Getting Over the End of a Relationship
John R. Ballew, M.S., L.P.C.
The time after a relationship ends is often a roller coaster ride of emotions. One moment we find ourselves remembering the good times and longing for familiar and comfortable contact. Then we think about how the relationship ended – him calling it off or whatever caused us to bring down the curtain ourselves – and feelings of pain or anger rise up again.
Moving past the heartache usually doesn’t happen quickly. It takes time to open our hearts to someone else, and it takes time to bring closure. Trying to rush things by pretending that nothing much happened to us or that we are “so over that loser” doesn’t help.
When is it over? If you are both committed to couples counseling, it makes sense to take time and to anticipate that change may allow the relationship to endure. If you are not both committed to doing that sort of work, you need to examine whether your optimism is merely wishful thinking. That sort of false hope is one of the surest ways to prolong misery. The truth is that the relationship is over if either of you has decided definitively to leave it.
Tim was in shock when his partner of several years told him he was leaving. He spent a few days being upset at the rather unexpected news, and hoping there might be some other resolution. Within a week or so his head seemed to clear. “Why would I want to stay in a relationship with someone who made it clear that he didn’t want me?” Tim said. “When I had that realization, I could decide that I wasn’t just a passive victim here. I chose for this to be over, too.” Doing so enabled Tim to move towards closure much more quickly.
Allow yourself to feel what you feel without trying to suppress your emotions, but don’t wallow in misery. Get it out. Some people use their favorite tearjerker movie as a catalyst for helping the tears to flow. You’ll still feel sad from time to time, but resolve to begin focusing more on what will make you happy. Don’t dwell on the past. Instead, begin building a future that works for you.
Examine your part in what made things turn out as they did. Doing so can lead you to make other choices in the future which will enable you to be happier.
Consider picking up a hobby you left behind a while back. Join a social group or volunteer. Consider making some improvement in your environment – painting or redecorating. (Making changes in the bedroom can be especially helpful.) Tend to your social network. Contact friends and make plans to get out of the house. Be clear with yourself that this isn’t about dating right now, it’s about keeping yourself connected with other people who nourish your spirit.
A word of caution: if you are making a transition from a long-term relationship that will mean changes in your financial life, your living situation and other important aspects of your affairs, don’t make too many changes at once. Stress is cumulative. Take care of yourself, and make changes over time (if possible). Give yourself room to breathe.
Living life changes us. Relationships leave their mark and become part of the story of our lives. Our task is to move on and let a former relationship be part of our history rather than a present source of pain.