Dear Dr. Romance
Your articles are very helpful to me. Can you tell me what book of yours can help me heal from my last relationship. The pain is still there and although I am sure I had to let go, I still care a lot.
I'm sorry you're hurting. I know how difficult it can be, even when you were the one who had to let go. The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again begins with a chapter about healing from the previous relationship. "Surviving Loss and Thriving Again". Don't worry, you can heal this, and these hints might help:
Dr. Romance on Recovering from a Breakup:
1. When you break up from a significant relationship, you'll go through the classic stages of grief:
Denial: maybe he'll call again, maybe she didn't really mean it… Or, staying way too long, because you don't want to face that the relationship isn't working.
Anger: If your ex breaks it off, you're going to be upset. Even if you're the one who broke it off, you'll be angry at the loss of your dreams. Sometimes, this anger is what it takes to leave the relationship.
Bargaining: For a dating breakup, I'd call this the rebound stage: I'll show him/her. I'll go find someone else right away. Men usually do this faster than women, but any relationship entered into in this stage usually has problems. In some cases, this is a stage of idealizing the ex.
Depression: Isolating, staying home, not trying anything new. This ends when the real tears start, because the tears are a sign of acceptance.
Acceptance/Rebuilding: This is the stage of new energy, where you decide to do something different, from a new hair cut to building a whole new life. People often do well in therapy here -- figuring out what went wrong, and how not to repeat mistakes, and then find a new love.
2. Gender differences: Men deny their feelings, and go right out on the hunt again. It feels good for a while, but they wind up with bigger problems in the new relationship, because they weren't ready, and they got into it for the wrong reasons. To really feel better, they have to face their own responsibility in past relationships that didn't work, make changes, and begin having relationships on a brand-new basis. Women honor their feelings, sometimes even wallowing in them. However, when they emerge, they're usually stronger and more self-aware. If you get stuck in the wallowing phase, that's a good time to get therapy to reassess how you view yourself and what you want.
3. Getting over the heartache: Don't get too dramatic. It's not anguish, it's grief. You lost something you wanted, it feels bad. It's not cancer or paralysis or death. Learn to grieve and accept the loss, and then build on what you learn to make future relationships more functional and realistic. If you accept the need to learn, and the responsibility for whatever you messed up (including choosing the wrong type of person) you'll have something much better next time.
4. Break off contact with your ex You need time to grieve and reflect, and you can't do that by stalking your ex's Facebook page. Understand that texting and calling work against you, make you look really bad and unattractive, and hurt your self-esteem. If you can't stop, you're codependent and should attend Co-Dependents Anonymous or get therapy. Put reminders away: Pack up all souvenirs, gifts, pictures, and other reminders of the relationship, seal the box (so it's not easy to open) and put them away somewhere until you get past the worst of the loss. Then you can take it out and decide what you want to keep.
5: Fill your time: Reading is very absorbing -- it uses more of your brain than watching TV or listening to music, so it's a good way to take your mind off someone for a short period. However, avoiding the grief is not healthy. Journaling or writing or talking to friends (one reason CoDA works) will help you process the loss: what happened, what you could have done better, what you need to learn about relationships. Take a trip if you can-- or spend some time in another place. See if you can visit your sibling or old friend in another town. It takes you away from reminders. Do some project you've always wanted to do -- climb that hill, learn to snowboard or study Chinese, take up that hobby, write the Great American Novel. Do something useful and productive that will keep your "monkey mind" busy. Volunteer somewhere or join a new social group or sports activity. Working together with other people will feel good, and not be too risky too soon. Besides, it's the best place to (eventually) meet your perfect mate
6. What to avoid:
Do Not: Escape into alcohol, get violent or depressed, attempt suicide, badmouth your ex to everyone you know, sleep for days, hide out and isolate completely (a little alone time is good for reflection -- isolation is a sign of depression.)
How long it takes to get over a breakup really depends more on how attached you were than how long you were together. It also depends on your personal emotional health. If you're resilient, with healthy self-esteem, you'll bounce back quicker. So much drama is out there now about the "excruciating pain" of a breakup, that it takes many people much longer than it should. For a relatively short relationship, figure a couple of months to bounce back. For one lasting a couple of years or longer, it can take six months to a year. For a 30 year marriage, like mine, it takes between two and three years to feel somewhat better.
When I counsel someone through breakup recovery:
First, I encourage them to talk about it, until the initial upset and hysteria calm down.
Second, we analyze what happened, what was good about the relationship, what went wrong, and what my client's responsibility was for the breakdown of love.
Third, we work through past relationships and childhood and look for similarities (abandonment issues, fear of commitment, conflict avoidance, codependency) and then heal those issues, correct the belief systems, and re-define love and relationships to a more functional definition.
Fourth, we create a plan of action for my client to follow.
Fifth, I support the client in carrying out the plan.
Sixth, I congratulate them on the new, healthy relationship they've found (yes, really) I often get invited to the wedding.
You can find more Happiness Tips like these, as well as a new partner when the time comes. at LoveFilter, the relationships website.