One of the hardest aspects of ending a romantic relationship or marriage is the voiced opinions of other people about what you need to do. Many don’t know what to say, or how to comfort, or they take on excessive responsibility to “fix” you and your situation. In reality, all you really want (and need) is a kind and supportive ear. With the shock and heartache that the loss of a relationship brings, you may find yourself with mixed feelings about what you actually should or should not be doing to cope. Relieve yourself of the burden of what others tell you that you “should” or “should not” do. Here are five well-meaning pieces of advice that deserve skepticism.
1. “Move On:” When grieving the loss of a relationship and feeling intense heartache, it is predictable that some close to you will convey that you should more quickly be moving on. They may seem to want this of you almost immediately. Perhaps you hear–“You’ve just got to move on.” “Get over it.” “It is what it is.” “Stop thinking about him.” Or perhaps you are telling yourself these same statements. It’s a completely unrealistic expectation that you are going to move on immediately. You need time and the more you beat yourself up telling yourself you should be moving on at a quicker pace, the longer it will actually take. This is because your brain and your body need time to come to terms with the loss. Some never do this work and jump quickly back into dating or make other major life changes in an effort to wipe the slate clean and avoid the pain. They may move across the country, buy a new home, get a new job, make large purchases–almost as a way to will themselves to move on. I have found over and over again that those who accept, right at the beginning, that the process of letting go is going to take some time, end up moving through the process more smoothly. You will recover. You will move on. Instead of forcing this, allow it to happen naturally–at your own pace.
2. “Don’t Sulk:” Then there are those you care about and who care about you who tell you to push your feelings aside– “Don’t dwell on your ex.” “Don’t think about the past.” “Some people have it worst than you.” “Snap out of it!” In fact the opposite is true. You have to feel and talk about the hurt, anger and despair to truly, eventually, let go. Just let yourself feel the sadness and hurt without also being critical about what you can’t help but to feel. There is nothing abnormal about having a range of emotions as you process the loss of your marriage or relationship. One way to cope with emotions, without pushing them away or becoming overwhelmed, is to set aside a period of time each day to feel and concentrate on them. Then when the time elapses, move to other tasks or distractions.
3. “Don’t Contact Your Ex:” It is common advice–“Whatever you do, don’t call him and immediately delete him/her from all of your social media.” However, and this is important, processing with your ex what happened in the relationship or what led up to the demise can be very helpful in some cases. You just have to assess if you and your partner are actually capable of doing this. And too, sometimes contacting your ex is a reminder that there is nothing left between you and that you really do need to stop contact. If you delete every bit of connection too soon, you may have regrets that lead you to obsess and self-criticize for being too hasty. When it’s time to take a step back, you will know. Recognize how you feel when you are viewing your ex’s social media updates, or when you talk or see them in person. If you feel worse after contact, take these feelings seriously they may be telling you it’s time to pull back. If you feel better or as if you have received something valuable from the interaction, it may not be time. (I describe how to stop contact and manage the feelings this engenders in Breaking Up and Divorce 5 Steps: How to Heal and Be Comfortable Alone).
4. “He Didn’t Really Love You:” Well-meaning friends and family may get angry on your behalf when you are recalling incidents of mistreatment and experiencing intense heartache and pain. They love you; they don’t want you to be mistreated. They may get to a point where they tell you, or you even tell yourself, that he never really loved you in the first place. This opinion just adds to your list of reasons to feel badly. The elusive question, “Did he ever love me?” invites a downward tailspin. Even if at the end you didn’t feel so loved, that doesn’t mean there was never something meaningful between you and your ex. Why else would people commit to someone for the long term? Love is complicated, people are complicated, but that doesn’t mean that your ex never saw anything special in you.
5. “You Need To Forgive:” It’s so common when angry or recounting difficult moments to a close friend or family member to hear something like– “You really need to work on forgiving him/her” or “You’ve got to let the anger go.” This may or may not be true, but hearing it only adds to the load of things you need to do and things you are doing wrong. Forgiveness is something that years later you just sort of naturally reflect upon and recognize as present. It is NOT something you can will yourself to do. And it’s precisely through processing the anger and feeling open with and unconditionally supported by others that we eventually let that anger and resentment go. If you feel embarrassed to talk about it or believe you should be better than all that, the anger will stick and possibly hinder you in other destructive ways.
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