How To Acknowledge A Breakup And Accept The Loss
After the shock of your heartbreak has begun to sink in, you have to learn to live with your loss.
Your tears – supposing you’re someone who has cried a lot – will be less frequent. Your numbness will thaw out. Your trembling will gradually cease. Your acute pain will dull into a pressing ache. But will you feel better?
In fact you might decide that you feel worse.
During your period of shock, you will have been in a state of disbelief. You will have kept believing that at any moment you would wake up from your nightmare and discover that it hadn’t happened after all.
But gradually you will accept the truth of your situation. Indeed, you’ll become all too familiar with it; and then your sense of loss may be overwhelming.
It’s at these times that you will keep thinking and telling yourself: My life is never, ever going to be the same again.
This can be a hugely depressing thought and you’ll probably feel that it threatens to engulf and destroy you, like a twenty-foot wave in a stormy sea.
So I’m going to give you some thoughts that you should try to substitute for it:
It’s true that my life has changed. It’s going to be very different. But ‘different’ need not mean ‘worse’. In fact, my life may become better than it’s ever been. Unfortunately, this won’t happen overnight.
It will really help if you start thinking this way.
When something bad happens, it’s all too easy to exaggerate the awfulness of the situation by telling yourself that nothing good, nice or wonderful can ever happen to you again.
But it can. And it will.
However, before that, you have to overcome your feelings of loss. And in order to do that, you may have to find some new perspectives.
Your greatest sense of loss at the moment is probably that you are no longer in a relationship that you would prefer to be in.
Even if you ended it yourself, you’ve probably done so because it failed to live up to what you believe you needed; and you are having to face up to the loss of something that once seemed really promising.
But most people reading this article will be reading it because they have been rejected by a partner. And their loss will centre around the removal of the person they still loved and believed in. Perhaps secretly, they may have realised that all was not well, but they still wanted to be in the relationship far more than they wanted to be out of it.
So, losing the relationship, and being without the person you thought was so special, is the Number One Loss.
But there are plenty of others. And I believe that in order to see the full reality of your past relationship, and then to move on, you first need to identify, acknowledge and accept all these various losses.
There may be the loss of a home. There could well be a big loss in income. For people who worked together, there could even be the loss of a job.
There is certainly the loss of ‘couple-dom’. And with it comes the loss of some mutual friends – usually other couples. Many of these people will avoid you now, reluctant to take sides, or fearful that your split will make their own relationship more vulnerable.
Some people feel a loss of status. Unfortunately, even today, there are individuals who identify themselves through their partner. So if you achieved your aim of marrying a politician, or a surgeon, or someone very wealthy – but now you’ve been dumped – you may well feel that your status has plummeted. Or perhaps you feel that a single person has less standing in society than a married, or cohabiting one. This would definitely have been true fifty years ago. Personally, I think it no longer applies, but that doesn’t stop some adults from feeling that way.
Other losses may revolve around the big gestures, or big sacrifices we often make in order to try to save a failing relationship.
It’s very common, for example, for co-habiting couples whose relationship is in trouble to suddenly decide to marry, in a bid to make things better. Unfortunately, matrimony rarely solves relationship problems. And if everything finally falls apart shortly after this trip down the aisle, both partners can feel that they’ve not only fallen out of love, but they’ve lost their dignity as well. They may even sense that some of their acquaintances find their short-lived marriage quite comical, which is very hard to bear.
It’s also not uncommon for a couple whose relationship is rocky to decide that having a baby will put things right. This is one of the worst reasons I know for parenthood, and yet it happens time and time again.
Breaking up after making a baby is a hugely painful loss. One of you will probably find that you become a ‘bit-part player’ in your child’s life, and you will keenly feel the loss of the stable family that you wanted to offer your infant, as well as the loss of your romance.
Another great loss – and one that generates much distress and guilt – is a termination. If a pregnancy happens when a relationship is not in the best of health, the couple may decide that their relationship can only survive if there’s a termination. Or one partner may insist on termination as a condition of continuing the relationship.
If that relationship then fails, there can be enormous sorrow and guilt about the abortion, and anger too. It’s massively painful to realise that you’ve gone against your own wants, or beliefs, or needs, and sacrificed a new life for an old romance which then ends anyway.
So, losses connected with forlorn gestures or compromises are especially difficult to come to terms with.
Then there are those losses that occur when people are desperate to have a family. There may have been a miscarriage – which is a dreadful loss at any time – but when that sadness accelerates the end of the relationship, it can feel like the end of the world.
And, sadly, may couples being treated for infertility find the strain of IVF or some similar treatment becomes so great that their relationship withers and dies.
In all these cases, the loss of parenthood on top of the loss of a partner augments the feelings of desolation.
Frequently too, a couple who have stayed together ‘for the children’ might find that nothing binds them once the kids leave home. The end of a marriage or long-term relationship at that time can leave the woman, in particular, with the feeling that she is redundant, and that everything meaningful is lost.
Another type of loss that can be very isolating and miserable is when a clandestine affair comes to an end.
When I was an agony aunt, I always felt terribly sad when I received letters from women telling me that they’d been in an illicit affair for years: years when they were never able to publicly demonstrate their love, or even to spend birthdays or Christmas with the object of their devotion.
I felt even sadder when they wrote to tell me that the lover, who was so reluctant to upset his wife and leave home, eventually did leave – but for someone new rather than the mistress who had loved him so faithfully through the years.
Such a person – who is usually female, but not always – has to be very discreet about her grief, but can feel as though she has not just been robbed of her love but of her past and future too, having never married, or had children. She is also likely to feel utterly discarded, and as if there is no sign or recognition anywhere of the fact that this important love actually existed. And of course trying to get the necessary support after the split can be difficult if you never let your parents or many of your close friends know about the relationship in the first place.
Nowadays, there’s another type of secret relationship that has become quite common. It’s when someone from one culture has been romantically linked to a person from another.
Secret relationships like these are taking place all over Britain – especially in universities, hospitals, lawyers’ offices and other places where a common education or training has brought together people of similar intellect and interests, but different backgrounds.
Take Raj, for example. He’s a Sikh doctor who was brought up and educated in Britain, and who has masses of friends from several different cultures.
Raj’s family are still very traditionalist and his father wants him to have an arranged marriage with someone from his own community.
But Raj has his own ideas on romance, and some time ago he fell in love with an Irish nurse, called Maeve. Keeping his love secret from his parents, they set up home together.
Unfortunately, the secrecy caused problems. After months of being together, Maeve wanted him to tell his family about their relationship, while Raj begged her to accept that, for now, he felt he could not.
Eventually, these stresses became too much and she dumped him and retired hurt to her family in Ireland.
Raj could not confide in his family and get love and support for his broken heart from them. He also shied away from telling his friends – especially his European ones – because he thought they would not understand his family pressures and would assume he should have stood up to his parents and done his own thing.
But only someone in Raj’s situation can fully understand how torn he felt between two ways of life. And nowadays this is a common scenario. I personally see situations like this all the time.
People like Raj, who have been brought up in the UK but who have parents who adhere strictly to their own traditions, can feel extraordinarily lost at this time. They feel estranged from their lover and alienated from their own culture, so that they don’t quite feel ‘at home’ anywhere. Sometimes having failed at their own handling of romance, they do go back to the family and allow them to arrange a marriage, hoping that if they go back to the ‘fold’ they’ll feel more grounded and find peace and happiness.
If this applies to you, can I say that I do believe that you have a lot of thinking to do. I am certainly not saying that the modern way of doing things must be the best, but I think you should try to be true to:
• you, the person you started out as
• you, the person you struggled to become
• and, you, the person you are now.
In other words, take your time. A sudden change of direction now – one way or the other – might only wreak more havoc in the long-term.
All the losses that we’ve looked at so far have occurred as a result of the end of the relationship. But looking back, you may start to realise that there were plenty of losses within it that you never fully acknowledged while you were together.
Perhaps your partner disliked your friends and family – and you saw them less and less often in a bid to keep the peace. You can feel very foolish, as well as very alone, when you lose your partner anyway.
Maybe you held yourself back in career terms because your partner wouldn’t re-locate so you could take up a promotion. Perhaps you feared that your success would scare off your loved one. Or possibly you abandoned your own job to support your spouse in some venture or other. Now you have nothing: not the career success you could have had, nor the partner you sacrificed it for. No wonder you feel bleak and bereft.
And you can feel very cheated if you helped your partner through tough times in anticipation of better ones in the future.
It’s not uncommon nowadays for one half of a couple to be supported by the other while he or she gets a degree, or completes training to be a lawyer, or an accountant, or an architect, or a doctor.
The ‘working’ spouse may even stick at a job that he or she dislikes – and may have to work very long hours – while fulfilling the role of sole breadwinner.
The pay-off is supposed to be a better lifestyle when the studying partner qualifies. But if the relationship founders before the good times start to roll, then the supporting partner is likely to feel very hard done by.
So the types of loss that are suffered during heartbreak are almost as varied as there are people. And as you’ve been reading these last few pages, I’m sure that some of those that I’ve mentioned will have struck a chord with you.
I have written about all these different types of loss to help you ‘normalise’ your own feelings.
In grief, we can feel pitiful, or pathetic, or weak. So I hope it helps to realise that other men and women have been through similar feelings to your own and that no matter how great any loss may be, people have the capacity to recover from it.
It would be a good idea now for you to write down all the things you’ve lost as a result of ending the relationship.
Then, note down all the things that you lost because of – or during – the relationship. These lists could prove illuminating reading and might give you a different perspective on your loss.
You see, it’s actually not uncommon for our hearts to have been gradually breaking while we were still within a relationship – it’s just that we’ve been too focused on holding things together to realise it.
Here is a how to survive a breakup guide specifically for women (But this also applies to men).