Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

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Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

How to Deal With a Relationship Breakup

How to Deal with a Relationship Breakup

“Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”

~Marilyn Monroe

This is not about divorce.  I’ll write about that in a separate post.  I’m writing here about relationships where the couple is not legally married or in a common-law marriage.

Whether or not the breakup was mutual, one-sided but you saw it coming, or you were blindsided out of nowhere, you will be awash with feelings.  You can make your own list, but the emotional fallout is enormous, unpredictable, seemingly arbitrary, and can include feelings of sadness, anger, rejection, loneliness, fear, embarrassment, confusion, disruption, isolation, uncertainty, disappointment, mega-stress, and it feels like it will never end.

Though right now your whole world is turned upside down – you were sure this was the one and you’d stay together forever – the good news is you won’t always feel this way.  All of those feelings are a natural and normal reaction to a loss.  Even if it was mutual and agreed to by both of you that breaking up was for the best, there’s still a hole in your life that wasn’t there before.  That’s loss, and it’s important to allow yourself to feel any of these feelings instead of suppressing them.  You’ll get over it faster if you do.  If you want to cry?  Cry.  If you need to punch something, go to the gym and hit a punching bag, hard.  No gym?  Punch a pillow.

Don’t play the blame game.  It accomplishes nothing.  That includes blaming yourself as well as blaming your ex.  Stop beating up on yourself.  Just because it ended doesn’t mean you did something wrong or there’s something wrong with you.  Maybe it’s not about you at all, but about your ex.  Mostly, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure.

It’s not easy, but you will get over it.  There will come a point (I know it doesn’t feel like that now, right after the breakup) when you’re able to look back on it and see it more objectively, and as something in your past, not your present.  Maybe there were some elements that weren’t so healthy, possibly even abusive.  Take a look at it and see if there were any red flags you either missed or ignored.  Did you see them waving in your face and hoped they would change?  Or that you could change them?  Did you make a “project” out of an attempt to change what was wrong with the person?  Here’s a great paraphrased quote about that, and though attributed variously to Einstein, Oscar Wilde and others, none are substantiated.  The essence and importance remain:

Men marry women in the hope they will never change.
Women marry men in the hope that they will.
Both are disappointed.

For now, the most important thing is to take care of yourself.  Eat healthy, get enough sleep (sleep deprivation will make you feel worse), exercise, get back into a routine, talk to people close to you – they will understand, and, hopefully, be of comfort and companionship.  Identify positive things you now get to do.  You can finally binge watch all the seasons of your favorite show you didn’t get to see.

Start a journal, making note of your feelings each day.  It can be liberating, and you’ll be surprised six months down the road how it and you have changed.  Your journal can even include things like your ex’s annoying habits that you’re now free of, or all those weekends and holidays spent visiting the parents or cousins or friends you secretly couldn’t stand.  Writing things down is especially helpful when talking to people isn’t convenient or available.

Give yourself a break.  If the breakup was unexpected, stop trying to figure out what you did wrong, and understand that you can’t control other people.  Understand that the breakup is not a reflection of you.  Nurture yourself.  Even indulge yourself a little.  If you can, go ahead and get that new bag or smart phone you really wanted.

What should you NOT do to get over the breakup?  Lots of things:

But you also might want to figure out what you can learn from the lost relationship, to see what part you played in its not working out as you imagined it would – happily ever after.  A relationship is a two-way street.  It’s easy and tempting to find fault – either with your ex or yourself.  That’s not the point I’m trying to make.

This is for the next relationship.  What can you do to make the next one a better one?  Be less clingy and needy?  Be less bossy and demanding to always have it your way?  Or the reverse:  be too submissive and agreeable?  Always do it the other way even when you’d rather not but you’re afraid to assert yourself and screw it up?  Be too eager to move things along faster than they would naturally or organically?  By which I mean move in together too early on, talk marriage and kids?  Was it a co-dependent relationship?  A bit of soul-searching will help you not repeat any of these dynamics next time.  (This part can be hard and may require the help of an objective professional to help you see how you get in your own way.)

Instead, next time around, cultivate an atmosphere of cooperation, collaboration, a true partnership.  Understand the word compromise.  It doesn’t mean you each give a little and meet somewhere in the middle.  That usually means neither of you is happy.  Instead, sometimes you do it your partner’s way, even though you know it’s wrong, for the sake of the relationship, and the next time something is done your way, for the sake of the relationship.  That can be as simple as choosing a movie, to where to go on vacation.

Mostly I want to encourage you to give yourself permission to feel your feelings – don’t avoid them, but also be proactive about delving into yourself to see who you really are and what you want out of life.  Maybe focus on the professional side of yourself for a while.  The social side may appear when you least expect it.  Explore new interests.  I can see the eye-rolling if I were to suggest something like a pottery class, a book club, a cooking class, tennis lessons, rock-climbing.  But maybe there really was something you always wanted to do but you let it slide in favor of submerging yourself in your relationship.

When you’re ready, find something and try it.  You never know what new friends you might make.  People who have available siblings, cousins, colleagues, or who have parties where you might meet someone.  And if not, at least you enjoy the activity for itself.  You’ll need to take a few steps out of your comfort zone, which might be hard for you, but the more you do that, the easier it will get.

You will survive, you will have a future.  You don’t know what it will look like yet, so allow yourself to be surprised.

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