Coping With Relationship Heartbreak

Breakups are painful. The reasons for the relationship split seem to matter less than the fact that your world has changed and all kinds of uncomfortable feelings and emotions are being triggered. You can learn from this experience and come through it wiser and stronger, and hopefully, with a heart open enough to receive love and hope for the future.

Even though the relationship no longer works, why do breakups hurt so much? When marriages or relationships end, it is not just about grieving the loss of the connection, but the end of shared hopes and dreams. Hope is an important aspect of early romantic relationships. Couples mourn the hope for the future as well as the commitment of shared goals and dreams. 

Other important losses include one's identity, physical and sexual intimacy, shared hobbies and interests, relationships with friends and extended family, a physical move or the sale of a home, financial stability, individual and shared responsibilities, and if children are involved, a significant disruption in their lives. Starting over can be scary. it is normal to wonder if you will ever find love or another partner again as well as other future uncertainties. Many feel that staying with what they know, even if it's an unhappy partnership, is better than being alone. It's important to remind yourself, that it is possible to move on to find happiness either alone or with someone else. Healing takes time and recovery requires patience and treating yourself with kindness and compassion. 

How can you cope with a new divorce, breakup or separation, and how do you grieve?

  • Understand that it's ok to feel a range of things including: sadness, hopelessness, anger, resentment, exhaustion, confusion, anxiety,  fear, relief, excitement and hope, as examples.
  • Allow yourself to identify and feel emotions (even if you have to excuse yourself from a gathering or event), they won't last forever and feeling them actually helps you let go of the relationship and move on from your former partner. Ignoring feelings will prolong the break-up healing process 
  • Allow yourself to really grieve and process the loss of the relationship. Crying helps release the pain and trauma from the body.
  • Give yourself permission to fall apart from time to time, and certainly excuse yourself on days when you're less than optimal. Some days, work may suffer and you may not have the energy to take care of your usual responsibilities, in other words, give in to the ups and downs.
  • Don't try to shoulder it all alone, reach out to friends and family for support. Knowing that others are available to you will help you feel less alone and heal the pain of the loss. Friends and supportive people in your life can also kick your butt when you need it.
  • Create new friendships, this is especially important if you've lost your old social network during the breakup. Take classes, get involved in your community, volunteer, join a gym or social network.
  • Join a support group if that's available to you
  • Journal about your feelings if that's a tool that works for you.
  • Try not to get stuck in negative emotions such as blame, anger, and resentment. Doing so takes up valuable energy and keeps you from moving forward with your life.
  • Get professional help from a therapist or a coach that specializes in helping the newly-single move on, especially if the letting go process is prolonged or you feel stuck. Learn the difference between a normal reaction to a breakup or the end of a relationship and depression.
  • Remind yourself that you still have a future, and that if you allow yourself the gift of hope, new dreams will eventually replace the old ones. 

Breakups and divorce are extremely stressful. You are physically and psychologically vulnerable to feeling unwell. Extreme self-care after the breakup is really important...

  • Nap and rest as needed. Also work to minimize other sources of stress in your life, and reduce your workload whenever possible.
  • Help yourself heal by making time each day to nurture yourself. Schedule activities that are calming and soothing. Some examples: listen to music, take a nature walk, get a massage, learn yoga, read, draw.
  • Learn to say no to things that don't serve you at this time.
  • Avoid making major decisions such as moving or changing jobs post-breakup. It's best to wait until you're less emotional. 
  • Avoid using alcohol, substances, food and drugs to cope. It's tempting to turn to substances when you're in pain, but alcohol for example is a depressant, and will leave you feeling worse.
  • A divorce or relationship breakup is disruptive and can intensify feelings of stress and uncertainty. Adding some structure to your day can provide a sense of stability and comfort.
  • Exercise can be hard especially if you now have new responsibilities post-breakup. If you can do even fifteen minutes a day, you will feel better and it will serve your long-term goal of moving forward and getting on with your life after a breakup.
  • Find new interests, hobbies and activities to explore. It takes you out of the past and will prime your brain for new, more positive experiences.   

This is a difficult time, but it's also a tremendous growth opportunity if you can make the shift in your thinking. What important lessons can you learn about yourself after a divorce or separation?

  • What are the ways in which you may have stopped growing as an individual when you were in the relationship? As they say, It really does take two. You don't want to repeat similar unhealthy dynamics in future relationships.
  • How did you contribute to any problems in the relationship? This is a time to mature and take responsibility if needed. Acknowledge your part in the relationship breakdown.
  • Are you repeating patterns in your relationships? Are you making similar partner choices and choosing poor matches for you? Why and where might this come from? 
  • Consider how you handle stress and conflict in romantic relationships. Do you handle conflict in constructive ways? Are you too aggressive which may cause your partner to shutdown? Do you shutdown and disconnect which can trigger feelings of abandonment in your partner? Does your need to be right hurt the relationship? Do you seek revenge in response to an injustice instead of dealing with the problem directly. Do you treat your partner in ways that are harsh, judgmental and overly critical? How do you handle negative feelings and emotions?
  • More good than bad. Do you deposit love and kindness into the emotional bank?
  • Do you have unresolved early traumas or intimacy issues that make it hard for you to trust, feel close or have the fulfilling relationships you desire?
  • Do you have physical or health ailments or emotional and psychological problems that you have not addressed?
  • Are you able to connect to your own needs and allow your partner to do the same?

The end of a relationship can break your heartYou can learn some really important life lessons about yourself and others throughout the healing process. Perhaps people are in our lives for a reason - a season or a decade - we don't really know for sure, but we can learn and grow from all relationships. You don't have to feel crushed and broken after a divorce or breakup. You can survive the end of a relationship and emerge feeling stronger, wiser and more self-aware. You may partner with another, or you may decide that your best life partner is with yourself.