I often marvel at the strength of celebrities and other public figures who endure the ego-decimating effects of a divorce or breakup in the public eye. Take, for example, Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck’s recent split. On a daily basis, they are hounded by paparazzi. Media outlets scrutinize their relationship, toss around accusations of infidelity and addiction, and ascribe blame (all without knowledge of the inner workings of their relationship).
While few people going through breakups will have to face the judgment of millions of strangers, most will have to tell friends and family about the end of their relationship. This acknowledgment — especially if others are unaware of the existence or nature of problems — can often feel rife with shame.
That's why Aimee Hartstein, LCSW (a relationship therapist), and I are writing a series of articles on heartbreak. Having both survived (and thrived) post-divorce, we felt it imperative to address the topic of “failure," and the emotions that often accompany it.
Neither of us characterize breakups as “failure,” although they can often feel that way. Instead, we think breakups can bring enormous opportunity and blessing. With that in mind, we suggest a moratorium on the following five habits:
1. Do not emotionally flog yourself.
Believe it or not, none of us are born with an intuitive understanding of how to be in a relationship. Through trial and error (and a decent number of missteps), we learn how to communicate, fight, and forgive — the cornerstones of happy unions.
When I feel defeated, I remind myself that it took Thomas Edison 10,000 attempts to create the light bulb. Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, admits the necessity of failure. He once said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve almost lost 300 games. 26 times, I have been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
So keep this in mind when mending a broken heart — it may be, and probably is, an integral part of your journey in finding true love.
2. Do not maintain a stoic demeanor.
Unsurprisingly, movies and TV often perpetuate the myth of a “flawless breakup” — both parties are amicable, they co-parent perfectly, and neither person needs time or space before effortlessly gliding into their next relationship.
This myth, also unsurprisingly, is not grounded in truth or reality. That's why it's a myth.
Like any life transition involving loss and dramatic change, breakups are traumatic. People need time to grieve. So, tell friends that you are hurting. And, ask them to support you.
As Aimee, the relationship therapist explains: “Grief is a natural process and it’s healing. There is nothing bad about crying, feeling depressed and mourning. It’s only problematic when it goes on for an extensive period of time or leaves you unable to function on a day-to-day level.”
3. Do not subscribe to social media’s version of “reality.”
When you’re feeling depressed or grieving, limit time on Facebook and other forms of social media. In this “false reality,” everyone’s relationship (as well as other facets of their lives) appears rosy, effortless and perfect.
The reality is that life is messy. Emotions and people are complicated. People fight.
"Don’t compare your inside to someone’s outside," cautions Aimee. "Facebook portrays an inauthentic reality. The truth is that every one of us is hurt, imperfect or wounded in some way.”
4. Do not play the blame game.
Failure is a gift when it forms the basis for self-reflection. All too often, men and women become mired in their version of “truth,” which often means pointing an accusatory finger at their ex. A more productive choice is to look inward — an empowering decision that breaks destructive patterns and helps people avoid repeated mistakes. For example, if your ex told you of their unhappiness, did you fail to take the complaint seriously? Did you shut down any discussion of the relationship and change the subject?
Aimee's take? “My healthiest clients take a long, hard look at their own behavior. They figure out patterns (often rooted in childhood) that undermine their chances of success and work diligently to craft a new way of relating.”
5. Do not give up.
Everyday, we are saddened by clients who DO FAIL in one of two ways:
- They have given up on love. Beaten by painful breakups, they've stepped off the playing field entirely.
- They keep repeating the same mistakes. Their egos refuse to believe that there is an easier way to achieve the desired result.
Allow yourself to grieve and experience heartbreak. But, don’t get stuck in this sadness. There is no defeat in falling down, only in refusing to try again.
To be kept abreast of the Heartbreak Series and to receive two free gifts (a “7-Day Meditation to Heal Heartbreak” and “Recipe for Heartbreak (Comforting, Healthy Meals for One)”), click here.
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