Breaking up: You can do this the easy way, or you can do it the long way.
There was a saying I heard many times in the Dominican Republic about love and relationships. “El costumbre es mas fuerte que el amor.” In English it means: “The habit is stronger than the love.” No truer words have been said. This is why you see people running back to each other over and over again, even if the love (or the respect) is gone. By why do some people go back to people that aren’t respectful, faithful, and the right fit for them? I would say that when you’re used to being with someone and having them in your daily life, it is hard to go without them. Love is almost like an addiction. The path you’ve taken before might sometimes be easier than the new one. But the catch is… often times the new one is much better, you just have to hold out for it.
I work with clients going through breakups. I’ve seen them leave their relationships, know that they did the right thing, and end up going back for sex, for validation, for loneliness. It’s a learning experience, and many feel worse after than they did before. They may have gotten the immediate need met but they set themselves back in moving forward. There is a great book about break ups, it’s called “It’s called a breakup because it’s broken.” By Greg Behrendt and Amira Ruotola-Behrendt. They recommend giving yourself 90 days after a break-up with no contact with your ex, as in zero/zilch. No, you cannot “just make sure they are ok or check in with them.” It’s hard at first because of the habit of having that person in your life, but it’s easier in the long run for you to get over your ex if you have some space after the breakup.
This is not to say you cannot remain friends. Some of my closest guy friends are people I’ve dated in the past and things didn’t work out. But give yourself at least 90 days to get through the critical period and get into a different rhythm. And being friends with benefits is not going to help you. I know that’s tough to hear but it’s true.
There is an opportunity when there is a breakup for you to learn something about yourself. It gives you the opportunity and space to think about the relationship and all the things that you liked and didn’t like. Make a list of the qualities that you’d like in the next partner and don’t date someone unless they have most of the qualities on the list. But it is important to know which ones to compromise on and what you should stay strict with. For example, someone with brown hair and brown eyes may be a compromise but showing respect and being reliable are not things to compromise on. There is also no one perfect but someone who acknowledges their issues and is actively working on them is possibly also someone you might want to consider (except if what they are working on is detrimental to your wellbeing or dangerous).
Getting over a breakup is time to get close with yourself and to give yourself some grace. The relationship didn’t work out because it didn’t. Sometimes the reason won’t be clear. Sometimes it might make sense why things ended and you can appreciate the learning that came from it. Sometimes the person will completely disappear and you’ll never have closure… make closure for yourself.
I personally am a big fan of holding a relationship funeral. Take an old shoebox and put all the things that you are emotionally attached to; pictures, his/her/their shirt, keys to their apartment, brochures or memorable items of things you did together, and write a letter that summarizes your relationship and how you felt about the ending of it. Any last words you want to say to that person are also helpful to put in there. Light some candles and read a eulogy of your relationship (that letter might come in handy here). You can do this alone or with a supportive friend. Cry, punch a pillow, dance, or do whatever your body needs to do. Get out the grief. This is an ending. And you know what is special about endings? There is an opportunity for another beginning. What you do not want to do is deny yourself all of the feelings you have, and there will be a lot of them. You might be angry and sad at the same time. Make room for both.
And honestly, it’s likely that there will be a few months where it’s hard. I suggest writing down how you feel and checking in on that list in a month and see if it’s changed. You might notice you aren’t crying as often or the nights aren’t so long anymore. You also might feel free or relish in your alone time.
If you are feeling down or that you just aren’t finding joy in anything you used to and it’s been a few months, talk to a therapist or your doctor. You might need some extra support and guidance on what to do next. Asking for help doesn’t mean you can’t do it yourself. We can all use help sometimes. Life is hard but we can do hard things.
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