HOW TO RECOVER FROM A LONG TERM RELATIONSHIP
by Annie Gurton, Imago Relationship Therapist from Sydney’s Northern Beaches
When a relationship ends a common phrase to hear is ‘You must move on’ as though thats a simple instruction and a complete cure of the heartache and feelings of loss and pain. Oh, that it were that easy!
Maybe you saw it coming, or perhaps the news came completely out of the blue. Maybe you were the one to end it because of an untenable situation. No matter how it happened, you’re probably feeling hurt, angry and in despair, and sad as well. It many ways, it’s just like suffering from a physical illness because you can feel out of control and simply horrible. It is certainly a form of grief and loss, and needs to go through certain phases before it becomes a memory that you can live with.
It doesn’t matter if it was a long-term relationship, a short-lived cyber affair, an unrequited love or a good friends-with-benefits arrangement. If you cared and connected with each other you will feel a deep and painful hole where there was once laughter and affection. It’s like experiencing a small death and should be treated as such.
The good news is: you will recover. The bad news is: it may not happen as fast as you want it to. And it may not happen as fast as the people around you want it to either.
From a physiological perspective there is a bio-chemical reason why you feel such emotional despair and physical heartache. Researchers who’ve looked at the brains of the lovelorn say that loss, especially rejection by a romantic partner, lights up areas of the brain that are also associated with addiction. There is pain and there is compulsion, and a sense that you are out of control. This can lead to psychological reactions that cause obsessive preoccupation with your partner, feelings of frenzied desperation, guilt over what you could have done differently and physical pain in your heart area.
At this point, letting go for good seems unimaginable. But hard as it is to believe, this is just a temporary state – things will get better. But getting over the end of a long term relationship, whatever the circumstances, takes time and shouldn’t be hurried. If you rush into a new relationship or try to fast-forward the process you are likely to create more problems which take longer to resolve in the long run. Having said that, there are behaviours which prolong the process and there are ways to hasten it.
Lets look at the four aspects of your life where you need to heal – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
1. THE PHYSICAL:
Meditate, don’t medicate. Avoid overusing drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and coffee and resist the urge to stuff down your feelings using chocolate and food. You’ll only end up feeling worse about yourself. In times of stress, having a drink or eating a quart of ice cream may be tempting, but doing so will only cause you to spiral down into a depression, lose sleep and gain weight. Instead, take five minutes to sit quietly, meditate, practice yoga or deep breathing.
Eat healthfully and regularly. Your body can’t function properly without the proper nutrition and it cant heal without the right fuel. Don’t skip meals or resort to convenience food. Treat yourself as if you were your own child — eat wholesome meals that are balanced and freshly made.
Get plenty of sleep. There’s nothing more restorative to your body than quality sleep. If you are having trouble going to sleep because of punishing, pain-producing thoughts, try keeping a journal by your bed, write down your anxieties and imagine them flowing out of you and onto the paper. Say, ‘I fully release you and let you go. I give myself permission to peacefully sleep.’
Exercise your blues away. The absence of pleasure-producing endorphins after a break up can make you feel sluggish and miserable. Exercise increases your endorphins. Join a health club, take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk to work, do some yoga or take a salsa lesson. Make a promise to do something active for 30 minutes a day for 30 days, no excuses.
2. THE EMOTIONAL:
Feel your feelings. Don’t ignore or stuff them down. You have suffered a great loss and you need to allow yourself to grieve. All those hopes and dreams, and the companionship of an intimate other, are things to mourn. Let the tears flow and express your anger. Ignored emotions will only make you calloused and afraid. One way of unloading your feelings is to write out what might be too difficult to say out loud to others right now. Or better yet, start a dialogue with your broken heart, asking this part of you questions and giving it the solace and attention it needs right now.
Surround yourself with optimistic people, smiles and happy vibes. Make time for some feel good activities — anything from having a cup of tea with a friend to taking the kids to the zoo to playing a round of golf. Be sure to surround yourself with people that will uplift you, not unhappy ones that will just drag you down. Studies have shown that laughter or just smiling has a way of lifting your mood.
3. THE MENTAL:
Stop obsessing. All those thoughts going round and around and instant replays of would of, could of, should of must stop now. The best way to do it is to say, “STOP!“ If the thoughts won’t stop, then say, “NO! STOP NOW!” If they persist, then continue, “ENOUGH! NO MORE! STOP!” Saying “STOP!” interrupts the obsessive thought process and breaks the cycle of pain.
Immediately, redirect your thoughts away to something good that is happening in your life.
Take a 60-second vacation. Thinking relaxing thoughts and say calming statements. This will start the healing process and help you lessen anxiety. Take a deep breath and say out loud, “I am calm. I am safe and I can handle this.” Anything from smelling a flower to petting an animal can help take you away for even a minute, which starts the process of feeling free.
Accept the reality. There are many things that can act as a catalyst in ending a relationship: cheating, lack of communication, or just plain boredom. It doesn’t really matter where the relationship went wrong, and you’ll only drive yourself insane trying to rework the timeline attempting to pin the exact moment in which everything fell apart. Instead, take a deep breath and swallow the truth. Its a big step to accept that it’s over and can prove to be a turning point. Acceptance can be the hardest step. You may try to get the person back, or hang onto the notion that there may be a chance he/she will take you back or consider forgiveness and continuing with the relationship. Let it go. The quicker you accept the truth, the quicker you’ll get over him/her and start dating again.
4. THE SPIRITUAL:
Gratitude is grounding. Have you ever noticed that it’s impossible to feel grateful and depressed at the same time? Gratitude can transform pain into love and bring peace to your emotional chaos. Remind yourself of all the things you’re grateful for. Better yet, write it down. This strategy works miracles for bringing you out of any gloomy mood.
Forgiveness is powerful. It’s said to be the greatest gift to yourself. It frees you from bitterness and obsession, and allows you to stop blaming yourself or the other. Be kind to the other, and to yourself. Once you practice forgiveness you can feel yourself lift up and feel free.
Give to others. Studies show that the happiest people are ones who give the most to others. When you’re depressed, anxious or stressed, there is a high degree of focus on the self. Focusing on the needs of others literally helps shift your thinking and your mood from victimhood to empowerment.
When you’re feeling down after a breakup, you may feel like you want to avoid the very activities that will actually make you feel better — exercising, visiting friends, being kind to those in need. As much as you might want to, avoid isolating yourself from others. Ask for help and talk to a friend who you know is a good listener. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Give yourself permission to grieve but then forgive yourself and your ex. Don’t think of this as time wasted because you aren’t with that special person, but as precious time you need to reinvest in a healthier, more grounded and more spiritually enlightened you.