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Breaking Up is Hard to do: How to Process a Breakup or Divorce

Losing a meaningful relationship can be one of the most difficult and complex losses to navigate through as a human. It can feel like they’ve passed away, yet they’re still alive, moving on without you. There’s a loss not only of the person and their presence in your life, but also the routines established, the companionship they provided, and in some cases a sense of security and identity. Even if you’re overall happier that the relationship has ended, there’s still an adjustment period to living a life without that person. The grieving process is multi-layered and full of a lot of the same emotions that would be present if someone had died. If you’ve ever experienced a traumatic breakup or divorce, you know that the journey of grief is not a straight line, and often you feel like you’re taking one step forward in your healing then ten steps back.

In this post, I’m going to give you a few important steps to move your mourning journey along to make sure you’re caring for yourself and not getting stuck in one of the many tasks of grief. The tasks I’m mentioning are Worden’s four tasks of grieving. William Worden is a grief researcher and has identified four tasks that one must accomplish to complete the mourning process. Most people have heard of the five stages of grief, but I prefer the tasks as they tend to approach the process less as a step by step approach and with more compassion. Worden’s first task is to accept the reality of the loss. This can be a difficult step regarding an unwanted breakup or divorce in particular. This first task is aided by a commitment to self-nourishing boundaries and respect for the wishes and boundaries of the other person. While tempting to reach out continually, ask for repeated closure, or stalk our ex via social media, all of these will slow your process of mourning and future acceptance. Convincing someone to be in a relationship with you that doesn’t want to be can dig the wound of rejection further. Accepting the reality of a relationship ending takes time. Some helpful questions for reflection can include: “What did I gain from this relationship?”, “What did I learn about myself?”, “What do I need to take note of for any potential relationships in the future?” Writing through these and talking through these kinds of questions helps your brain close the chapter on the lost relationship and process that it’s truly over. Establishing new rhythms for yourself and reconnecting to lost hobbies or friends can also help you accept and embrace the current reality and ground you further by giving you a sense of empowerment and control over your daily life.

Worden’s second task is to process the pain of the grief. The pain of loss isn’t just emotional, it’s also physical. Taking extra time for self-care is pivotal during the grieving process. Proper nutrition, getting sufficient sleep, and getting your body moving are all vital parts of taking care of ourselves in a hard time. It’s important to be extra gentle with yourself mentally during this time as well. If you’re noticing feelings of inadequacy, being unlovable, or unworthy pop up and linger during the grief, it might be helpful to talk through those with a therapist. Relationships ending can shed a light on unresolved inner wounds we have regarding our own self-evaluation. Relationship loss can also re-open past relationship wounds that never got fully resolved. If you find yourself sinking into a prolonged period of depression or anxiety, you also may want to reach out to a therapist to help you with the relationship loss. Many people, especially post-divorce, can struggle with feelings of failure. Marriage is often viewed like an accomplishment, and to have it end can have ripple effects into how you view every part of yourself. Notice your thoughts and ways of addressing yourself as you’re navigating this time. Think of yourself more like a small child and how you’d speak to that child in a time where he or she was scared and confused. This second step is also a great opportunity to step away from social media and turn towards your support system. Seeing your ex online can exaggerate the pain of the loss and sometimes prevent you from moving through it. I always recommend clients either block or limit their online and in-person interactions with their ex to not derail them from focusing on their own life. Instead, meet up with your trusted friends and let time with loved ones be a soothing balm for the pain. Relationships hurt to lose, no matter the situation, and our loved ones can provide a sense of safety for you to dive deeper into some of the more difficult emotions to handle on your own.

Having this support system to turn to helps with Worden’s third task of grief: adjusting to the world without the person you’ve lost. Spending time with others and reconnecting with yourself after a breakup are pivotal parts to adjusting to their absence. An important thing to remember for this stage is that loneliness and sadness are normal parts of life. You missing the person you’ve ended things with or wishing you could see them again are not inherent signs that you should be with that person. Feeling lonely and wanting romantic companionship are not indicators to pursue the person again or even rush into dating again necessarily. Part of the work of this third task is to accept these uncomfortable feelings as part of the journey of life. There’s nothing wrong with you if you feel these things and practicing child-like love and compassion for yourself also includes moments of fear and feeling alone. Meditating or seeking out company with others can help if these feelings get too big or feel unshakeable.

Finally, the fourth task is to find an enduring way to connect with the person you’ve lost while still embarking on in life. Now, these tasks are for someone who has died, so this step might not look exactly the same for a relationship loss. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend finding some way to keep contact with your ex, unless you practically need to for children or finances. Otherwise, going back to step one and reflecting on what the relationship taught you or what you’re grateful to be done with can help you carry important lessons with you from the lost relationship into any new ones you foster. This could also be a time where you reconnect spiritually or deepen your spiritual relationship as a way to find more clarity and seek out wisdom for what to do differently for the future.

Going through these tasks can take time and everyone’s journey looks different, but recovering from a breakup or divorce is possible. It might not feel truthful now, but you will love again. Maybe in different capacities or with different boundaries, but giving yourself the patience and compassion to navigate loss will keep you more receptive to love coming your way and you being brave enough to recognize and embrace it.

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