Relationship beaks up are hard and there are many stages to loss and letting go. We often don’t really talk about how hard it can be to cope when the future you thought you had disappeared. Whether you instigated the break up or whether you have no choice in someone else leaving it can bring a lot of grief.
It’s really not like the movies where someone just gets a new partner and moves on with just a few sad days; recovery can be much harder than that. We have often built lives around a partner, so feelings of loss and not knowing how you will go on without your partner may be present. For some, relief may also be present. For many, the future can feel far from certain, and we may find ourselves struggling, emotionally or practically. Some may return to the safety of family whilst others may not have this option.
It is common to yoyo from the grief of the relationship being over to hope that the other person might change their mind. Whilst it’s tempting to pressure your partner to talk or change their mind it’s important to respect any boundaries that ask for space or no contact (though if you have children there will obviously need to be some contact for care arrangements; see my blog “Splitting up… what about the children?” for more on this).
There is no such thing as normal, but if you are wondering “Am I mad?” or “Do other people do this?”, then the answer is no you are not mad and yes there are patterns and some common themes that I see around relationship breakups. Some of the questions I frequently get asked when working through break ups are detailed below, with some of my common answers.
Why can’t I accept that they have gone and get over it?
We often need time to come to terms with the ending of a relationship. We may need space to grieve the loss and start to work out a new future. This is a process that takes time and often the expectations that we should just get over it quickly are not realistic.
Why do I feel like I have lost my confidence?
Often relationships provide support and comfort, and we may find it difficult to do things without them. The first event you attend on your own might have you feeling very alone, but in time we do adjust.
What if I have made a mistake?
We can only deal with what is going on in the current moment, some couples do reunite, some attempt to do so before parting ways, and others are not open to that possibility at all, or at least one person is not. The temptation to go back to what is normal is understandable, but we must look to doing what is best for each of us at each step of the journey wherever that leads. It is worth remembering although breaks up may feel final, your partner still exists and has not died.
Will the other person be okay without me?
It can be extremely hard to move on if someone feels dependent on you, but this is perhaps not enough reason to stay in a relationship that’s no longer a happy one. Both adults are responsible for their own wellbeing, so you don’t have to take on the responsibility for another. Perhaps encourage partners to access support from others or professionally if you feel they are not coping with the break up.
I am struggling being on my own.
Some love the freedom that being alone brings but many might find a house empty without a partner present, particularly if there are no children present. It will take time to adjust and building a regular routine can help, as is identifying your support network of family, friends and professionals for when you really don’t wish to be alone. This might be via phone or online via the pandemic.
Evenings and weekends are the worse!
Many tell me the evenings and weekends are the worse. When you have been in a long term relationship, particularly if you lived together, you will be used to have company all the time. Depending on your attachment needs this can be very difficult. However we can know when we are likely to be triggered and start to take steps to ease the loneliness by planning for evening or weekends. Creating things to look forward to and reaching out to your support network might help.
Why can’t I stop crying and why can’t I concentrate?
We may need some time to grieve and cry and feel the loss of the attachment we have formed with a partner, when a relationship ends. We don’t need to keep it all together and we might not be able to concentrate too well as our body gets churned up with painful emotions. Trying to carry on as normal may not be possible and it is okay to take time for yourself. If needed, you may need some time off from work and your normal routine; understanding employers may allow some compassionate or sick leave to benefit your mental health, if not, and working is necessary, then reach out to your support network to help out so that the time you have outside work can be for you.
Why am I snooping on my ex on Facebook?
Many report that they have been to see what their ex is up to on social media, this is a natural curiosity. However, it’s worth remembering people tend to post edited highlights of their lives so it might not be a true reflection of what is going on. Many don’t post that they are heartbroken or struggling so try not to make up stories that they never loved you and don’t care. You can’t tell from a photo or post what the full story really is.
I am such an idiot, I keep calling my ex!
The need to go back to what is familiar exists and some do reach out to their ex for companionship and support. Whilst this happens it may be worth looking at who else can support you during these times, particularly if your ex has asked for no contact.
What do I do when my partner will not speak to me?
It can be difficult sorting out loose ends, financial arrangements etc. after the pain of a breakup. Eagerness to sort out the practical matters of the break and make permanent custody arrangements if children are involved are understandable. However its worth remembering that if your partner has a lot of hurt and anger going on they may need time to process this before making long term decisions about the future. If you have access issues it may be worth speaking to a mediator or family solicitor for advice.
How long does it take to get over a breakup?
There is no set time for recovering after a break up so give yourself all the time you need. How we deal with break ups will very much depend on what support we have around us, the circumstances of the break-up and your own attachment history throughout your life.
I feel like I want to die and can’t see a way forward!
For some who have a lot invested in their romantic relationship it can feel devastating to find yourself in the world alone, particular if you do not have a good support system around you. Please seek support through charities, counselling, your GP or the Samaritans if you don’t feel you have anyone to talk to.
Why have I not told anyone we broke up?
We can move from acceptance to denial when a relationship ends, we may also feel a sense of shame that has us hiding what is going on. Many report “I will tell people when I have recovered”. I invite people to really confide in a few close friends, so you are supported and this will help you to recover. You do not have to go through grief alone.
I don’t ever want to have another partner again?
In the hurt of separation, it may be too dark to see beyond the now, but in time many people do recover and love again, although it is hard to believe that you will trust or find anyone else.
I don’t seem to have many friends after Separation
Some people lose friends when they separate as friends don’t always stay with you and they may choose to cut contact. Others might not have not noticed that they have not built many friendships during their relationship. So building new friendships and a social life will take time.
I feel more anxious since my partner left.
As we head into uncertainty our bodies may respond with flight fight or freeze responses kicking in, so we may find we have episodes of anxiety present. These can be worked on (see my blog on anxiety for more information and helpful hints on managing this.
(A blog on making friends is coming soon).
Whatever state you find yourself in after a relationship ends, do know it is temporary and we can recover from a relationship breakdown, these are often catalysts to do some inner work on ourselves.
If you find you are unable to cope, do reach out to a friend, relative or professional. If you find you are not unable to talk about it you could just be with other people if it helps you to feel less alone and safer. I spent a lot of time hanging out at a neighbours on my low days.
If I can help at all do get in touch.