Synopsis: Fresh approaches and powerful ways to survive a major breakup and go on to a full, thriving love life are introduced, along with some practical how-to’s and go-to’s.
From Hell to HeavenBreakups and their aftermath can be so incredibly painful, tragic, draining and disastrous but then, if you survive, such a helpful and good thing! Handled well, breakups can lead to love and life thriving better than ever before. There are three reasons I know this. The first reason is I survived more than my fair share of agonized breakups. The first one literally nearly killed me. After that, they were less and less bad as I moved up to better and better, and finally to my now 40+ years with Kathleen and being the best loved guy you will ever meet (see “Why Love Problems Hurt so Bad”).
The second reason I know you can go from relationship hell to heaven is that I have assisted several hundreds of people to survive and then thrive after breakups, divorces and other love loss situations, plus I have taught and supervised a fair number of other relational counselors and therapists to know how to do the same. That is part of the good news. There, however, is bad news.
It is a sad truth that not everyone survives a breakup even with good, breakup, recovery help. Breakups precede quite a few suicides, no small number of murders along with a much larger number of often injurious, unsuccessful attempts at each. Falling into or relapsing into addictions of one type or another, starting to have serious health problems, getting in trouble with the law, losing one’s job, dropping out of school and literally dying of a heart attack also are much more likely to occur in the aftermath of a love relationship breakup.
You do not have to do any of those things. The third reason tells us why. It has to do with what research tells us. Breakup recovery is getting better and better as we learn more about what breakup survival and recovery takes. That research tells us most people do survive breakups. This appears to be true for both real love and false love patterns of romantic relating. It often is tough going at first and it can be quite dangerous for both mental and physical health. But the research shows that even with severely agonizing breakups, if you get through the first 12 weeks of post-breakup suffering, you are very likely to get mostly okay enough in 20 weeks. Then with more good therapeutic work, you can get to where you are living and loving happily within a year or two of even the severest breakup.
These time periods can be shortened. I once was part of a in-house, psychiatric hospital, pilot, research effort investigating patient recovery from serious suicide attempts after romantic breakups. This involved even patients suffering from severe IFD (see “False, Forms of Love: The Devastating IFD Syndrome”) and Limerance (see “False Forms of Love: Limerence and Its Alluring Lies”) -- false love syndromes which were thought to be especially difficult to recovery from. We found that with a healthy love, and self-love treatment focus, our less severe outpatients, as well as our more severe hospitalized (at first) patients, substantially recovered in about six weeks. They then all became quite glad they had not suicided. At a sister facility, somewhat similar patients receiving treatment for only depression required 12 to 30 weeks to approximate the same level of recovery.
First SurviveIn the aftermath of a severe breakup, the first thing to do is just stay alive. In about 12 to 16 weeks you will be very likely be glad you did. You probably can shorten that time estimate by quite a bit by engaging in certain therapeutic actions.
How to survive? Well, first know that you may have to lay around and then thrash around for a while in all sorts of terrible feeling emotions. For a time, it is kind of like suffering a prolonged hangover with a bad, full body sunburn, while being repeatedly water boarded and bitten by a vicious pit bull. Later there often is rage which can sort of help with depression. Catharsis (getting it out of your system) can help so long as you do not harm anyone or anything important including yourself. Using a punching bag, chopping wood, stomping around cussing the cosmos, breaking up cheap stuff, etc. all are ways to get some needed exercise and emotion releasing relief. My favorite is to go outside and for 20 minutes throw ice cubes at a brick wall or at a chalk outline on the driveway of whoever you want to hate for a while. Ice shatters nicely and cleans itself up. Know that too much inactivity is not your friend but a lot of sleep may be for a while.
At some point, you have to start forcing yourself out into the world briefly doing ordinary stuff. Then lengthen the time doing that. It will not feel good at first but rather kind of dead like. Then there will come maybe only a 10 second bit of mildly positive emotion where you may grin or even smile. Keep going and 10 second events will stretch to 30 seconds and maybe even contain some laughter. Eventually you will get to feel positive for 10 minutes and then, at long last, 10 hours or more. Downtimes will likely get shorter and shorter, and further and further apart but when they happen you may be pretty far down for a bit. Uptimes will get longer, and higher and higher in an erratic pattern. You can help that along by listening to upbeat music, going to see funny or exciting movies and doing all activities that distract you and that are not dangerous or downers emotionally. Being around people and pets who care about you, and then forcing yourself to briefly start doing new things and meeting new people, all slowly will make your recovery a reality. Avoiding doing these things will just make it all take longer (see “Heartbreak Mending and the Deep, Multi-Love Remedy”). Of course, everyone is different so just use this as a guide to an average recovery but one to aim for.
Eventually, you will get to new romance if you want to. New romance is dangerous but usually not as much as the old romance. That also is true for new and past sex partner involvement. I usually recommend working at a new “romance light – playing the field” approach at first. To do that, work toward including at least two, maybe three, no more than five mild, romantic involvements. Be open and honest with them all about the existence of the others. Then weed out the ones who will not or can not handle sharing you. Suspect they probably would turn out to be insufficiently self loving, be too possessive and too insecure. In this way, you let the best ones rise from the pack and you do not let yourself settle for less, while also going more slowly, safely and constructively forward.
Get Busy but Not FranticDiving into work, school, projects, voluntary efforts or anything helpful to others, productive and highly distracting is part of the cure for many. If you compulsively think often and hurtfully about your ex, the past and what went wrong, consider doing it this way. Suspect that a part of your subconscious is trying to tell you that you have more to learn from that expired relationship than you have so far. So, plan and schedule an hour or so to concentrate on that every day for a while. During that time, do concentrated study, especially focusing on ideas of what to do new, better and different in a next relationship. Also look at your other relationships going back to the ones you had when you are a child. Look for patterns. Study to see if your most recent romantic involvements show a pattern of each one being better than the last. If so, that is a very good sign. If they all are about the same or getting worse, radical change may be in order and a good love knowledgeable therapist can help.
Plan the ending time for that concentrated study and plan what you are going to definitely do right afterwards. Keep notes or a journal. Consider pretending to talk to your broken heart as if it was another person and ask it questions. Then pretend to be your broken heart giving you the answers which you can make up even if they’re silly. Very likely, some of them will be surprisingly fresh and spot on. Gamble on the idea that your subconscious can tell you good answers your conscious does not yet know. When the hour ends, get up and actively go do more of your regular or new life. Get and stay busy enough to be distracted from thinking about your old life and relationship. Gamble on the idea that your subconscious will let you alone after you have learned enough from the old relationship.
On to Life and Love ThrivingAt some point along your path of surviving, you also can start toward thriving. Thriving means doing really well and living and loving enriched, fulfilled and in profoundly satisfying ways that include lots of healthy, real love. Remember, a lot of others have suffered through the same sort of things you are going through and then they have gone on to thriving so you probably can do this too. There is a lot of wisdom in the idea that if you can survive you can thrive. Gamble on that idea.
Grow Your Use of Love SourcesWith healthy self-love you can be your own source of healing, strength and even joyous love. Decide you definitely are important enough to yourself to learn and practice lots of healthy self-love (see “Self-Love and Its Five Healthy Functions” and “From Self-Love to Other Love and Back Again”). Gamble on the idea that the better you love yourself the better others will also. Spiritual love also has been known to do wonders for people of all faiths, and even those of no faith who attempt to tap into it as an unknown source or one they do not believe in but are willing to experiment with. Link “Spirituality and Love Great and Grand”
Of course, love from okay others is highly desirable. I often have gotten good results by suggesting to those who are alone, isolated and lonely, to start with a loving pet. Then go around new people (see “A Dozen Kinds of Love to Have in Your Life”).
If you do not have okay others in your life, friends, family and the like, gamble on the idea there are okay others searching for you right now. Your job is to make it easy for them to find you and you to find them. Yes, you could get hurt or hurt again but with lots of healthy self-love, pet love, maybe some new friend love, plus powerful new love knowledge you likely will not hurt nearly as much, as long, or as deep as before (see “Living Well via Loving Well”).
Keep carefully adventuring forward in love and love relationships as you grow your love skills, and great and good things can happen. Remember – Do only old actions, you’ll get only old results. Do not much, and probably get not much.
To Break All Ties or Not?Love breakups, especially those involving false love syndromes, distort nature in ways that are similar to substance addictions. This happens neurochemically in your brain. Every time you re-encounter an addictive substance, or trigger, you are in danger of restarting a brain-made addiction process. That can lead you back into a bad relationship or just cause you a lot of fresh hurt. Safest is to not have anything to do with the ex lover for at least two years. That is not at all possible in lots of life situations like if you work together or share children. Try practicing a few coping tricks to help you get through times of temptation and re-triggered suffering. Here’s one.
Think of 3 to 5 of the worst experiences you ever had with your ex. Give each of those experiences a movie or book type title, and write those titles on a card you carry with you. Before each encounter with your ex, read the titles. With each title, ask yourself do you want to re-live another version of that experience again? Then after that encounter, reread each title, emphatically choosing not to put yourself through that again.
Afterward, do a really good job of loving yourself and, if possible, letting a special, dear other person or persons do the same with you. Pre-arrange for that. Then celebrate your escape.
Thriving usually happens as you learn and develop your love skills. So, how are your skills for loving life, yourself, your spiritual source, others, a super special other and the joy of living a fulfilled life. For thriving, learn about and develop each of those skill-sets further.
Positivity Feeds ThrivingThe results are in. Realistic positivity works better than anything else. Realistic positivity means (1.) With a spirited approach, planning and working to maximize the benefits, joys and other positives of any endeavor or situation while (2.) Taking in to account and planning how to’s for converting or surmounting the likely trials, tribulations, torments and other negatives of any endeavor or situation and (3.) With some adaptability, not surrendering, giving up or giving in easily. The old scout law had a phrase “and defeat does not down him”. Taken to heart, that phrase has made the difference between victory and defeat for many an old scout, including this one. It can for you too.
Positivity is not to be confused with being Pollyanna. The Pollyanna approach tends to ignore the negatives while positivity aims to embrace and convert or surmount them.
The newer field of positive psychology and, with it, the newer profession of Life Coaching are adding much to the older approaches of focusing mostly on either psychopathology or mere normalcy. With positivity, you can aim to go above normal in life and love. So, let me recommend the book Positivity by Dr. Barbara L Fredrickson who heads up the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology (PEP) laboratory at Chapel Hill’s University of North Carolina.
Are You Growing Your Lovability?This question has two meanings and we mean both of them. In the first meaning, Lovability works like magnetism, it attracts people to you. To be well loved, become more lovable. That was the Roman poet Ovid’s advice 2000 years ago. Assertively lovable people get more love. The assertive part comes from their strong, healthy self-love and the lovable part from their strong, healthy and well practiced love skills. Link “Becoming Well Loved and More Loved – Three Main Ways” This leads to the second meaning.
Lovability also means your ability to love. The more you do to learn and practice your ability to give, get, and receive healthy, real love the more you are likely to receive, get and give the same.
For all this and more, I recommend you read the book Lovability by Dr. Robert Holden, director of the love education effort known as The Lovability Program.
Going FurtherFor going further with all this, I suggest you consider, if you have not already, subscribing to automatically getting our totally free, mini-love-lessons every week and then, of course, studying them and applying everything you can to your life. You also might mention this site to others, talk over some of these ideas with them and, thus, help spread some much-needed, useful knowledge about love to our love-hungry world.
As always – Go and Grow with Love
Dr. J. Richard Cookerly
Quotable question: If you hope that someone will come along and wonderfully love you into a new and better life, could it be that that someone best might be - you?