Conclusion of yesterday’s column
How to Act During a Breakup
Learn—or relearn—the value of scheduling your personal life.
When you were married or coupled, you defaulted to the relationship. You did what you wanted to do together, sometimes scheduled and sometimes spontaneously. Now your weekends and free time are open. This is scary and depressing, especially at first, and that’s normal. But there are ways to deal with it. The best way to deal with it is to start scheduling things to do. You can start with your existing friends. You can also schedule some things to do which might involve meeting new friends. There are also practical projects you can schedule—things you didn’t have time to do before, especially when drained of physical and emotional energy from being in your floundering relationship.
The key is to advance your life by scheduling and keeping the ‘appointments’ you make with yourself. Treat yourself and what you value in life seriously. Appreciate the value of your own company.
Start by thinking of things you can do on your own, especially things you didn’t get to do enough because your relationship took time from you. Perhaps there are even things your partner didn’t like or approve of, activities you might have felt inhibited from doing.
Take advantage of the newfound freedom. For every loss, there are gains. Stay on the lookout for them.
Decide on a ‘public line.’
Plan on what to say to friends about the breakup. The point isn’t to lie, since it makes no sense to lie to friends. However, you should decide ahead of time what you want to say.
Select wording which best reflects the truth in the context of how much you want them to know. With one friend, who’s really close, you might want to go into all your feelings and the various stages of the breakup since you know she’ll be interested and you trust her. With another friend this might not be desirable or appropriate, in which case you’ll simply say, ‘It didn’t work out. We grew apart.’ Forcing yourself to come up with these ‘public lines’ not only helps you better prepare for how to tell friends about the breakup, but also forces you to put what actually happened into objective perspective.
Resolve material issues.
If his mail still comes to your house, ask him to have it forwarded. If a reasonable time passes and he doesn’t take care of it, then take steps to have it forwarded yourself. If some of his possessions are still at your house and he refuses to follow through on taking them, then (after a fair warning) let him know that you are assuming you should get rid of them. On the surface these might seem like petty issues, but in reality they are necessary steps to recovering and moving on with your life. Material issues, such as these, are merely concrete manifestations of what’s going on internally.
If you continue to live in a house where your ex-spouse’s mail arrives and his possessions are still in sight, then you’re acting as if the relationship still exists when it no longer exists. It’s a form of self-deception that s unhealthy and keeps you from moving ahead.
Practice Facing, Over Avoidance.
There are certain restaurants and vacation spots you used to enjoy as a couple. Now that you’re broken up, it’s tempting to avoid them so as not to become depressed. Yet these are still restaurants and vacation spots you can otherwise enjoy. To prove it to your emotional mind which says ‘don’t go back to those places!’ try to make dates with friends to enjoy these spots so you can re-experience them in a new light. In a few cases, you might find it impossible to enjoy these places again, but more often you will probably be able to enjoy them in a new way.
The same applies to mutual friends. At first you might be tempted to avoid seeing people you interacted with when you were a couple. Perhaps you even met some of these people through your spouse. But so long as they continue to treat you as a friend, and so long as you like and respect them, then you owe it to yourself to continue these friendships.
It might feel awkward at first, but if they are truly people with whom you can be friends, your connection will rise above any temporary discomfort brought about by the breakup. Try to continue and enjoy these friends just as you enjoyed them before. Your individuality does not perish simply because you are no longer in a marriage or relationship.
In fact, if the relationship had become unhealthy or unhappy, then your individuality is now only strengthened by being free of the relationship. In turn, your friendships can now flourish along with your improved sense of self.
Overall Governing Principles for Coping With a Breakup
Life can be difficult. Breakup and loss are among the hardest of times. Breakups are not always signs of ‘failure.’ An acceptance of the reality that a relationship is no longer working actually represents success, and paves the way for future, much happier relationships—not to mention freedom from what had become unsatisfying or even destructive. Sometimes relationships do end because of failure, including one’s own failure (to be a good spouse, to be honest, etc). However, errors can be corrected and people correct errors all the time. You can correct your errors. Most divorcing people do remarry and most report that they’re happier the second time around.
A life well lived means a life with occasional upheavals and transitions. In the bigger scheme of things, it’s worth the price of an interesting and fulfilling life to endure occasional and temporary discomfort. You can and will get past this.
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