Anyone who has ever loved knows that there is an inherent risk of heartache and pain. When we care, we care about losing who or what we love. I often ask clients the question “Is it better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all?”. I get a variety of meaningful answers and reasons for their thoughts. Loss of a meaningful relationship is one of the most deep hurts that any of us can experience, but it can also be an opportunity for us to grow and learn how to pick and be a better more healthy partner.
Sometimes we find ourselves dating the same type of person over and over again with very similar outcomes. We can feel alone and often get trapped in a negative self dialogue of criticism, insults, and hurtful beliefs. I have heard statements like “Nobody could ever really love me.”, “I guess I’m just meant to be alone.”, “They just seem to want to use and abuse me.”, “What the hell is wrong with me?”. These are very common statements after a painful breakup, especially from people who seem to be stuck in this pattern of picking unhealthy partners. Maybe there isn’t anything wrong with you. Maybe there is just something wrong with your partner picking.
The end of a relationship can be a great opportunity for you to take inventory of what you have gained and lost. Every relationship we engage in holds a mirror up to ourselves. It allows us to see the state of our self esteem, self confidence, boundaries, values, and needs. You may find at the end of a painful breakup that those behaviors are not what you want them to be and maybe that you didn’t like the way you were treated. You as well as your values have the opportunity to mature and change throughout your life and relational experiences. Here are 5 tips to help you through the process of healing after a breakup and learn how to pick more healthy and rewarding relationships.
#1 “The pain from a breakup or divorce will pass” In the beginning stages of grief over the loss of a meaningful relationship we are immersed in a deep and gut wrenching pain. It can often feel like a never ending pit of despair. Allow yourself to grieve and experience the loss without the distraction of jumping into another relationship. Even if you know the relationship was bad for you, you may still feel a painful loss. Just because you are hurting doesn’t mean you should necessarily be with this person. It may just mean that you really cared about this person and your relationship. Also be aware that there are all kinds of neuro-chemicals involved with the highs and lows in a relationship. It can have an addictive effect on your body. You may actually feel a kind of emotional, psychological, and physical withdrawal from the relationship. The pit or sickness in your stomach after a breakup may be intense, but it is a common experience and it is temporary. Remind yourself and be aware that the pain will pass and that you never stay in the same feeling forever.
#2 “Conduct a serious autopsy of your history of love” Spend some time thinking back on the quality of your relationship and your feelings throughout the relationship. Then think back to your childhood — what was the quality of the way the adults behaved around and treated you? Did you witness a lot of drama, screaming, or violence in the home? Was there a pattern of coldness and avoidance in dealing with family problems? Did you feel ignored and starved for affection and attention? Our childhood experiences can influence the type of partners we are attracted to. You may find that even though you don’t like the way someone has treated you, it feels familiar and even normal or comfortable. Your past experiences of neglect or abuse do not control you — they influence you as learning. You have the opportunity to learn what early needs were not met, then learn how to meet those needs now and choose more supportive and caring friends and family to allow around you.
#3 ” Transcending unfulfilling love means consciously attaching to healthy partners” Some of the best advice I ever got was “Pick your friends, don’t let your friends pick you”. This goes for potential partners too. Familiar types of people seem to come easy to us — almost like they are magnetically drawn to us. We tend to feel understood and special in their presence. We can also hold subconscious or conscious fantasies that this person will finally heal the past pains of not getting our relational needs met, thinking “maybe this person will finally show me the love and caring I have always craved”. Love and belongingness is a healthy need, however, expecting an emotionally immature partner (no matter how attractive you may find her/him) to treat you with thoughtful communication, attentive emotional caring behaviors, and healthy personal boundaries is self destructive. If you are interested in changing your relationship choices to better meet your needs, don’t let your relationships pick you, pick your relationships according to your maturing value system. You may not feel that familiar jolt or new love intoxication that you used to feel — allow for new feelings. You may be used to hooking up with someone upon first attraction — going from nothing to being attached at the hip — often times sacrificing school, work and/or friendships. Try not to discount or distrust the more slowly developing feelings and different behaviors of a new type of relationship. You may not feel as instantly and intensely attached as you are used to feeling, but it is also not all-consuming, distracting and emotionally needy either. Healthy relationships allow for emotional investments to increase with time. Picking a new type of relationship will offer unfamiliar feelings, it may feel scary at first because we tend to not trust new experiences or feelings. Push through that fear, meet new people, allow new feelings — choose your new normal and learn what benefits can come from slowly and more naturally building trust.
#4 “Show your humanness in your relationships” When we start a new relationship we put our best foot forward. Recognize this behavior and be conscious to be genuine in expressing yourself, your needs and your boundaries. Don’t color or change your responses or behaviors to be more like what you perceive the other person wants you to be. We want to be liked, but more importantly we want to feel loved and accepted for who we really are. You, like the rest of us are dynamic and multifaceted. Accept, value and embrace your differences and quirks and a healthy partner will as well.
On the flip side, there is no need to dump all of your problems and traumatic experiences on a person you just met either. There are three reasons for this. 1) Just as you are not truly the polished and perfect version of yourself you may wish you were, you are also not some fundamentally screwed up or broken person that you may believe you are. You may have issues, but you also have strengths, interests, loves, and accomplishments. Trauma bonding through dumping our problems on a brand new relationship tends to set the pace of negativity as well as scaring healthy people away. 2) You may even hold a belief that if a person can like you when they see the worst of you, then maybe that person is worth trusting. This is not a helpful or honest approach to a new relationship. Your traumatic experiences do not define or encompass the whole package that is you. A history and inventory of every hurtful experience or negative behavior of yours is not a genuine representation of you. 3) Not everybody deserves your story or your trust. Not everyone will be safe with your memories and stories of painful events or weaknesses. Only supportive and caring people deserve to know this type of information about you. It takes time to know who truly supports and cares about you.
You are not perfect and never will be — luckily perfection is not a requirement to be loved and accepted. Neither are you so messed up that you are unlovable. You are a human, a real person involved in real relationships and are just as messy and multidimensional as the rest of us. Take your time in sharing your life’s intimate details. Trust takes time, but you must behave in a genuine way to build that trust.
#5 “Take on the pursuit of psychological wellness” Nurturing mental health and wellness is a daily and regular activity for healthy people. If a person, whether they had a relatively healthy past or not, neglects attending to her/his mental wellness, that person’s psychological and emotional stability will deteriorate. Period. Engage in personal growth oriented activities like psychotherapy, creative expression, meditation, and exercise etc. Evaluate your perceptions, your behaviors, and your beliefs and make sure that they are aligned with your maturing value system. Actively and consciously choose your future steps to make a healthier and happier path on your life’s journey. Choose personal honesty and accountability with yourself and the people who support and care about you. Ask for help if you feel lost.
Note this, you and you alone are responsible for your well being. Only you know what is ultimately best for you to live an authentic and healthy life. No one else can make these choices or do this work for you. Nobody but you can be the source of your happiness. Our partners can only enhance our lives.
The past is gone and has no control over where you choose to go from here. You have the power of choice to determine your life today. The way you know, accept, respect, and love yourself sets the bar for the way others will treat you. You set the rules and boundaries for what is a healthy and acceptable relationship for you. Follow these tips and you will be well on your way to choosing a more fulfilling and rewarding relationship, not only with yourself and loved ones, but with a potential partner as well.