For as much as I love Disney, I’ve never been one for storybook romances or, ironically, happily ever after. I have had a more realistic idea of love, and my relationships have generally reflected that. You know- opposite of happily ever after, that is.
However, I am somewhat of a hopeless romantic within relationships. I love being pursued and desired and doted on, and love when someone respects me but isn’t intimated by me. I’m told I’m a lot to handle, and I wear that proudly 🙂
Twice in the last decade I found myself at the end of significant relationships. First, to someone I dated over many transitional periods of my life- end of college, grad school, a move across country, law school, studying for the bar, and more. The second, to someone I was married to, built a house with, had three children with, and plenty more.
At the end of both of those relationships I found myself experiencing profound loss. Not of hope, I’ve always believed that my story will have a magnificent ending. But of companionship, of dreams, of love. A breakup can be as significant on someone’s life as the birth of a child or the death of a friend or loved one. And they should be treated with the requisite level of seriousness.
The End of a Relationship Can Feel Like the End of the World
An unexpected breakup can feel like the end of the world. And, in a lot of ways, it is. It’s the end of an era of your life. The end to the way things used to be. The end to a thing that you were part of that no longer exists. Break-ups are emotional, exhausting, and really difficult.
Even when the relationship wasn’t healthy, when there were problems with trust or betrayal or anger, losing someone you love hurts and is wrought with pain.
If you were married and your breakup is actually a divorce, this is even more significant. You’re talking about separating physical assets, separating actual lives that have been intertwined. Often you’re talking about sharing your most prized possessions- your children. It feels like the worst pain one could ever imagine.
It Can Be Extremely Lonely Following a Breakup
Obviously one of the worst parts of the end of a relationship is not having the other person with you. The loss of companionship is often cited as the most painful everyday part of healing. There is such a feeling of profound loss within your daily routine, that the person’s presence can feel larger than life itself sometimes.
It’s okay to acknowledge that loneliness. It’s a dark place that requires more light from people like you and me. However, I’ll share something that was shared with me following the end of a relationship that really changed my perspective: “I’d rather be lonely by myself then alone with someone else.” Maybe the words lonely and alone were the other way around, but the sentiment is the same. It is much better to be by yourself when you’re single than to feel by yourself when you’re in a relationship.
FINDING HAPPILY EVEN AFTER A RELATIONSHIP
With each relationship I have had in my life, I’ve changed a little bit. Sometimes for the other person, sometimes just as part of growing. Sometimes as a result of things I went through during the course of the relationship. The point is, you are likely not the same person you were at the beginning of the relationship, and it might be a worthwhile exercise for you to discover who you are now before pursuing your next relationship.
Re-Engage in Relationships You Neglected
One of the best parts of the end of a relationship is rediscovering the people you left behind when you were enthralled by your partner and wanting to spend 24/7 with them. Whether this be your closest friends, your mom and dad, or your college roommate who lives down the road, this is a perfect time to re-engage and reinvest in those relationships, because these are the people that will help nurture you back to your best self.
At the end of both of the relationships I mentioned above, I really struggled here. In the former example, because it really felt like a divorce, we split friends. Actually, I kind of abandoned the shared friends we had together because I didn’t know how to handle it. That contributed to the extreme loneliness I referenced above. With my marriage, it was even harder. I had lost so many friends and family members because of continuing to stay in an abusive marriage (understandably, many people didn’t understand why I was doing what I was doing. In fairness, I didn’t really either.), so I was already very alone. I was able to reconnect with some of the people that I lost during that time, and most of that has returned to what feels like normal friendships. The end of a relationship is the perfect time to reconnect to people that you’ve grown distant with along the way.
Re-Engage in Activities You Neglected
You know what I’m talking about here… passion projects, exercise, intramurals, book club, bible study, you name it. All the things that you did that you probably stopped doing, or significantly reduced doing, when you were in a relationship. Understandably, because you wanted to spend as much of your time with the other person as possible.
Now is the perfect time to fall back into those things.
Form New Routines
For me, one of the hardest parts post-relationship is breaking off the habits and routines. You’re used to talking to that person all the time, calling them about everything that happened during your day, voicing frustration when things happened at work etc. You’re used to them being there when you get home and being the first person you see when you wake up. You’re used to vacationing at certain times of year and traditions that come with holidays.
Forming new routines and new habits that don’t involve that person is an easy way to not notice as much when the older ones are no longer there. Maybe you hope to the gym first thing in the morning or start to call your best friend each day on your commute to work. These are small things that help you resist the temptation of calling your ex.
Let Go of Bad Habits
Surely everyone has heard of the Freshman Fifteen- the traditional weight first year college students put on when they can eat anything they want virtually whenever they want. And you know, there’s the drinking.
If you have been drinking our woes away post break-up, this is a great time to let that go. Partake in a cleanse or try a program like Whole 30 to help you feel your best so you can be your best.
Social Media Detox
The end of a relationship is usually a great time for a social media detox. While there are great things about social media, particularly when it comes to staying in touch with people, it’s not the best place to be after the end of a relationship. I read somewhere last year that social media is a constant reminder of the past, and it’s funny how true that really is. Don’t get caught living in the past when you need to be focusing your energies forward.
Stay Busy, But Don’t Distract Yourself
It’s important to keep your mind and body busy after a break-up, but there is a danger in overwhelming yourself to the point of distraction that you forget to do the work of processing and healing. Invest in yourself and don’t skip the hard work.
Process and Heal the Wounds
Not every break-up requires an autopsy and post-mortem analysis, but all break-ups require reflection. Perhaps there were significant issues in your relationship that affected your ability to trust. Perhaps there were things that your partner complained about that you want to spend some time figuring out about yourself. Take the time to review this relationship, and honor it and your future partners by processing what happened, what went wrong, and where you have room to be better- both for yourself and your partner.
That doesn’t mean dwell on the negative, but if there is negative, there is power in reclaiming that and preparing yourself for whatever is next.
For me, therapy has worked wonders. I’ve said to friends before and I’ll say it again here- I feel like when you turn 13, life should just come with a therapist. I sought out counseling from a licensed therapist for the first time when going through the end of that first relationship I referred to. I used a therapist then for a few months as I was processing that. And beginning in late 2014, after going through some serious betrayal trauma in my subsequent relationship, I started seeing a therapist and have pretty regularly since that point. Therapy is a great way to draw to the surface the wounds that need healed.
One pro tip. Don’t lie to your therapist, whether by omission or a flat out lie. They can’t help you if you’re not truthful with them. I’ve been tempted to skew the truth here and there over the years, particularly when I first started, but then you’re really just paying someone to tell you what you want to hear. Be truthful in the version of yourself that you represent, and they will most likely be able to help you through this challenge.
Get Back Out There
For me, I have had a pattern of falling into a new relationship too soon. This is the exact thing NOT to do. It’s so important to be ready. Give yourself the benefit of time.
To those of you considering the same, take comfort in knowing the Journal of Positive Psychology states that it only takes about three months to be able to move on from a previous relationship and love again. If you were in a longer term relationship or a marriage, of course you may wish to take longer, but know that no amount of time is right for everyone. The only thing that matters is what is right for you.
But whenever you are ready, get back in the game. Dating in the time of covid might be limited, but covid won’t be forever. Maybe your friends have someone they want to introduce you to, or maybe by virtue of pursuing some passions or activities that went by the wayside in your previous relationship you will meet someone.
When the timing is right, the right person will be there. Follow these tips and you just might be ready for them with the best version of you when it happens.
So no matter if you ended a casual relationship, a transitional relationship, or a marriage…. there’s a path forward for you and happiness is within reach. When you’re ready, reach out and find your happily even after divorce.