>> Coping With Divorce or Relationship Breakup
COPING WITH DIVORCE OR RELATIONSHIP BREAKUP
When you lose a close friend or love relationship,
you are likely to feel great sorrow and heartache.
Even when a bad relationship ends, there can be deep
pain and grief. Coping with a divorce or relationship
breakup of any kind can be very painful, and most
people go through this experience at some point in
their lives. But the challenges posed by such a deep
loss can be turned into opportunities, enabling you
to not only survive, but also thrive. Learn to understand
your feelings and develop tools to cope with your
relationship breakup or divorce.
RELATIONSHIP BREAKUP IS ONE
OF LIFE’S MOST PAINFUL EXPERIENCES
Breaking up a relationship is difficult – especially
if it’s not your choice. Grief can be experienced
even when an unfulfilling relationship ends, because,
at the very least, you have lost the emotional investment
you made in that relationship. There may be a sense
of failure, hopelessness, loss, despair, fear, or
desperation. In many cases, the length of the relationship
compounds the pain of loss – a divorce after
half a lifetime together can seem like the end of
the world. Partly, it depends on how much you had
vested, spiritually, emotionally and financially.
But even short-term relationships can involve an investment
in fantasy and in hopes for the future, and their
loss can be similarly heart-wrenching.
The loss of a partner through death is an obvious
source of grief, but relationships end for many other
reasons. Couples grow apart in general because they:
Loss in relationship breakups and divorce
is experienced both physically and emotionally
- don’t care about or want the same
things – differing values and interests
- don’t know how to sustain a mutually
fulfilling relationship – not surprising
if you haven’t experienced positive
- have problems that the other can’t
abide – compulsive or abusive behavior
or illnesses that severely limit the relationship
Why do relationship breakups hurt so much, even when
the relationship is no longer good? Whatever the reason
for a breakup or divorce, coping can be a challenge,
because even a disappointing relationship starts out
with an emotional investment in what could be. Serious
relationships begin on a high note of excitement and
hope for the future. People invest time, energy, plans,
dreams and hope for the future in love relationships.
When these relationships fail, we experience profound
disappointment, as well as grieve the physical loss
of someone important in our lives.
Grief is the outcome of loss that includes:
- loss of companionship and shared experiences
– which may or may not have been consistently
- loss of a hoped for dream – can
be even more painful than practical losses
- loss of needed support – financial,
intellectual or emotional
Early life memories can also contribute to the pain
of relationship breakups and divorce.
PAST RELATIONSHIPS CAN MAKE
CURRENT BREAKUPS MORE PAINFUL
Sometimes the end of a love relationship can bring
up powerful, even frightening memories of earlier
separation or loss. Whatever the trigger – from
the childhood memory of a last hug and kiss before
Mommy or Daddy left for work, to first-hand recovery
from a painful divorce – the current crisis
you are experiencing can prove more difficult as that
earlier fear surfaces.
|Childhood wounding can
complicate the pain of a breakup
- Death of a loved one early in life
- Absentee or alcoholic parent(s)
- Being deserted somewhere when you were
supposed to be picked up
- Adoption or other separation at birth
- Conception was an ‘accident’
or frowned upon by others
- Not being the gender wanted by one or
- Being told you were too fat, too skinny,
- Being teased or made fun of mercilessly
by other kids or siblings
- Getting blamed for others’ mistakes
- Physical: bruises, welts, isolation
- Sexual: exposed to sexually explicit
material or touched inappropriately
Mental: lies and mind games; no personal
In crisis there is opportunity. Although your current
breakup can trigger unresolved memories that add to
your pain and grief, the availability of raw memories
gives you an opportunity to revisit unresolved past
hurts, reevaluate and heal them.
GRIEVING A RELATIONSHIP LOSS
MAY LEAD TO DEPRESSION
Grief is a normal and healthy response to loss, not
an illness. Its symptoms are painful, but they serve
an adaptive purpose. Most grief runs its course with
the support of friends and family. But sometimes grief
can trigger depression or even unresolved past trauma.
When grief triggers depression, the sadness can be
unrelenting and overwhelming. Some people describe
it as “living in a black hole” or having
a feeling of impending doom – that is never
interrupted by moments of pleasure. Even when participating
in activities you used to enjoy, you feel as if you
are just “going through the motions.”
You may also feel numb, lifeless and empty.
Thoughts of Death or Suicide
Symptoms of Depression May Include
or weight changes
loss or weight gain – a change of more
than 5% of body weight in a month.
||Insomnia or oversleeping
(also known as hypersomnia).
agitation or retardation
unable to sit still, anxious, restless or sluggish,
slow speech and body movements, lack of responsiveness.
or loss of energy
Even small tasks are exhausting. Can't do things
as quickly as you used to.
of worthlessness or guilt. Harsh criticism of
perceived faults and mistakes.
||Inability to focus.
Difficulty making decisions. Can’t “think
straight.” Memory problems.
||Depression can cause
or exacerbate many physical symptoms, including
headaches, backaches, diarrhea or constipation,
abdominal pain, and aching joints.
If you are considering suicide see Helpguide's Coping
with Suicidal Thoughts and Feelings
or call 1-800-273-TALK
EASING THE PAIN OF RELATIONSHIP
BREAKUPS AND DIVORCE
How do you heal from devastating losses? There is
no one answer to this question, but two things that
can provide support during the grieving process are:
Additional ways to take good care of yourself
- Experiencing your emotions in
your body. Numbing or avoiding
painful feelings can interrupt healing.
And going over and over the details of what
happened, why it happened, what you could
have done to prevent it from happening is
also not productive. It will be important
to seek help and guidance from others in
order to better cope with these emotions.
You may want to find a therapist to discuss
your feelings with.
- Having the support of other people.
Even if you aren’t comfortable talking
about your feelings under normal circumstances,
it’s important to talk about them
when you’re grieving. Knowing that
others are aware of your feelings and understand
your grief will make you feel better, less
alone with your pain, and will help you
heal. Support from others can also be found
in a divorce recovery group or a twelve-step
Consider Professional support if
- Eat regular, balanced meals – Letting
yourself get run down physically makes you
feel even worse.
- Exercise daily – more than once
a day if possible. Even if you have to force
yourself to do it, exercise releases endorphins
that will fill you with positive feelings.
- Avoid alcohol and other mind-altering
chemicals. Blocking you feelings won’t
make them go away and will only prolong
- Consider having a divorce ceremony or
other ritual. Rituals help some people create
meaningful symbolic ends to their relationships.
GAINING STRENGTH FROM FACING
THE CHALLENGE OF A BREAKUP
- Feelings of isolation and loneliness
persist – even though you are getting
helpful information and support from others.
- The intensity of your grief seems not
to be diminishing – for example, if
you continue to have trouble with eating
and/or sleeping, persistent feelings of
guilt, or impairment of ordinary life functioning,
you need professional assistance.
- You are experiencing physical symptoms
that include: chest pains, sweating or shortness
of breath, nausea or lightheadedness, dramatic
changes in weight or physical appearance,
or sleep disturbances.
You can use divorce or breakup to engage in healing
and empowering processes of self discovery. What matters
in the healing process is your ability to make sense
of your divorce or breakup. Challenges faced are opportunities
- Learn more about your beliefs, habits
- Build more powerful and effective interpersonal
- Acknowledge past losses and recover from
them, as well as your current loss.
The work of grief is to let the emotions flow, not
attempt to block or judge them. Acceptance of the
reality of current circumstances can lead to a renewed
hope for the future, even though it is different from
the one you used to imagine.
Through this opportunity, you are free to focus on
RESOLVING PRACTICAL CHALLENGES
- Your friendships (and children if you
- Helping others in need.
- Doing the things you've always wanted
to do, but didn’t because your partner
was not supportive.
Breaking up may involve practical matters that require
your attention. Even those who weren’t married
might own property together or have children. Perhaps
you and your ex work at the same office or belong
to the same gym. You probably have friends in common,
or may own pets. So who gets what in the aftermath
of your breakup?
- Belongings: Two commonly
recognized difficulties are hoarding and
disputing. Eventually you will have to deal
with each other’s personal belongings.
An exception might be mementos that would
be meaningful to someone else, such as love
letters or wedding pictures for your children
to view once they’re grown.
- Legal matters: If you
try to make important decisions when your
emotions are flaring up, you might end up
having regrets later on. Instead, if your
partner is reasonable and willing, explore
alternatives to costly and emotionally draining
litigation, such as conflict mediation or
- Parenting: While its
important to express feelings such as anger,
frustration or deep sadness with a trusted
adult or a support group, confiding in your
child can be damaging. Strive to use constructive
language about your ex (not put-downs or
complaints) in front of your children. Communicate
directly with your ex, instead of passing
messages through children. Also, keep your
children’s routines as normal as possible.
- Friends: When a couple
has friends in common, those people often
are put in the difficult position of “choosing
sides.” You can make it easier on
yourself and everyone else by being aware
of the problem and understanding it from
your friends’ point of view. If possible,
talk to them about it. Try not to pressure
your friends to go against your former partner,
and don’t hold it against them if
they attempt to maintain friendships with
both of you.
Jaelline Jaffe, Ph.D., Robert Segal, M.A. and Jeanne
Segal, Ph.D. contributed to this article. Last modified
Reprinted with permission from http://www.helpguide.org/.
C 2008 Helpguide.org. All rights reserved.
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