When a relationship fails, it’s only natural to seek answers to your hearts’ most pressing questions. Will we still be friends? Is there a possibility we’ll get back together? Who gets to keep the living room furniture? But once we the dust settles around our basic breakup Q&A, we find ourselves left with even more daunting questions like: Who am I now? What was my role in the breakdown of my relationship? And are my relationship expectations unrealistic?
It’s not uncommon for recent singles to spend so much time harboring on the logistics of their failed courtship that they forget to fully recon with the emotions of the loss, distracting themselves with hoe-tations and rebounds to mask the smell of their rotted autonomy, only to end up dragging emotional corpses from relationship to relationship. Society teaches us to bypass the pain of our failed relationships but stops short of showing us how to extract our lessons from the discomfort. A breakup should be a time of rediscovery and restoration, and if done properly, a time of reclaiming one’s identity. How we end one relationship often foreshadows the energy we carry into the next. It’s not just about breaking bonds, it’s about doing so in a way that doesn’t hinder our ability to create them in the future. So if you find yourself on the wrong side of a “We need to talk” text, this four-step breakup breakdown will help you get dumped the right way.
Step 1: Acceptance
The first step in any journey is often the hardest to take, and when it comes to a breakup, accepting the end is often easier said than done. It’s common for the unsuspecting party to struggle with accepting that a split has occurred at all, choosing instead to avoid reality in exchange for a made for TV fantasy riddled with second chances, dramatic wedding proposals and happily ever afters. The truth is sometimes the end is just the end and that’s where acceptance steps in.
Acceptance occurs when we can acknowledge the unfavorable outcome of a situation without reliving the emotion of the experience. Accepting a loss of love can be overwhelming, but denying it is how we find ourselves dealing with old emotions in new relationships years down the road. We are not emotional garbage disposals, we don’t dump our unrequited love down the drain, hit a switch and watch it turn into compost for our next relationship. We carry it with us like an extra appendage, hiding it to keep from plain sight, hoping future lovers will be understanding enough to overlook its intrusion. We owe healing to ourselves and to those who may take part in our future and are undeserving of becoming our collateral damage. If the breakdown of a relationship presents us with a turning point, acceptance is the first step in the right direction.
Accepting the end of a relationship is crucial, but accepting who we are as a result of the relationship is even more important. We adapt to the environment of every relationship we engage in as adults, whether they be platonic friendships, work relationships, or intimate partnerships. A healthy relationship doesn’t require you to forgo being yourself in order to be more a part of her unit, but it does ask that you make provisions and compromises in various areas for the sake of the pair. This might mean Saturday’s aren’t reserved for Ladies’ Night anymore and maybe you cut back on late night ice cream binges set to the tune of Golden Girl’s re-runs. It might mean less involvement in activities you’d previously devoted ample free time to or it might mean adopting a lifestyle change. These very real changes don’t dissipate at the first hint of a breakup, which means you have to reshape yourself apart from the relationship you molded yourself to fit into, a process that first requires accepting that the old you is no more. It’s natural to wish you could go back to the person you were before your relationship began, but time doesn’t work in reverse and neither do our experiences. If nothing else, acceptance means learning to make room for the new you.
Step 2: Mourn The Loss
We typically associate the act of mourning with funerals and death but mourning actually describes the feeling or expression of grief over a major loss, and believe it or not, failed relationships fall in that category. Now, we don’t hear too much about Step 2 because we’re encouraged to bite the bullet and jump right back out there. As the old saying goes, “The best way to get over someone old is to get under someone new”. But when we suppress the very real emotions that come with ending an emotional and physical attachment to someone, we almost guarantee that we’ll find ourselves confronted by them later in life. We juggle our closeted emotions like beach balls under water, anxiously awaiting their resurfacing in areas previously undisturbed. We create more chaos by neglecting our emotional needs than we do by addressing our pain. And, albeit temporary pain, mourning a relationship is a necessary pain. That doesn’t mean you sit around and cry all day, but it does mean that you allow yourself to explore the various stages of the grieving process. Not just the denial, but anger and depression as well. Mourning the loss of a relationship means intentionally experiencing the full scope of the pain and guilt of failing at love, while making the choice not to be encumbered by it.
Step 3: Manage Your Withdrawal
Relationship withdrawal is real. The feeling of helplessness, the emotional and physical discomfort, the obsessive thoughts, the depression and social withdrawal, the compulsion to see, hear, talk to, know what your ex is doing, all very really symptoms of relationship withdrawal. It would be nice if recovering from failed relationships was as simple as the words we use to end them, but the emotional complexities of human attachment demand that we end relationships the same we start them, one step at a time. While each step in the process carries its own weight, symptom management is crucial due to the fact that we tend to see the most relapses during this phase. Breakups are painful and for many of us, seeking another “fix” is much easier than going through the withdrawal in full. How many of us have called one last time just to see if they would pick up? Or conveniently remembered that bonnet we left in our ex’s bathroom that we simply cannot live without. Giving in to our desires feels good in the moment but in doing so, we delay our recovery. It’s important to get ahead of your withdrawal, acknowledging that sometimes feeling pain in the present is the best way to avoid feeling it in the future. Sitting with the fear that you might be alone forever is a part of the healing process. When you can entertain the idea that you may not ever be loved again and know that even that wouldn’t be the end of you, then you know real healing has taken place.
Step 4: Reconciliation
At this point you’ve accepted that your relationship has come to an end, you’ve mourned the loss and have done the work to manage your withdrawal in a healthy and productive way. The only step that remains is to make peace, peace with what was, what is, and who you are as a result of it all. Restoring the relationship you have with yourself is a component of post relationship healing that often goes undiscussed, although it’s arguably the most important step. Relationships change us and because none of us are immune to evolution, we are all impacted by the people we allow to meld into our lives. Reconciliation is the process of coming to terms with the adaptations you’ve made, it’s the act of consciously acknowledging that the “old you” is no more and that’s perfectly fine. And just because a relationship ends, that doesn’t mean the person you’ve become as a result of it should also disappear. If your ex encouraged you to go raw vegan and you’ve found your overall health to have improved tremendously, it’s okay to embrace that post-breakup. If you developed an affinity for yoga over the course of the relationship, it’s okay to take that with you. Breakups don’t require you to condemn everything your ex leaves behind, including the remnants of their influence on your life. It’s perfectly okay to love who you are after a breakup, even if the person who helped shape the new you decides that they no longer want to. The end of a relationship is not the end of you, it’s simply an opportunity to reclaim your identity and remind yourself that your breakups don’t have to symbolize your breakdowns.