How to cope with the breakdown of a long-term relationship
- Clinical Psychologist Dr Georgia Henderson offers advice to those coming out of a relationship. She says a healthy break-up is when one or both people can see the end of the relationship as an opportunity for growth
- Letting go and accepting change is often difficult, but you can let go without making your ex-partner your enemy, she says
- A successful break-up may not involve the absence of pain, and getting over loss can take time, but you need to be with someone on the same path as you – and the pain of loss can be alleviated
It’s common to fixate on a past relationship – dissecting why it went ‘wrong’, or planning how to repair it, and these responses may vary in intensity and last for weeks, months or longer. They may feel beyond your control.
Dr Georgia Henderson, Clinical Psychologist at Priory’s North London Hospital, says that a relationship breakdown affects different people in different ways, and whilst some are able to walk away without huge regret, many find it impossible to break the bond and adjust to a new life. So while for some people it might come as a relief, or be part of an amicable separation, for many the shock and distress that comes from rejection can be difficult to handle.
Classic signs of clinging on to a past partner might include:
- Trying to make your ex jealous by turning up at places they may be or posting things online. Focusing on their emotional responses to you, rather than what’s happening in your life now
- Constantly re-analysing the break-up
- Focusing too much on “closure”. People may be being really honest when they say “this wasn’t right for me”. There isn’t always someone at fault or a logical reason. Constantly asking your ex to explain what went wrong can lead to frustration and hurt
- Following them excessively on social media, such as always checking in on their Instagram or Facebook posts when you should unfriend and unfollow
- Drinking and dialling; having too much to drink and calling them either to talk to them or sometimes to just listen to their voice message, and texting them constantly
- Be aware of “compare and despair” behaviour, when you compare everyone to your ex, and find that no one matches up, or you treat a break-up as temporary and suggest you are on a relationship holiday when in truth the relationship is finished.
Dr Henderson said there were practical ways to help recover after a split.
So, what can you do to help yourself? Lots, says Dr Henderson.
- Validate your emotions; even if your ex betrayed you, it’s ok to be sad as well as angry. You can also be hurt without having to frame them as the “baddie”
- Don’t try to ignore thoughts about them completely They were a big part of your life. Losing a partner can mean losing your go-to person. When we try and ignore our thoughts and feelings, they actually intensify and become more distressing. For example, if you see a cute meme that they would love, think of five other people in your life who have your sense of humour and send it through to them rather than focusing on not having your ex
- Rebuild your network focusing on what the relationship helped you with, and take it as an opportunity to build up the parts of yourself that you may have neglected
- Rewrite your narrative: instead of pining for your shared romantic trip to the Caribbean, remember that spot as the place you learned to surf or when you first embraced a new type of food
- Most importantly, you want to be with someone on the same path you. Try and check in with yourself: am I sad to have lost this person, or is it about something else?
Dr Henderson said: “If you realise the loss might be about more than the person themselves, it can really help to get some professional support to make sense of what has happened. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy - a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave - can help you understand what role this relationship might have played in your life, and some of the unhelpful patterns you could be in. It will also help you organise your emotions so they feel easier to manage. Some people have difficult core beliefs about being unlovable or faulty in some way; break-ups can be a very significant trigger of these feelings. Getting therapy can make you feel much more hopeful about your next relationships and your future.”
Priory Hospitals and Wellbeing Centres are fully regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), and provide therapy and treatments for conditions including depression, anxiety, stress, anger management, eating disorders, addictions and relationship counselling.
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About Priory Group
The Priory Group is the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK caring for around 30,000 people a year for conditions including depression, stress, drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and self-harming. The Group is organised into three divisions – healthcare, education and children’s services, and adult care. The Priory Group is owned by NASDAQ-listed Acadia Healthcare, which is recognised as a global leader in behavioural health.