Schlepping Through Heartbreak

Making sense and bouncing back when the one you love leaves

Seven Steps for Moving Forward When Your Relationship Ends

How to bounce back when your relationship ends

Woman on beach
A long ago, I was working as a marriage counsellor with Sylvia and Hank, a couple on the brink of divorce. They had had a cold, loveless marriage for years and Hank had finally decided to leave. In spite of the fact that she acknowledged how little happiness there was in that marriage, Sylvia was desperate and inconsolable. She sat on my sofa and cried wretched tears, begging him to keep trying, to stay with her in spite of it all. He stayed firm and told her that it was over, and he did leave shortly after that session.

I didn't hear from them for a couple of years, but one day, I received a call from Sylvia asking for some help with her son. She entered my office a different woman. Pretty and relaxed, she told how she had met a wonderful open loving man and that they were happily married. She never thought she could be so in love. I thought of that miserable, grey woman who had sobbed on my sofa and wished that she knew then what the future had in store.

I often think back to Sylvia's transition when my heart goes out to someone struggling to adjust to the end of a relationship and it gives me hope that the future can bring unexpected delights. But the experience a break-up is so intense, whether of a marriage or a more casual relationship, that it locks us in the present moment of suffering, making it hard to see the potential for happiness in the future.

Here are the Seven Steps that you need to take to move forward and recover from the end of a break-up.

1. Recognize that you won't feel this badly forever. While you're in the midst of it, you can't see that time will heal . . . but it will.

2. Accept that the relationship really is over. People keep hanging on, hoping that things will improve when they know that there's no hope. It prolongs the pain.

3. Integrate the fact that your former partner has changed and may be beyond caring for your welfare. As much as you just wish that you could bring him or her back to the way they used to be, they have already moved on.

4. Understand why he/she needs to justify his/her actions any way possible-including rewriting history, lying or attacking you. In order to avoid feeling so guilty, the person who leaves often exaggerates any negatives in the relationship to help them feel better.

5. Give up trying to get the acknowledgment and apology that you deserve. You can't always get closure - you have to know when to cut your losses and just give up trying.

6. Turn your focus from the past to the future. It takes a conscious effort to stop ruminating on the past and start planning for your future.

7. Celebrate your new life as a single person. Life is long and there is always a chance for happiness if you look for it!

Vikki Stark, M.S.W. is a family therapist, educator and director of the Sedona Counselling Centre. She authored Runaway Husbands and My Sister, My Self.

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