Most of us have all experienced the heartache and the emotional roller-coaster ride of a break up, often finding ourselves wondering what we can do to move forward and relieve the pain. From my personal experience and the experiences of people I have coached, I have learned that ending a relationship can be one of the most painful and emotional experiences that a person will ever endure. It can also be cathartic, liberating and transformative if you will turn your focus from the bickering, mudslinging, bad behavior and blaming that usually accompanies a divorce or bad breakup. Rather than focusing on the pain caused by the relationship, focus on what you want and need to be happy today and in the future.
Each breakup provides life lessons that can prepare you for the love your soul needs, but you have to make a conscious decision to seek your breakthrough and transformation. To start the growth cycle, you will have to 1) find the good in your previous relationship, 2) accept your contributions toward the breakup, 3) recognize your relationship patterns and 4) focus on your breakthrough.
There are no time capsules to take you back to fix the wrongs, so the next best thing to do is to learn the lessons from your past breakups before you reserve your next room at the heartbreak hotel. A long series of "what-ifs" and "if-onlys" will not move you toward your breakthrough. What they will do is keep you stuck in the same space with your life continuing to spin out of control. If you don't learn the lessons necessary to find your breakthrough, you will find yourself in a perpetual haze of broken romances that will eventually lower your self-esteem, allow you to accept less than you deserve and keep you from the love you need.
The posterchild for this cycle of perpetual relationship breakups is Halle Berry. I was inspired to write this article when I saw the news of Halle Berry's pending third divorce. There is no one that would argue against the notion that Halle has lived a charmed life. She has been a fashion model, beauty queen, Revlon spokeswoman and an Actress. Not just an actress, but an Academy Award, Golden Globe and Emmy winning actress. She was even a BOND GIRL! It doesn't get much better than that. But with everything going great in her professional life, she has fallen victim to one failed love affair after another. She is beautiful and blessed, but appears to be very unlucky in love. She is by far not alone. Her relationship failures make the news and have been smeared across the tabloids, however she has plenty of company. Most people go through at least one horrible break-up in a lifetime. And, because the majority of them don't learn the lessons necessary to become emotionally healthy the first time, or the second time or the third time or the fourth time or the... (you get the idea). They find themselves in a vicious cycle of love and loss. As a result, many close themselves off to love, others find partners to take their frustrations out on, still others move from one empty unfulfilling relationship to the next. Sadly, few take the time to learn the lessons contained in their relationship and find their breakthrough.
There is a more excellent way to use your pain. Let it propel you toward a partner that will hold your heart as his/her greatest treasure rather than a recyclable. If you follow the seven steps listed here, you will shorten your grief cycle and discover a breakthrough that can change the trajectory of your life.
1. Concentrate on yourself (and your children if you have any)!
Instead of blaming your partner, your mother-in-law, the economy, the other woman/man or whatever factor played a part in the demise of the relationship, concentrate your time and energy on you. The natural inclination is to seek closure, spend weeks or months and maybe even years trying to understand what happened and playing the relationship events over and over like a ticker tape scroll. Even though it is difficult, it is much better to admit that the relationship has simply failed. When you face the facts and realize that it's over, it will be much easier for you to recover and move on with your life. Focusing on the trauma and drama of the relationship or blaming your partner for what happened will only prolong your pain. Additionally, acting out and making a spectacle of yourself will not make the relationship right again. Wishing things had gone differently is also a fruitless activity that will most likely increase your feelings or brokenness, shame and despair.
Instead, focus on where you are, what you need and what plan of action you will use to get from where you are to where you need to be. Putting your energy on "the now" will serve you better rather than living in the past. If you have children focus on how to make yourself whole again so you don't present to your children a broken adult that cannot help heal their pain, because you did not start with your own.
Everyone will have an opinion about what you should do, but what they think is not nearly as important as what you think. Answer the questions: Who am I without this relationship? What do I need to survive and thrive? How will I support myself? What do I need to learn from this situation so I don't make the same mistake again? What parts of me did I give away and how can I get them back? If you feel that it is too difficult to get through this process alone, then seek professional help to guide you in constructing a plan that will help you find and become your best self.
2. Allow yourself to feel the pain of the loss.
At first your emotions may feel too intense to bear, but if you allow yourself to feel the pain and get over it you are less likely to jump into another relationship to camouflage the pain of the first. If you refuse to feel it and heal it, you are destined to repeat it. These bad relationships came to teach you a life lesson. You can learn it now or you can learn it after the next bad break-up.
It is very important to give yourself the time and permission to grieve. But it is equally as important to not allow yourself to make grief your new normal. Grieve, learn and move on. Also, don't pretend that you're good when you are not. You will have friends and family that may try to influence you into a façade, because it makes them feel better. But your focus should be on acknowledging your true and authentic feelings, pain and frustration. If you don't feel the loss it will be easy to fall into destructive patterns of bad relationship choices, excessive partying, alcohol, drugs, indiscriminate sex or all kinds of destructive habits and activities to camouflage your feelings of pain and insecurity. You cannot numb the pain away, or hide from it. You must feel it. The feelings will come out either in a constructive way or a destructive way.
Although it may feel like it, this breakup is not your end. It is the beginning of whatever kind of life you want to make it. You are going to live so make a plan for your survival. Join a support group, get professional counseling or use the steps outlined in Break-up Breakthrough- A 37-day Guide from Heartbreak to Healing. It is up to you to develop a course of action that will move you through the loss to a healthy version of yourself.
3. Find a safe place to fall.
You may have to keep it together for your children or your job, but at the end of the day you need a safe space to fall apart and feel what you feel. Find a "no judgement zone." The pain has to come out somewhere, sometime, somehow. If you have a safe place to fall apart, then you can learn your lessons and pick up the pieces. Please do not let your emotions turn into an exploding pressure cooker.
Everyone will not understand what you are going through. Some friends will avoid you as if they think divorce is contagious. Or, they may be too afraid to assist you with your pain because it may force them to deal with their own. Prepare yourself now, because some of the people you thought were friends will fall by the way side. Don't be too hurt by it, it is a part of the purging process.
You don't need a group of people or an audience to help you through this stage of your breakthrough. All you need is one sincere heart that will accept you no matter how many pieces your heart is broken into. When you find that sincere heart, let it rip! It is only then that you can rid yourself of the toxic energy and prepare to replace it with health and wholeness. If you don't have a trustworthy friend or family member, join a support group or invest in yourself and hire a private counselor or Breakup Coach. This is not the time to be strong. It is a time to detox and rebuild.
4. Take responsibility for your part in the relationship demise and forgive yourself.
When we know better we do better. I'm sure you have learned things during your relationship that were not clear to you before. You probably made some mistakes. We all make mistakes. It could be that you had unrealistic expectations of your spouse or that you took your spouse for granted. Maybe you spoke mean and hurtful words in anger or truthfully, it could be a myriad of other ways that we damage our relationships. It is impossible to go back. It is too late and we have to live with the decisions from the past.
Thankfully, you have an opportunity to learn from those past mistakes and adopt new skills that will lead you toward a nourishing, supportive and lasting relationship. It's time to equip yourself with the skills necessary to be emotionally healthy, happy and whole. It is not the time to give up on love; it's time to gather the knowledge needed to learn about yourself and what you will need when "good love" finds you.
Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn't know, for your bad judgements, rash decisions, unkind words and deeds and vow to use the knowledge gleaned from this relationship to better your future relationships. Once you have forgiven yourself for not being perfect or omnipotent, then you can begin to forgive your partner. If you hang on to bitterness or guilt from your past mistakes, you will never heal. Sometimes it is much harder for us to forgive ourselves than others, but all of us in our imperfection, need to be forgiven for something.
5. Examine your relationship patterns.
Is there a pattern to your relationships? Do they usually end in one breakup after another? Are you choosing partners who will help you play out your past family drama? Have your relationships helped you to nourish your abandonment issues? We all have attraction patterns that make certain partners acceptable to us. What are your patterns? Failed relationships can be a pattern that has a much deeper root in your childhood or family history. Unconsciously most people choose what they know. That's why family cycles often repeat themselves. It is not by accident that children of alcoholics tend to find partners who have addictive behaviors or develop addictive behaviors themselves. It's not by coincidence that children from divorced families usually will have at least one divorce. It is time to move your relationship and attraction patterns from the subconscious to the conscious.
Take the time to make a list of your major relationships and find what's common in them. How did each partner make you feel? What made this person acceptable to you? How many times have you dated the same man or woman with a different name? Put forth the effort to discover the patterns and where it started.
Once you unearth the original pain, do whatever is necessary to heal it. If you don't acknowledge, address, forgive and heal the original pain you will continue the heartbreak pattern and it will destroy your confidence and self-worth.
6. Carefully Create a Profile of the kind of relationship and person you want.
Most of us think we know what we really, really want. But the decisions we make prove we really, really don't. More often than not, we look for short-term distractions instead of partners that will stand the test of time. Instead of the man/woman that will provide the long-term love, support and nourishment we need, we choose the flavor of the week, the hot girl, the bad boy, the person that will satisfy our desires temporarily, but not lead us toward our long-term relationship goals.
Don't be in a rush to find a replacement lover. You might be stuck in your old patterns. Take the time to decide what and who you want. It is much easier to find something if you know what it looks like. What do you need to feel loved and supported? What kind of father/mother do you need for your children? Who do you want holding your hand if you are diagnosed with a life threatening condition? Create your profile and adjust it, tweak it, edit it until you are clear what you want.
7. DO Not under any circumstance start a new relationship!!
Most of the time people focus on who will fill the empty space, rather than learning from the break-up and transforming their life because of it. When the focus is on finding a replacement relationship, rather than healing yourself and learning the lessons associated with your breakup, it usually ends with another break-up because the relationship started for the wrong reasons. It started from a place of neediness and despair rather than a space of health and sincerity. Let the space in your heart be empty for a while until you know how to fill it with someone who will be just as good for you as they are to you.
To Halle and all of you who are trying to gather the pieces of your heart, please know that there are those of us who are wishing you well. We are praying for you, sending good thoughts your way and standing in the gap for you, until you can find the best of you again. Please, let this Break-Up be your Breakthrough.
Love Yourself Completely!
Dr. Janice Moss, is a Break-Up Coach and the Author of Break-up Breakthrough: A 37-Day from Heartbreak to Healing, In Love, in Pain, In Love, In Pain, TOO and The Generations Meet.