Thursday, 13 November 2008

Getting over a relationship

Getting over a relationship

By Paul Martin



Paul is a Brisbane based counsellor and psychologist with the Centre for Human Potential.





One of the most painful and emotional experiences in life can be breaking up with your partner. It is a minefield of distress with almost every emotion being exaggerated and for some there is the possibility of escalating into depression and anxiety. Breaking up a relationship is a very different experience if you are the dumper or you have been the dumped. There are however ways though of making the journey a little less painful and manageable.

There are many different types of experiences with breaking up depending on a variety of factors. If the relationship is in a rut and has been gradually eroding for some time, it can feel like a relief for it to end. If you are the dumper, it can be a time of great guilt and sadness.

If you find yourself in the position of falling out of love, losing attraction, or realizing that your partner is not for you, this can be emotionally horrendous. The thought of causing someone you love unbelievable pain and distress can be quite painful and activate lashings of deeply felt guilt and shame. The prospect of experiencing these intense emotions can be so strong that it can lead to procrastinating taking action to end the relationship for a very long time.

This also brings up some issues as it can be hard being in a relationship pretending to feel the same as you did, but in fact feeling very different. Some can try the trick of waiting for the other person to get so fed up with the lack of affection or other signs of love that they hope their partner will take responsibility for ending it. One way to stop procrastinating is to increase your tolerance for unpleasant emotions. Recognise that your partner will feel hurt, possibly betrayed and angry and you may be seen as someone who has emotionally tortured them. If you only focus on the short term distress, you will probably keep putting it off.

To make taking action a little more possible, try focussing on how it will feel when you are both living separate lives, and you feel free and your partner has moved on from the emotions and you are possibly good friends. There can be fears that your partner may not be able to cope with this level of pain, so you can end up feeling responsible for their reactions. It is important to challenge this belief. Your partner will have a choice of hundreds of ways of reacting. There is nothing you can do to control or the way they feel and react. They can choose to respond in a healthy or self destructive way and this is entirely up to them. A strong aspect of guilt is the belief that you are responsible for the way others react to what you do. This is totally irrational. Keep in mind that if you procrastinate, that you are possibly wasting valuable time for you both.

It is also important to recognise that whilst you have triggered emotional pain in your partner, you are not responsible for how they chose to deal with it. They can choose to see a psychologist, or get shit faced every day with alcohol or drugs, or they can get very depressed and even suicidal. Whilst you can recommend that they get some assistance, you cannot make them respond in a healthy way. Reminding yourself that you have nothing to do with the way they respond to pain will help reduce the guilt to a more tolerable level.

As the one being dumped, you are probably going to go through a whole range of rather horrific emotions, so tighten your safety belt, but keep in mind that it has to pass in time! Your distress can be made especially more tormenting if your loved one has been having sex or is in a relationship with someone else. This experience is normally filled with emotions that at times are experienced with an almost unbearable intensity. Some people find that it triggers off almost every insecurity they’ve ever had. The relationship itself can become a hot-house for inappropriate active and passive expressions of anger and hurt. If you felt abandoned by someone you felt was supposed to love you when you were growing up, expect that you’ll feel the abandonment of your partner even more painfully. Just recognising where this extra level of pain can be coming from can be quite helpful. If it is particularly disabling, it may be worth seeing a psychologist to work through the underlying issues.

After the initial conversation about the ending of the relationship is over with your partner, you may initially experience a numbness and shock, as though you have a slight concussion, especially if you hadn’t seen it coming. Shock can give way to intense anger, hurt and sadness. You might find yourself cycling through all of these in the matter of minutes. This can feel like an overwhelming time but luckily doesn’t last long. One little trick if you are feeling overwhelmed by emotions and are at risk of saying things that you could regret. GET OUT! Walk away immediately! If you find you are stuck in that moment, the other thing to do is to pick a number over 120 and count backwards in your head. This forces rational activity in the brain and helps to reduce the intensity of your emotions.

After this, you’re then going to have to go through the long voyage of grief which is far from fun! Accepting this as a necessary fact of life can make it a little easier to deal with as you are not fighting with the feelings. At this stage, you might find yourself feeling intense anger and want to punish your ex. Depending on the intensity, it may be hard to control your impulses to act on these urges. It is very rare that punishing someone creates a positive outcome for you, so it is much better to work hard on controlling these drives. Remember that once you’ve said something, you can’t take it back and it may get used down the track by your ex if there are legal or other serious possibilities. If you send irrational emails or SMSs, these can also be used for legal reasons if things get nasty.

In other moments you’ll find yourself feeling so sad that it is almost overwhelming. Sadness comes in waves, so keep in mind that it won’t last and you need to ride it out. If you try and distract yourself from the sadness and have irrational fears that it is a sign of weakness or you’ll lose control, you’ll end up potentially quite emotionally unstable. This can include depression and anxiety. Sadness is a natural response to loss and a vital and healthy part of the grieving process. It can be tempting to overindulge in alcohol and recreational drugs to numb the pain. Whilst this at times may not be life threatening and can be fun in small doses, it is a major problem if you are doing it regularly. You may be in denial about this, and one way to tell is if as you are reading this, your brain is coming up with stories in your head to justify why you have been going so hard lately. If this is the case, it is a sign that you would benefit from getting some assistance as soon as possible!

Although it may feel at times as though these feelings are going on forever, keep in mind that they will definitely subside in time if you keep actively facing the grief by doing things like talking about it, writing letters to your ex-partner that you might not send, and possibly seeing a counsellor.

Some other issues will include adapting to life as a single person again. This is hard as it means going from ‘us’ to ‘me’. It may be hard to sleep when you keep waking up expecting to find your loved one next to you and there is an empty space with their pillow. Quite often over time you’ll finally feel that you’ve made it and you’re finally feeling better again. It is completely natural though to suddenly be hit again by the feelings as you are reminded of your partner again, such as walking past the Priceline store where you both bought your first false eyelashes together. You may find that it takes the smallest things to trigger intense sadness, such as a song, a scent, or a place you used to visit with your partner.

It may also be likely that at this stage, you’ll end up having all sorts of insecurities about your self-worth being activated. It is a hard road to travel when you’re not only experiencing the grief of your partner leaving you, but also having to deal with old issues surfacing at the same time. This might include deeply held unpleasant beliefs such as the feeling that you are not good enough to be in a relationship and therefore will never have another positive relationship again. Be vigilant and whenever you hear these thoughts challenge them or you could end up feeling quite depressed! Depression is partly based on self-loathing and hopelessness about the future.

If you feel you would benefit from counselling, it is the perfect moment to make a call to your G.P and make a long appointment with them so they can do a ‘Mental Health Care Assessment.’ This then allows them to work out if you are eligible for Medicare rebates. Then find out the most appropriate psychologist who has a lot of experience working with GLBT clients. Many clients have said to us over the years that it only took a few sessions to make a real difference to how they feel about the situation and themselves.

Breaking up is about as pleasant as having a big night and waking up with Pauline Hanson next to you in bed. Luckily though the emotions don’t last forever and if you keep facing and not running away from them, and you can identify all of the insecurities that are getting triggered and you can work on them as well, you’ll find that you will have actually grown a lot more as a person. You’ll eventually feel a lot stronger and know that if there is another break up in your life, that you’ll have learned some excellent strategies for dealing with it that will make it easier for the future.

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