How To Move Forward After A Bad Breakup

By Alison Bowen
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Dr. Lisa Fontes, a Massachusetts psychotherapist and author of “Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship says that after a breakup, don’t expect to immediately find a new normal. She says, “Having a little bit of a transition period allows the person to regain, recover and restore those parts of themselves that dropped off earlier.”

Chicago Tribune

When she meets people who have just signed divorce papers, Rachel, 46, tells them to take time for themselves.

Rachel, who asked that her full name not be used, left an abusive 18-year marriage a few years ago. Emerging from the wreckage was a bit like shell shock, she said.

“We often get lost in relationships, and there’s a lot of sadness and blame that comes with bad breakups,” she said. “It’s important to heal after that.”

Whether a relationship was a short stint that depleted your energy or a long-term, abusive experience, the first steps forward are not always clear, whether the split was your choice or your partner’s.

First, take time to collect yourself. Process the rupture and how you feel about it.

Chicago divorce attorney Gemma Allen advises her clients to seek counseling.

Bad breakups, she said, especially abusive ones, “imprint you in ways that sometimes you’re not even aware of.”

It’s human nature to hang onto things. To make them work. But many splits happen after prolonged problems, said New York City psychotherapist Alan Bernstein, co-author of “Mastering the Art of Quitting: Why It Matters in Life, Love, and Work.”

“People tend to persevere longer than they should,” he said.

So by the time you finally exit, you might have stacked up more emotional baggage than you can handle.

Expect to go through stages of grief, maybe a few at the same time.

“You can deny and be enraged,” he said. “What you’re after is some kind of acceptance.”

Don’t expect to immediately find a new normal.

“Having a little bit of a transition period allows the person to regain, recover and restore those parts of themselves that dropped off earlier,” said Dr. Lisa Fontes, a Massachusetts psychotherapist and author of “Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship.”

For Rachel, that meant realizing a new routine and reconnecting to friends and even herself.

“A lot of it was just putting the pieces back together,” she said. “I used to walk around and say, ‘Just because he said it about me doesn’t mean that it’s true.'”

Experts say it’s valuable to set aside emotion for practical concerns, even briefly. If you’re going through a divorce, gather financial documents. It’s best to be prepared.

“Be proactive for your own protection,” Allen said. “It’s not being disloyal to the relationships. It’s being loyal to yourself.”

Think tax statements, credit card statements, retirement accounts.

For unmarried couples who were living together, whose name was on the lease? You might need to know pretty quickly if you’re on the hook for next month’s rent. And don’t automatically leave the television behind.

If the breakup wasn’t a dangerous one, advocating for belongings can assist both finances and morale, Allen said.

And what about that Bali vacation you took together, charged to your credit card? If you don’t agree on splitting it, think through options, maybe an agreement can be made for one person to take more furniture.

“Think about bartering your way out,” Allen said. “Don’t forget about it, because I’ve seen people be stuck with some huge credit card bills, and sometimes for trips not even yet taken.”

It’s OK to process what this chapter means to you, but don’t dwell on the past. Resist the urge to constantly push rewind in your memory.

“After a breakup is not the time to be reminiscing about the good times,” says Fontes. “After a breakup is a better time to think about the reason for the breakup and the things that have gone wrong.”

Fontes suggests embarking on something creative, drawing, dancing, gardening.

Consider writing a list of some of the things you want to do in your life, Bernstein said. “What is it that you’re trying to accomplish? What do you want your life to look like?”

And get out of the house.

Rachel reached out to friends from all different circles, college, work, other parents. As an introvert, it was difficult, she said, but she knew building relationships was vital.

“It takes a lot of work because people are busy in their lives, and some of those relationships are going to stick, and some aren’t, and that’s OK,” she said. “Just putting yourself out there is good.”

Don’t take up your friend on her offer to set up a blind date just yet.

Experts said that whatever your next relationship might be, just wait. Giving yourself time to become more whole will provide a better foundation for the next one.

“It’s usually a good idea to wait for a while and figure out one’s own rhythms first rather than plunging into a relationship,” Fontes said. “Certain parts of ourselves grow and expand within a relationship, and other parts wither because they’re not being nourished.”

Bernstein said it’s OK to log onto an online dating site, but he offered a few caveats.

“It doesn’t hurt to look at it, as long as you’re not trying to replace the person you just lost,” Bernstein said.
Have confidence, experts say, that a fuller future self is on the horizon.

“Eventually there is a sense of acceptance, that there is a life waiting for you, closer to the one you wanted,” Bernstein said.

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