When the romance goes sour: Coping with heartbreak and heartache.
The end of a romantic relationship is indeed a painful experience. Heartache hurts us in a deep way because the closeness we have to a romantic partner is not like other love connections. The level of intimacy makes the romantic partner very special. It is also the kind of relationship that makes us dream of a future together. So when it ends it is understandably, painful. Most people feel like they have lost something that was very important to them.
How do we come to terms with it? The first thing to remember is that you are a human being and you have just lost your love so IT IS PERFECTLY OK to not be OK for a while. The idea that I have to be strong and just carry may come from misguided ‘strong’ role models. They aren’t realistic. Those strong people also broke down when you weren’t looking. It’s normal to hurt so just accept it. If you want to really be strong and brave try speaking the truth. “Sorry guys I am not my usual self at the moment because I’m processing the end of my previous relationship…but I’ll be back soon”. What you really need is time to heal.
During your healing time you are likely to face a whole lot of emotions. Anger, confusion, sadness, betrayal, despair, hurt, inadequacy and rage!!!! Don’t fight these feelings. They are normal and feeling them is essential for you to get through this. If you feel like crying, then cry (ok maybe excuse yourself to the bathroom if you’re in public), if you feel like not seeing anyone, then don’t see anyone. Whatever feeling comes up, its ok, allow yourself to feel it. This may sound strange, because painful feelings are usually avoided, however the sooner you allow yourself to feel these feelings the sooner you will work through the loss.
Accompanying these emotions is usually a whole lot of overthinking. This includes replaying every detail to see whether there were ‘signs’, remembering all the things they said to see if they were lies, trying to answer the question of why why why? Maybe even bargaining with yourself “ If only I was more, better, prettier, taller, smarter, more available, etc… then we would still be together.” These ‘if onlys’ usually cause you to find fault in yourself and how you THINK you could have done things differently. Be realistic. Yes maybe there is something you can learn here about how to be in relationships. But maybe there isn’t. The reason it ended may honestly have NOTHING to do with you. In time, you will see the truth. It will eventually make sense. Right now, its ok if it doesn’t.
One of the things that make breaking up so unbearable is the over inflated value we often put on our partners, and the undervalue we put on ourselves. Basically the idea that I need someone to complete me, my other half, my better half etc… all point to the idea that we are deficient on our own. Like we can’t stand on our own two feet, enjoy our own company, make the most of ‘me time’, think for ourselves, love ourselves, take pride in our strengths, manage our lives and basically… be fully functioning human beings on our own. Therefore, assuming we can’t do these things, we then become overly-DEPENDENT on our partners to complete us, to fill our gaps. Don’t get me wrong I’m not suggesting we should stay single, but viewing your partners as something you cannot exist without makes breaking up more unbearable. Instead, partners should be people you WANT to journey through life with, not people you NEED to complete you. You are a totally complete, wonderful, vibrant, worthwhile person, and the sooner you believe that the easier it will be to survive heartbreaks. And FYI it will also stop you from doing a whole lot of needy, weird stuff when you are actually in a relationship too.
Finally, I want to leave you with a thought. We often seem to get caught up in the idealized notion of everlasting love. Is s/he the one? My soulmate? We think that if our relationships don’t last for decades they are ‘failed’ relationships. I completely disagree. I have learnt more about me, life, people and the world from ex’s that from books. Even the short relationships have taught me a whole lot. It may be a bit soon at the time of heartbreak to acknowledge the ‘gifts’ you received from your ex. I don’t mean valentines chocolates. But in time we begin to see that the gifts in knowledge and experience such as feeling special, desired, accepted, loved etc… are invaluable. They fill us up on the inside and we are often better off for having had them, even if it didn’t end well.
In a nutshell its all about acceptance. Accept that you are not ok, accept whatever feelings come your way, accept that you will tend to overthink things but there will be some great learning opportunities. Finally accept that you will survive this like you have survived so much worse in the past because deep down you know that you are enough.
Centre for Psychological Services and Career Development