Thursday 8 December 2016

Top tips for getting over your ex

Ammanda Major

Published 05/04/2016 | 12:42

Photograph of couple ripped in half
Photograph of couple ripped in half

Ending a relationship is tough. It can fill you with longing as you constantly ask yourself: "What if...?"

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It takes 11 weeks to feel the beneficial effects of a relationship split, according to research published in The Journal of Positive Psychology. However, a separate study found it takes 18 months to get over a marriage breakdown.

The reality is that no one person is the same. The amount of time it can take to get over an ex-partner will vary depending on factors including how long you were together, whether you had children, the experiences you shared, and whether you wanted it to end.

But while it is rarely easy, it is possible to move forward with your life, whether or not you instigated the break-up. It is important to remember that most of us have been in this situation and recognise the intense emotions.

It is natural to yearn for lost relationships. Being attached to someone else is a basic emotional need for most people. So, even though ending the relationship might have been the best thing that could have happened, we can still be left only remembering the good times and putting the not so happy memories to one side. It is funny how selective our memories can be at times like these.

Sometimes friends and family must remind us why we're better off without a former partner, although of course this can seem like an unhelpful intrusion at the time, especially when we don't really want to be reminded. In turn, family and friends sometimes get too involved. It's easy to understand why - nobody usually wants to see a much-loved family member hurt and upset, so trying to make everything sound like the best outcome is a natural way of dealing with things.

Broken heart
Broken heart

Grieve for your loss

The bottom line is that in order to get over a relationship, we have to first mourn its loss. Quite naturally, it can be tempting to try and move on as quickly as possible to new things. But trying to miss out on that period of sadness can mean we don't give ourselves a chance to process what has happened.

We may also be robbed of the chance to reflect on who did what and if there is anything we may need to change about ourselves so that future relationships have a better chance of survival.

Take stock

So take time to reflect, experience your feelings - and then do something for you. It may sound clichéd, but taking up a new hobby can work wonders for your mood and give you a new lease of life.

Rather than rushing straight into a new relationship and risking hurting yourself and your new partner, use the time to reconnect with friends who you may have lost touch with when you were coupled up. Visit family, focus on work or a project, or book a holiday if you have the money to spare. Even if you have nobody to go with, consider a group tour where you can meet other people and try new experiences.

Don't be afraid to ask for help

If it's you that's just said goodbye to someone, maybe you were thinking about doing so for a while. Quite often, although it might come as a shock to a partner, we've already been making sense of finishing the relationship before we actually do it.

Jennifer Aniston in The Break-Up movie
Jennifer Aniston in The Break-Up movie

This means we might be further down the line and even surprised when a partner finds it painfully hard to understand why it's ending, when it's been obvious to you for a long time that it needed to.

If you're the one that's been left, managing feelings of rejection, especially if you've been passed over for someone else, can feel devastating - especially if you didn't see it coming.

But if it's been made clear things are over and your partner isn't interested in seeing if there's a way forward together, then self-care is the order of the day. It's important that even in the midst of feeling angry, sad, rejected and unloved that you work out what your own needs are right now.

For some people, this might mean being clear about how any future communication with your ex-partner happens. Limiting exposure to your now ex-partner can sometimes help to limit the pain. It's also good to talk, so if you have trusted friends or family members, consider sharing what happened and how you feel, but try and be clear about the limits of what you want to say.

Often, getting over someone means dealing with all the practical paraphernalia that partnerships bring in their wake. Dealing with this can be such a painful reminder of what you've lost that we often put off sorting things out. Try getting a friend to help you think through and prioritise what needs to be done. If it's too difficult to engage with the ex then using an intermediary might be a good idea.

There's a reason why 'time heals' is a saying

For most of us, as time passes, we can start to heal painful feelings. This is important. If we can't heal then our negative feelings can wreak havoc in new relationships.

It's not uncommon for Relate counsellors to listen to couples talk about problems that have their beginnings in how a former relationship ended.

Not surprisingly, the first year following a break-up is often the hardest. Birthdays, anniversaries and special days can provide a fairly constant reminder of what's gone, even if you were the one to make the decision to split.

Perhaps the most important thing is learning from what happened. Take what's yours and leave the rest. This means not accepting blame from a partner that you are the one who was solely responsible for things not working out.

Unless you were in an abusive relationship, the fact is that both you and your partner probably contributed to the downfall of your partnership. Taking time to work out what you could have done differently is likely to be helpful for the future but constant recriminations to your ex or to yourself will only drag you down and make getting over what's happened even harder.

Jim Carey and Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
Jim Carey and Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

I would say, though, as a rule of thumb that if it's affecting your ability to enjoy life and nothing seems to be improving, then talking to somebody objective such as a Relate counsellor can be really beneficial.

TAKE COMFORT IN YOUR ABILITY TO LOVE

So, in essence, trying to escape from painful feelings by throwing yourself into another relationship or just glossing over how sad you feel isn't going to help.

If we think about it, the great sadness about losing someone you've loved means that we were human enough to love deeply, so in many ways, although terribly painful, great sadness about the loss of a relationship is testament to how much we're capable of loving someone.

Knowing we have the capacity to do that means we're usually well placed to find new loves and relationships.

Ammanda Major is a Senior Consultant on Sex Therapy at Relate and also writes the charity's regular agony aunt column, Ask Ammanda. Relate's website contains further advice on getting over a break-up and they also offer a free live chat with a trained counsellor.

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