Breaking up is hard to do. How many times have you crooned to this 1962 Neil Sedaka song, crouched up on your bed in a darkened room with only your broken heart for company? It sounds almost cruel to say it, but there’s a good chance that you’ll do it again. “We now live in a world where, rather than having one lifetime relationship, we are likely to have at least five serious partnerships,” says Susan Quilliam, a UK-based relationships expert. This, she adds, can mean four serious and impactful breakups. Yet, not many of us equipped to deal with the separation, often spiralling into a state of self-criticism, hatred for the other person and mankind in general.
While no one has yet been able to teach us how to fall in love the right way -though Swiss-British writer and philosopher Alain de Botton and American counselling psychologist Dr Christine Meinecke have surmised how we can ensure that the person we end up with fulfils most of our emotional needs (Mumbai Mirror, Nov 13, 2014) -there is help at hand concerning how to move on after a break-up. Quilliam is a faculty member at London’s The School of Life and recently designed a course, How To Move On. We may not be able to bring the course to Mumbai’s broken hearted, but we did get Quilliam to share a few lessons:
Treat it like a bereavement
When someone close to you passes away, it is expected of you to be upset for a certain period. But, when a relationship ends, friends and family tell you to forget and move on. However, Quilliam says, breakups, especially significant relationships, should be treated as bereavement and you need to move through different stages in order to fully recover.
“In the class, we present a process which begins with allowing oneself to express emotion -grief, anger, anxiety -and then involves rethinking the relationship, learning lessons from it and allowing oneself to slowly focus on the future,” she adds.
Don’t suppress emotions
The first and most important thing, says Quilliam, is to balance staying sufficiently in control of your emotions. By this, she means, you should be able to get through the practicalities of the first difficult days, without repressing emotion which can be harmful to both, physical and mental health.
Three months of separation
Moving on also requires practical changes in your day-to-day life, especially if it’s someone you have been living with or dating for a while.
Quilliam says it’s best not to see the ex-partner for a while, “because otherwise your body responds as if you are continu ously feeding your addiction”.
“By cutting off completely for a short period -I usually sug gest three months -you give your physical and emotional reactions time to settle, and your body, mind and heart time to get used to the fact that the relationship is over.”
Part of the course involves self-intro spection. Nothing makes you more self-critical than a relationship that ended badly.
Among other things, the course, says Quilliam, puts the issue of a partnership ending in a cultural and historical perspective, so people understand why breaking up is harder than ever before.”We give participants the opportunity to reflect on their own situation, to get insights and to plan for personal change,” she adds.
When faced with anxiety over what went wrong or who is to blame, Quilliam says there are three things worth asking yourself: why did I choose this partner in the first place and what can I learn from that? What went wrong with our relationship and what can I learn from that? Who am I now that is different from the person who first entered the relation ship and what does that mean for my future life?
Jumping into another relationship
Nothing heals a broken heart, like another relationship, right? For those who subscribe to the rebound theory of moving on, Quilliam says, it’s not a good idea. “You need to be emotional ly disengaged -neither loving nor hating your ex any more.You need to have learnt the les sons from your past relationship.
You need to feel confident about yourself and your future. There is no ideal time frame between relationships, but one estimate for recovering is six months plus one month for every year you’ve been together,” she suggests.
Understand how your past affects you
Qulliam says, every life stage we encounter, including breakups, has an impact on us. “The way we respond is always down to what happened in our life up to then.We may have had earlier experiences which influence our response…our essential personality also affects us. And then the situation of the breakup itself and how traumatic it was will play a part, as well as how hopeful we are about finding a new relationship in future,” she says, adding, “What many class participants find particularly interesting is how their earlier life experiences are affecting the way they are handling the breakup -understanding this is always very useful,” she adds.
Knowing you have moved on
“You are through a breakup when you can start to see the good things that have come out of the relationship as well as feeling sufficiently positive about yourself and others to at least consider forming a new partnership, whether you do that or not,” adds Quilliam.