and look at the evidence for and against the prediction and create a more accurate and helpful alternative thought e.g. my relationship with my ex ended because we had different ideas about life, once I have got used to this idea I will have the opportunity to meet someone who shares my ideas and will want to share my life with me.
3. Foster Existing Relationships
To help you to focus on the present, the future and how you can live a fulfilling life without your ex, pour your energy into your existing relationships, whether these are with your children, friends or family. Our relationships enrich our lives and different relationships offer us different things. One relationship can’t meet all our needs and when a significant relationship ends this is a good opportunity to refocus ourselves and consider the value of the other people in our lives.
4. Routines and task
Fill your day with routines and tasks that give you a sense of pleasure and achievement. This will give you stability, structure and purpose and it will lift your mood. It will also build your self-esteem and confidence in your ability to cope and be on your own.
5. Take Care of Yourself
If the end of a significant relationship means that you have been rejected or treated badly it is important that you counteract this by taking care of yourself. Take every opportunity to reconnect with what you like to do and do it. This is an important technique for building self-esteem and confidence and for alleviating depression.
6. Avoid Negative Comparisons with Others
When our mood is low we have a tendency to compare ourselves negatively with others for example, every couple on the street will seem as if they are madly in love, all of our friend’s partners will suddenly appear to be super attentive and caring and we may struggle to think of anyone we know who is in the same position we are in. If you notice yourself doing this bear in mind that we are never more aware of what other people are doing than when we are unhappy or dissatisfied, when things are going well for us we barely give others a second thought. Also, what we see when we are unhappy is seen through the lens of our unhappiness. So, remember, everyone is struggling with something, no matter what they post on Instagram, and negative comparisons are much easier to make when you are feeling negative and are rarely very accurate.
7. Be Alone
When an intimate relationship ends it is common to feel as if you cannot be alone, you may feel quite panicky at the prospect and notice an urge to quickly find another partner. However, it is important for your long-term happiness, self-esteem and confidence that you allow yourself time to process the end of the relationship and don’t try to cope with the anxiety by rushing into another relationship. For a start it is very difficult to make a healthy choice if you are starting a new relationship to avoid being alone. Also, it is important that you give yourself the chance to build your confidence in your ability to be alone, it is so much better for your emotional well being and longer-term happiness if you are in a relationship because you WANT to be, not because you believe you NEED to be.
8. Make It Count
Finally, make this change (unexpected or not) in your circumstances count. Use the time to pause and think about where you are in your life and what you want moving forward. There is something good to be gained from every experience if we look hard enough to find it.
Trust that you will feel better soon, human beings are robust and nature has equipped us with the psychological skills and strengths to deal with loss, trust this and put one foot in front of the other.