Getting over a relationship can be difficult, especially when the end of the relationship was not your choice. Feelings of grief may consume you as you go through stages of shock, denial, bargaining, anger and deep sadness. You desperately try to make sense of the loss which may stretch painfully to the loss of your partner’s friends and family. Places you frequently visited together, have now become a ‘no go’ zone and suddenly life looks very different to the one you imagined you were going to be living with your ex.
During the days, weeks and months following the end of a relationship it is normal to go through a roller-coaster of emotions, to spend hours crying or going over the details of your break-up time and time again as you try to make sense of your loss. The pain consumes you as you face the future with a broken heart.
However, what happens if you get stuck in that dark, hopeless place, and feel that you will never find happiness again? What happens when a year down the line you are still thinking about your partner every single day? Or you are still staring at their photo and the loss is still so acute it takes your breath away at the mere mention of their name? What happens when your life has frozen in time and your heart still feels as if it is in a million tiny pieces?
In the event of a death, grief becomes complex or complicated when a person continues to struggle months or years after their loss. Grief following the end of the relationship is no different. If after 6 months of a break-up you are still unable to function, if you have not moved on at all, if the pain still consumes you and stops you functioning fully on a day-to-day basis, you have become stuck and you may need help from a professional to guide you with the healing process.
One of the aspects that may play a part in this stuck feeling is rumination. As you nurse your broken heart, are you thinking about your ex-partner constantly, idealising him or her and the times you had together? Do you spend hours imagining what he or she may be doing now, how your life could have been if only they had stayed? If you do, you need to stop!
We know through research that the brain does not know the difference between what is real and what is imagined. When we have good times and activate the reward system in the brain the chemical ‘dopamine’ increases. This is the chemical that tells you to ‘pay attention, it tells you that something is about to feel good and that you are about to be rewarded’. It is the same chemical that drives addictions, it is the ‘wanting’ chemical in our brains. Because your ex-partner is no longer around to provide that quick dopamine ‘fix’, you now spend hours thinking about him or her to get that ‘buzz’ of excitement and hope. The very act of thinking through all the good times keeps you hooked! and like any addiction, you have to break the cycle, you have to learn to get your ‘fix’ elsewhere.
Change the Playlist
So, what can you do to heal your broken heart? Well, the first thing you can do is balance it up. In your mind you have a playlist of all the wonderful things about your partner that you play on repeat… well, now is the time to mix it up. You need to make another playlist, that includes all the ways in which your partner was not right for you. After all, if they were right for you, you would still be together (sad but true).
When you access the ‘my perfect relationship’ playlist and play ‘the wonderful meal we had together’ tune, you need to balance it with ‘the big argument we had in Paris that time’ track. Bring your memories into reality!
Make your alternative ‘the relationship was not right for me’ playlist tangible. Create a list on your phone and every time you drift off into those idealistic thoughts where you put your ex-partner and your relationship on to pedestal, take out your phone and read your list. Remind yourself that the idealistic thoughts are just that, thoughts… they are not based in reality, your relationship was not perfect. Your mind is playing tricks on you, your mind feels deprived and is searching for its ‘fix’. Do not feed it!
Now, back to the dopamine…. Every time you think of your ex-partner you are strengthening a neural pathway that will only end in tears. It’s time to make new neural pathways, new connections and get your dopamine fix from elsewhere. This may mean making arrangements to hang out with friends, it may mean a night at the cinema with your sister or it may mean a spin class at the gym. Start planning a new life, do things for you, start making your new road to happiness stronger and stronger.
Then, one day you will wake up in the morning and you will happily get on with your day. And there will come a time when you suddenly realise that your ex-partner was not the first person you thought of that day. In that moment you will realise, that your heart is finally on the mend and you are well and truly on the road to recovery.