As a psychotherapist specializing in couples therapy, I’m frequently called on to help clients deal with break-ups or divorce.
Common reactions to divorce or break ups are not just emotional, they are often physical and behavioral. For example, many folks report feeling anxious, like they have been socked in the gut or chest while the butterflies in their stomach affect their eating and sleeping habits. Sound familiar? Relax, this is a normal reaction.
Other times, clients report feeling mostly “numb” until the larger implications of the break up or divorce finally hits them. Everyone’s individual reaction is different however, but one thing remains true: Heartbreak is very real, very painful, and most relationship advice aimed at helping people get over a break up or divorce is similar to grief therapy.
However, there is hope! While coping with a break up or divorce can feel hopeless or overwhelming, remember that time is a great healer. Always keep this in mind: Your problems and feeling are temporary, and you are bigger than both of them. So hang in there, because the longer you hang on means you are one day closer to feeling better.
That said, here are some steps you can take to begin the healing process.
RELATIONSHIP ADVICE: RECOGNIZE YOUR FEELINGS
A common response to negative events is numbness, but underneath that numbness are often feelings of hurt, anger, inadequacy, fear of the unknown, and loneliness. Honoring those feelings is an essential part of the healing process.
Try exploring your feelings by keeping a journal of your thoughts and emotions. I also encourage my clients to write letters. For example, compose a note to your ex exploring what you are, or aren’t, going to miss about your partner. What are you angry about? What are you sad about? What do you fear this break up means? What was your part in the break up? What are some things about your ex that you’ll forever appreciate or remember? It’s cathartic to get things off your chest. Whether you mail it or not doesn’t matter, recognizing your emotions is most important. And in the future, when you’re in a healthier place, you can look back on it and have a chuckle.
RELATIONSHIP ADVICE: COMBAT NEGATIVE THINKING
It’s not unusual to have thoughts such as “I will never date again.” However, when having these negative thoughts, it’s useful to ask yourself rational questions in response such as: What is the effect of believing this thought? What are the disadvantages of this thought? Is there is an alternative explanation to this thought? What would I tell a friend who is in a similar situation?
Using the example of “I will never date again,” the effects of believing this thought are easy: You’ll forever be alone, you’ll remain unhappy, and create a self-perpetuating cycle of negativity. In short, you’ll assure your own misery. An alternative explanation may be “I feel bad right now, which is understandable, but I won’t feel like this forever and who knows what the future holds?”
MAKE A LIST
Another technique I recommend is having clients take a few minutes to write a list of all the positive qualities they offer. This helps them see that they have lots to offer future partners. What about you makes you feel proud? What would your family and friends say they like or love about you? (You may even ask your friends and family to assist you.) What are your achievements? Who in your life do you know loves you?
RID YOUR ENVIRONMENT OF REMINDERS OF YOUR EX OR “OLD LIFE”
DO SOMETHING FOR YOURSELF
LEARN YOUR MOTIVATION FOR ENGAGING IN RELATIONSHIPS
Be honest! Which of your needs was getting fulfilled by your relationship? Fear of being alone? Financial security? Did you simply stay for the sake of the children? What was the real reason you broke up? Often, it’s because as a coupe you were either not compatible (didn’t have the same needs, goals, world views, etc) or communication was poor. Therefore, to help ensure the chances of finding healthy relationships in the future, it is vital to learn from your past.
At some point, most folks become fed up with feeling bad, and begin moving on. In fact, studies show that these emotional rebounds can be very liberating and empowering.
My most important relationship advice is this: The past does not have to determine the future, and if you’ve loved deeply once then you are capable of experiencing it again. In fact, if you take the time to heal you will come out of the relationship MORE experienced and even MORE able to engage in loving relationships!
Emily Kensington is a couples therapist. For free relationship advice and romance tips visit http://www.hearts-and-kisses.com