Breaking Up is Hard to Do
The “it’s not working” conversation just happened. Perhaps the conversation was one you initiated and your first feeling is relief. Maybe the breakup has left you totally devastated and barely able to function. No matter what the circumstances leading to the end of your relationship may be, you know it is an end and thus a loss.
The good news is that this pivotal life event signals a vast potential for growth and openness to a new form of love. While it may sometimes feel like you will never again be a whole, functioning human being, the opposite is true. The first 30 days after a breakup are a crucial period not just for your recovery, but also in your ability to truly learn and evolve. “In the early stages, emotions are on the surface. You should take advantage of this rawness to grow,” says Patricia Covalt, Ph.D., author of What Smart Couples Know.
There are varying degrees of a breakup. Clearly the dissolution of an intense three-month romance does not shake up your entire life as thoroughly as the end of a five-year courtship, especially when children are involved. However, Marni Kamins, author of The Breakup Repair Kit: How to Heal Your Broken Heart, cautions, “The level of sadness and disappointment can be the same in both cases. It depends on the person. For example, if this short relationship was the first one in years that you felt excited about, the aftermath can be devastating. Your faith in love can be shaken.”
Embrace the Emotion
The first step of healing is vital. It’s OK to mourn the loss. If you attempt to run from the initial rush of raw emotion and pretend you’re fine, you are slowing your recovery. Ignoring these emotions would be like shoving things in a closet moments before company is due to arrive at your home. While your belongings are out of sight, the mess still lurks in the dark waiting to spill out as soon as the door opens. It’s the same with your pain. If not dealt with in a proper manner, your emotions could spill out at any time.
“Heartbreak is wonderful and terrible, and we should embrace it as much as we do the optimism and giddiness that comes before it,” says Erik E., whose relationship of three years recently ended. “As awful as I felt, I had this spark of hope because I could recognize potential and beauty and let myself believe in long lasting love.”
Feelings during these first 30 days may run the gamut from relief to anger to wistfulness. This seeming roller coaster of emotion can frustrate those who don’t know how to react to the news that a relationship is over. Barbara J. Rubin, Psy.D., an Atlanta-based psychologist who works with individuals and couples on relationship issues, says, “Immediately after the breakup there is often a feeling of disequilibrium, a lack of safety. You don’t feel in control.”