COPING WITH A BREAK-UP
Successful intimate relationships take on added significance during college. It is no wonder then, that students find themselves consumed with pursuing, maintaining, ending, and recovering from the loss of romantic relationships. While each of these stages of relationships can be difficult and challenging, it is commonly when relationships end that students struggle the most.
Intense feelings: Relationship break-ups can create a sense of crisis and trigger a mixture of many feelings:
Relationship endings can also impact our daily lives and alter our abilities to function as we usually do. It’s common to experience loss of energy, lack of motivation or direction, inability to focus, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, and disruption or a sense of emptiness in typical routines and activities. Dealing with external events and continuing to perform ordinary tasks can become a struggle during this time. After a break up, it is common to feel emotionally overwhelmed and experience frequent, sometimes uncontrollable, emotional outbursts or become "numb" with little expression of feeling.
Unhealthy ways of coping: In an attempt to cope, we sometimes try to avoid our feelings. We react by obsessing or being preoccupied with our lost love, withdrawing from others and retreating into fantasy, immersing ourselves into other relationships or coursework, or trying to find a "fix"—using our addictions to numb the pain and escape the situation. These types of reactions and attempts to cope frequently create deeper despair.
Let yourself grieve. The best way to deal with the ending of a relationship is to let yourself grieve. A significant loss can generate many strong and important feelings, and although experiencing these feelings is often painful, frustrating, and unpleasant, it is in doing this that we begin to recover and let go.
Self-reflect: The grieving process we can be a time for self-reflection, a chance to focus on our own growth and development:
- What did you notice about yourself in the relationship?
- What is positive? What would you like to change?
- Were there patterns or issues that brought you into this relationship, and/or caused it to end.
Beyond examining yourself in the relationship, this can also be a time to re-learn what it is that you like and take pleasure in:
- What are your priorities and preferences in life?
- What were these before your relationship began?
- Who are you on your own and how do you want to live your life?
Talk with others. Sometimes it is helpful to talk these things through with others (i.e. family, friends, other support people, and professionals). Putting emotions into words helps to clarify our experience and assist us in constructing realistic goals or expectations. Seek out those that feel helpful to you and truly validate your experiences.
Recovery: Ideally, as you work through this process of recovery you will begin to make new choices for yourself and feel better. Loss "takes time" to heal from. However, if you let yourself grieve, acknowledge the loss, focus on learning from your experience, and spend your energy concentrating on yourself… with time you will find yourself "moving on". Whether this means you choose to remain single or enter into new romantic relationships, you will notice you feel differently than you did in the beginning and realize you are now doing things differently as well.