Few things in life are more painful than dealing with the loss of a love. Whether that loss came through death, divorce, or “just” a breakup, the searing pain of a broken heart can take down even the strongest person.
Heartbreak is the ultimate equalizer.
When you’re the one who’s crumpled on the floor sobbing your guts out, though, you don’t care about that. All you know is pain. All you can think about is your loss.
A Long Time Ago
Years ago, when I was a young law student, I was in love with the most charming, handsome, and fascinating guy in our class. (At least, he was all of those things to me.)
We were together for over two years.
Then he cheated on me.
Actually, he cheated on me way before we’d been together for years. He cheated on me almost right from the start.
I knew it.
But I didn’t want to know it.
So I pretended I didn’t know it. After all, I had no “proof.” Isn’t that what you need before you convict someone? Proof?
The only proof I had was the tiny voice inside of me that insisted on sharing a truth I couldn’t bear to admit. So I didn’t.
Eventually, the cheating stopped … until it didn’t.
Only by that time, I was stronger.
I loved that man more than I’d ever loved anyone in my life. But I couldn’t stay with him when he treated me worse than yesterday’s garbage. So I did what I never thought I would be able to do.
That’s when I learned what real pain was all about.
But, There’s More …
For weeks, I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I cried. All. The. Time.
I felt like I had just wasted two years of my life.
I thought I was going to die. I honestly felt like my heart was going to shatter into shards of ice. With no heart left, I thought my body was just going to stop.
I managed to go to class. I did what I had to do. But anything that didn’t absolutely have to get done, didn’t get done.
Then, as I was walking home from class one night, I found myself wondering what it would be like if I just walked out into the traffic that was whizzing along on the road beside me. Would the drivers be able to stop? What if they couldn’t? Would I die? Or would I just be a crippled mess for the rest of my life?
Wait! What was I thinking?!!!
The realization that I had just been calmly contemplating waltzing out into moving traffic shocked me in a way that nothing else had ever done before. That shock woke me up. It brought me back.
I started to heal.
That’s not to say that everything was sunshine and kittens from that moment forward. I still had rough days. I still cried.
But, every day I cried a little less. I laughed a little more. Bit by bit, I re-assembled the pieces of my life into something amazing and new.
Still, it wasn’t easy.
So, How Do You Heal a Broken Heart?
Going through any breakup sucks. Going through a divorce sucks even more.
Not only have you lost your lover, your friend, and your partner, but you’ve lost your financial security and your social circle. You’ve lost your very identity. Plus you hurt your kids.
When you’ve lost so much, it’s hard to imagine that you can ever really live again. As for being happy … well, that’s completely unthinkable!
Yet people do exactly that every single day. Whether you believe it right now or not, someday, you will too.
Healing starts by allowing yourself to grieve.
The Five Stages of Grief
In her pioneering work with the dying, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages of grief that everyone experiences when someone dies. Those stages also apply to any kind of major loss, including divorce.
The five stages of grief are:
Denial – (No! It’s not over! We can fix this! Just work with me!)
Anger – (F@*# you! I don’t need you!)
Bargaining – (Please come back! If you come back, I’ll be better! I’ll change!)
Depression – (I will never love anyone again, ever. Life sucks.)
Acceptance – (This relationship is over, and that’s okay. I’m going to be okay.)
Unfortunately, while knowing these five stages of grief is helpful, that doesn’t make getting through them any easier. In fact, living through grief is horrible. It’s painful. It sucks the life out of you day after day.
That’s why so many of us try to avoid grief. We pretend we’re okay. Or, we distract ourselves with work, food, alcohol, or anything else we can find to numb the pain.
But until you let yourself feel the pain, you can’t get over the pain.
Like it or not, you’ve got to work through all the stages of grief before you can have any hope of getting over it. That means that, for a while at least, you’ve just got to live with a life that sucks.
Embracing the Suck
We live in a world where instant gratification is only one click away. We can do and have what we want, when we want it, and usually as often as we want it.
We’re not used to having to wait. We’re not used to having to wade through the muck and messiness that comes with a broken heart and a fractured life.
But you can’t rush through heartbreak like it’s just another item on your “To Do” list. (Finished with heartbreak? Check. Ready to move on? Check.)
You’ve got to live the heartbreak. You’ve got to give in to the pain and let yourself experience it. Once you do, then, and only then, can you start to let it go.
Easing the Pain of Heartbreak
While much of your healing happens over time, here are three things you can do that will help you deal with your heartbreak faster.
1. Establish a “No Contact” rule.
Not seeing your ex every day will give you the space to grieve without being constantly reminded that your relationship is over.
Of course, to do that, you’ve got to be strong enough to tell your ex that you only want to communicate when it’s absolutely necessary (like when you need to talk about the kids). You’ve also got to be strong enough to resist the urge to break your own rule whenever you’re feeling down.
For example, if you need a sitter for the kids on Friday night, the only question you need to ask is “Can you take the kids on Friday night?” Asking, “What are you doing on Friday night because the kids need a sitter,” is NOT the same question!
2. Re-Discover You!
Every relationship involves some amount of compromise. That means that you probably stopped doing certain things you liked doing because your ex hated doing them. Or maybe you started doing things you really didn’t enjoy just because your ex liked them.
Now you can change all that.
Take some time to re-discover what really makes you happy. Maybe you liked to read, or watch drippy movies, or hang out in coffee shops on Sunday morning. Do those things now! If you don’t know what makes you happy, try thinking back to when you were a kid. What made you happy then? Do those things again. It doesn’t matter that you feel a little silly sitting on a swing next to a five year old. If swinging makes you happy, then swing away!
Exercise is the cheapest drug on the planet.
When you move, your body releases endorphins, powerful “feel good” chemicals. Those natural chemicals can help lift you up when you’re feeling down. (Plus, as you start to get in better shape, your self-esteem will get a boost, too!)
Exercise will also help you sleep better. It will help you clear your mind (even if only for a while). It will also help you fill your time. So, instead of turning every night into a sob-fest, you can spend a couple hours at the gym first. Then you can go home and have your sob-fest later.
How Do You Know When Enough is Enough?
While giving yourself time to grieve is important, there is such a thing as grieving too much. The last thing you want is to get attached to your grief. (Yes. It happens – probably more often than you think!)
If you become too attached to your grief, or to your anger, or sorrow, you get stuck in it. That’s not where you want to be. That is not the place from which you can rebuild a life that you love.
You want grief to be like a thunderstorm in your life. It should come in and do its thing for a while. Then, it should leave. (With luck it may even leave a rainbow in its wake!) But, if it’s been raining in your life so long that you need an ark, your grief has gone on too long.
Of course, knowing when you’ve crossed from temporary grief into more a permanent “stuck” misery is hard. Everyone goes through grief at their own pace. Rushing only prolongs the process. So knowing when your grief is becoming pathological can be hard.
It’s not as if there is some kind of magical stop watch that rings when your time to grieve is over. You’ve got to be the judge of your own recovery process.
Even still, there are ways to judge whether you’ve gotten stuck in your grief.
For example, if you measure the time since your breakup in years rather than months, it may be time for you to get help to get over your loss. If your friends have stopped asking you out because they can’t bear to hear your breakup stories yet one more time, that’s also a sign that it may be time to move on.
Letting Go and Moving On
Letting go of a relationship or a marriage, especially one that took years, or decades, of your life, is hard. No matter what you do, you’re going to experience pain.
But if you face that pain, embrace that pain, then allow yourself to let go of that pain, you will heal.
Give yourself time. Give yourself permission to be a little selfish and self-absorbed for a while. All of that is okay.
If you need help along the way, get it. Better to get the help you need than to stay stuck in a life you hate.
Finally, do your best to focus on the future and let go of your past. Take it one day at a time. Eventually, you will heal your broken heart.