“When writing the story of your life, don’t let anyone else hold the pen.” ~Unknown
After my kids grew up and I moved to the city from the suburbs, I became somewhat of a professional dater. I was determined to make up for lost time after over a decade as a single mom, and I was optimistic about my future.
My hopes were dashed almost immediately. Relationship after relationship crashed and burned, rarely lasting more than a few weeks. As soon as they’d walk out the door, sometimes within minutes, I’d fire up whatever dating website I was on at the time and begin again.
I’ll never forget writing a new profile with a box of Kleenex on my lap and taking breaks to cry. I went out on dates feeling like the walking wounded, thinking that was the best thing to do. Just get back on the horse as soon as possible.
After hundreds of dates and a long-term relationship, I found a better way to navigate breakups. The next time a relationship ended, I was determined to take the opportunity to build a better life for myself instead of simply running out to see who I could date next.
Breaking up is tough. It can be one of the most miserable experiences of a person’s life. If you’re going through a breakup, it’s important to give yourself the chance to process it emotionally. If you take the opportunity to understand your part in creating the experience, you stand a much better chance of having a more fulfilling relationship next time around.
The first thing to do is mourn the relationship. This is not popular advice, but it is good advice. We all want to get to the good part, and this is definitely not it. The thing is, if you don’t do it, you’ll have a mess on your hands that will infect your future if it’s not cleaned up.
Not taking the time to grieve is like throwing your dirty laundry in the closet and never washing it. It gets it out of the way for the time being, but it’s a poor long-term strategy.
Ancient cultures honored the practice of mourning. In their wisdom, they understood that mourning is part of life and helps us to heal. We’ve lost that in our day, but I think that mourning can be truly beneficial.
When your relationship has ended, set aside some time to be alone and sit down. Cry, journal, yell, really let yourself feel what’s going on inside you. Face the fact that your relationship has ended and feel the anger, sadness, loneliness, and hopelessness, whatever comes up. You may be afraid that you’ll never come out of it, but you will.
Locate the feelings in your body and welcome them as best you can. Lie down and put your hands on the place in your body where you feel intense emotion. It may be your chest, your stomach, or your throat. Practice breathing white light into these places and visualize them healing.
Plan to spend at least a couple of days on this. Resist the urge to rush out with your friends, go back to dating, or hit the bars right now. There will be plenty of time for that later. See this through so that it doesn’t lurk in your heart, and once you are done, you will be done.
Please treat yourself with compassion during this time. Take long baths, get plenty of sleep, and be sweet to yourself.
As tempting as it may be to numb out with drinking, eating, shopping, or whatever your distraction of choice may be, try to minimize this. Waking up with a hangover, a stranger, or a huge credit card bill will only add to your troubles.
A breakup is the perfect time to do some soul-searching. You’ll have some alone time and your emotions will be front and center. Since breakups are so painful, I hope that you’ll take this opportunity to discover how to make your life better in the future.
Once you’ve mourned the loss of your relationship, take some time to evaluate all of your most significant relationships. Start by looking at each of your parents or primary caregivers, then your most recent relationship, and finally, your last three relationships before that one, for six relationships total.
Use a separate sheet of paper for each person and create two columns: “liked” and “didn’t like.” Fill out a sheet for each person. After doing this, write down the traits they all had in common on a fresh sheet of paper. For instance, you may notice that these people didn’t keep their promises or had short tempers.
After you’ve written about them, make it about you. Write down what you did that you liked and didn’t like. Finally, ask yourself why you continue to participate in behaviors you don’t like. Were you on automatic pilot? Did you know at the time that what you were doing wasn’t a good idea and do it anyway?
When I did this exercise, I realized that many of the men I’d dated had kept me at a distance, just as my parents had. It seemed to be my default setting in relationships. I was afraid to really let anyone see me and have a chance to possibly disapprove of me, so I remained aloof and chose unavailable partners.
I also saw that I had remained in relationships long after I knew in my heart that they weren’t going to work. I simply couldn’t bring myself to face what was happening.
After you’ve had a chance to reflect, pick five things on your list that you’d like to change and write about what you need to do to create a new experience in your next relationship. Do you see a common thread in these relationships? Have you been engaging in behaviors that aren’t working for you?
As long as you continue to believe that life is happening to you, you’ll continue to get the same results. Ask yourself how you’re contributing to the state of your relationships and determine what things you’ll do differently in the future.
I decided to be more proactive in my future dating experiences by asking more questions and taking the time to get to know someone new before jumping into a relationship. I also became more vulnerable and honest about what I was looking for on dates instead of just hoping we’d be on the same page.
Once you’ve done these things, you’ll have a much better idea where you stand and where you’d like to go next. Take the time to do this thoroughly and you’ll bring more clarity and understanding to your next relationship.
No matter how awful your last relationship was, how wrong the other person was, or how ready you think you are to find someone new, you must look at your part in this relationship or you’ll be very likely to repeat your experience.
Be willing to accept responsibility for your life, your past and your future. The common denominator in all of your relationships is you. You were there for all of them.
If you have a pattern of being cheated on, mistreated, or dumped, you owe it to yourself to take a closer look at why these things happened. This doesn’t mean that the other person was blameless, but you’re the only one you can do anything about.
If you don’t want to keep dating these types of people, take a closer look at what’s been happening. Do you have a pattern of tolerating mistreatment from those you date? Do you overlook red flags early on?
At what point did you see that things were heading south? What, if anything, did you do about it? Did you speak up, or self-abandon? Did you hang on and try to save a broken relationship? Did you try to change him or her?
Before you start dating again, sit down with a pen and paper and ask yourself these questions.
Be willing to examine your actions, but don’t beat up on yourself. You were doing the best you could and it won’t help to judge yourself harshly or rehash every detail of your relationship looking for all your “mistakes.”
This is a process of self-discovery and finding a better way, much like looking in the mirror and correcting your form at the gym. Treat yourself with tenderness and compassion.
A breakup is a very real loss and should not be minimized. If you make the effort to learn everything you can, breakups can serve you by providing insight that will help you create a better relationship next time.
Most of us are encouraged to move on immediately after a breakup, but if you try to do that without laying a good foundation, you’re more likely to get into another relationship that ends up not working. After taking the time to mourn your loss and learn all you can from it, moving on is the best thing to do.
When the time comes, it helps to get closure, purge any remaining relics of the relationship, and set a course for your future.
First, write a goodbye letter to your ex (no need to mail it, this can just be for you) or sit in a chair with another chair facing you where you can imagine him or her sitting and have a conversation for closure. Get everything out and don’t hold back. This is for you. You don’t want to carry these thoughts and feelings with you into the future, so deal with them now.
Next, go through your home and pack up all of your ex’s belongings, gifts he or she gave you, and any reminders of the relationship.
Set a date on which you resolve to begin dating again. Take photos for an online profile, buy new clothes, new bedding, or get a new hairstyle or a makeover. Do something new, take up a hobby, make new friends.
Finally, sit down and write a paragraph about what you want your next relationship to be like. How would you like to feel in this relationship? Write about what kind of person you want to be with. Don’t hold back, write down everything you would like to experience.
Going through a breakup is one of the hardest things we humans face. Making an effort to understand what happened and your part in it will go a long way toward helping you have a better relationship next time around. You’ll be much better off taking the time to reflect than running out and looking for someone else immediately.
As for me, I forced myself to follow this very process after my last breakup and I was able to have a much better relationship when I got back to dating. I’m convinced I never would have been ready for it if I’d just kept up my gig as a professional dater.