Coping when your relationship ends
The end of a relationship is difficult. However it comes about. You suddenly move from being part of a couple, to being single. Old norms of considering someone else and factoring them into decision making, of spending time together, of sharing social networks and interactions and much more fall away, sometimes suddenly. You are left with a sudden need to adjust from being explicitly interdependent to being independent. Whether it was your decision or not, it can be disorientating.
In the current context of social restrictions and lockdown at home, these issues are even more intense. The person you are a couple with may live with you, or be your support bubble if you live apart, and they are suddenly not there. You move from having someone with you in person to having to contemplate alternative arrangements, which may not be easy to organise.
The end of a relationship necessarily brings with it a process of grieving, because it is a loss. Mostly, no-one died, but the relationship changed, or ended, and this needs processing. That processing takes time. The event may be quick, but the psychological transition will likely take a while. This is important to enable, for if you move straight from one relationship to another without a period of contemplation and healing, you will likely repeat the same relational patterns, maybe in different forms and for sure in different circumstances, but looping through the same issues once again is not going to be fun.
So how do you cope with being alone? I don’t pretend it’s easy, particularly if it evokes fear, anxiety or worry. For those with a more anxious attachment style being alone may be very painful.
One thing to remember is that you do remain in the most important relationship you have, and that is the one with yourself. It is essential to make time to reflect and make sense of your experiences. This may be through journaling, writing creatively, using artwork, music or other creative media, but expressing what you feel, and then making meaning from that is important.
You may notice different parts of you have different feelings, that it is not simple but complex, and all of this is important to notice. Recognise that there are big feelings that are moving through, and they hurt. This is normal, grieving is a messy process, and it is OK to feel sad, afraid, guilty, shamed or whatever else comes up. The feelings and thoughts are not you, they are just energy moving through you. You are so much more than the momentary experience, even if it does crop up again and again!
Another aspect of being with yourself is to take good care. Finding your own personal rhythms and patterns in terms of rest, food, exercise and renewal are important at this time where you are likely to feel disorientated and groundless. Maybe even having a plan that captures what is important to give you a structure and sense of commitment, it’s crucial to focus on how you want to look after yourself to help avoid a drift into ways of coping you would rather not have, be that over-eating, using alcohol or other substances, or over-using technology to distract yourself.
Staying connected is another important way of supporting yourself through this transition. Connection to people who love and care for you, connection to nature, connection to your work or occupation and the meaning you find in it, connection to your own sense of values.
In time, you may want to begin considering the future you want to move towards. Finding meaning in the future can be a source of inspiration and energy, after all we all need to have some sense of what may happen and some sense that we can affect it, even though we don’t have full control.
Overall, I sense it’s important after a relationship break-up to find a larger context. Using time, the context of the other relationships in our life, the wider context of other areas of our life, it’s about finding a frame in which this sits, because it is not your everything, even if it may feel like it to begin with.
I hope these are useful thoughts for anyone struggling with separation. I wish you a time of healing and renewal, of going inwards and discovering more of who you now are. If it gets tough, do reach out for help.