Your life shattered and the impossible happened. You and your forever partner are no longer together. The marriage is over, the long-term relationship is a memory.
And the world now feels unstable under your feet. You start to doubt yourself, and your other relationships. You question your choices, large and small.
Questions fill your head, from trivial to life-changing. Is green really your favorite color or did you like it because they did? How will you ever go to a neighborhood party again? Do the kids think it was your fault?
Your past feels wasted, your future, erased.
Last week we looked at the first two main steps in recovering from the break up.
First, we explored the importance of expressing your emotions openly with yourself, a trusted friend, and perhaps even a therapist.
Second, we addressed some short-term steps you could take to boost your mood and to help re-stabilize. It was important for you to find a space where you could evaluate your life and realize that it does, in fact go on. There is a tomorrow, and another, and another.
But the healing doesn’t end there. In fact, it has only begun.
Follow these steps to work through to the new future.
Focus on long-term health
Break-ups induce deep grief which can cause us to remain listless and uninterested in life.
Hours spent awake in bed or on the couch, watching tv, eating one more bowl of ice cream, or ordering one more chicken parm from the delivery place down the street can take their toll.
Give yourself grace and space. Don’t try and turn everything around right away, and forgive the occasional binge. But don’t let that control your life.
Instead, take these four steps to get ready for what is next.
- Address your mental health. Talk to your closest friends or a pastor at your church to find a trusted therapist. Finding someone who is neutral and experienced can help you sort through the debris. Sure, you want some people to be on your side no matter what, but you want your therapist to be able to help you see the whole picture. Schedule regular meetings, starting weekly then tapering off as you are better able to manage and understand the experience you are having.
- Address your physical health. Counter those late-night ice cream sessions with a lunch-time walk every day at work. Set a small goal to do one activity outdoors each weekend. Pair up with a friend and walk or exercise together one weeknight. Join a local walking club and meet some new friends while getting out and walking two or three times a week. The movement, and the socializing, will become a break from the grief. And it will offset those calories.
- Re-establish trust in others. Hold close what is most valuable to you, like holidays and key friendships, and savor them. Spend more time with long-time friends and reliable family members. Think about trusted people who have experienced divorce or untimely death and seemed to thrive. Ask them how they did it. Their stories will inspire and encourage you.
- Enter gently into new relationships. Take it slow. Don’t start dating right away, or if you do, don’t allow yourself to think each new person is the new right person for you. You can be so happy to find a new person who is interesting that you miss major flaws. Your judgement isn’t permanently broken, but it is on the fritz and getting better.
Help your kids with divorce / separation
It is likely that your long-term marriage or relationship resulted in children. If not, you can skip this section.
If you had children together, they are going to need your help. You can’t do all the work of grieving for them, but you can take some key steps to make sure they are given the tools to survive without harboring anger or grief in an unhealthy way.
You can help your children recover naturally by both modeling the following behaviors and encouraging them to also take the same steps:
Connect face to face and lean on friends and family.
Set aside specific nights as sacred to spend together, but encourage them to spend other days or nights with their own friends. Seeing what is the same can help people cope with what is different.
Spend time with people who support you and energize you.
That lady at church who is always planning something fun? Ask to help her. The co-worker who tries new restaurants or museums each week? Ask to join him, or take his recommendations and visit them yourself.
Cultivate new friends.
By joining new groups, such as a local walking or running group as mentioned above, or a club focused on a particular hobby or interest of yours, you can re-awaken your capacity for joy. This works for your kids too. Are they suddenly interested in a new sport or instrument? Support it at a level that matches their enthusiasm.
There is scientific research-based evidence that being outside restores a sense of well-being and connectedness to the larger world. This is true for your children too, because it is biological. Require time outside and away from screens. Model doing it together, or escort them and a best friend to an outdoor location to play and explore.
Looking for help getting through your own grieving process after a divorce or break-up? Need a trained therapist to help you identify the self-sabotage and self-blame that is making it hard for you to move forward? Sakina Issa can help. Click the red button in this page to set a time to meet Sakina and see if therapy is right for you.