Even when we know it’s for the best and we’ve parted with the best of intentions, love can be a hard habit to break. Why is letting go of a lover and a friend so hard? Why do we have a tendency to pine for what was, just days ago, clearly a dead end road?
Research shows that while we can reason that the relationship needed to end, certain areas of our brain tend to hang on tightly to the bond that was shared. Helen Fisher of Rutgers University explains that being in love lights up the same areas in the brain associated with cocaine addiction. So while we may be able to rationalize that the relationship wasn’t good for us, a part of our brain can still associate a former lover with reward. Layer on top of that the reality our primal brain equates with community and connection with safety and it’s easy to see why we may second guess things.
So what can you do to tap into the rational reasons for holding your ground, when your primal brain is alarmed by the prospect of flying solo?
Gain some perspective (let’s call this the good, the bad and the ugly list):
Write down all of the things that worked well for you in the relationship. What made you feel supported? Did you discover new things about yourself? What aspects of the relationship brought out the best in you? What will you miss the most about the relationship?
And the bad and the ugly… When did you feel uncomfortable, unable to express your true self? When did you feel unappreciated? Were there any values and interests put on hold for the relationship? What prompted you to end the relationship?
Plan for Cravings
Letting go is a series of ups and downs. One of the kindest things you can do for yourself during a rough time is to allow yourself some space to grieve and process your feelings around the loss. By taking the time to acknowledge and feel the often challenging emotions that come with loss, we’re eventually able to let them go. Emotions often come in waves, so when you feel an emotion rising, know that it will eventually peak, then recede. Difficult emotions are temporary and they won’t hurt us unless we push them away (in which case they’ll fester, rearing their ugly head when least expected).
Equally important is realizing when you may be ruminating. If you’ve given yourself the time and space to express and process feelings, balance it out by engaging in activities that require focus and feel rewarding such as yoga, drawing, meditation or reading. I’ve found yoga to be particularly helpful during transition times as it encourages self-love and eases some of the tension that accompanies grief.
Admit that What You’re Going Through is Hard
One piece of craving comfort is a desire to get out of pain. There are ways to control your level of pain, one of which is admitting that it’s there. Literally saying out loud to yourself, “This is hard,” softens the stress response and painful feelings. You can also try repeating certain comforting phrases such as, “Even though things didn’t turn out the way I planned, I love myself and am grateful for…”
Notice When You’re Bargaining
The bargaining phase of a lost relationship may look like this: “If only I would have done things a little differently… If only I could have gotten her to understand…” It’s a phase where we want to go back and rewrite the story. It feels like clarity on how things would have worked out had you or your partner done things differently. Unfortunately, imagining a better scenario doesn’t always mean that you can re-enter the relationship and make things work.
Love the Moments of Freedom
Pursuing values and interests that were lost to the relationship can feel like freedom. Really take the time to reconnect with and love the pieces of you that got lost in the relationship. This is a simple and loving way to deepen your sense of self and a nourishing step towards deepening your resilience and strength.
Who is your ideal partner?
Write out the traits and qualities you’d like your next partner to have. How much time would you spend together? How emotionally open would your partner be? How would you like to express yourself in your next relationship?
Breaking up is rough for many reasons, especially when our brains are wired for connection. Sometimes getting back together after a short hiatus is helpful. Other times it’s just an attempt at escaping pain… that leads to more pain. If you’re having second thoughts, the kindest thing you can do for yourself is take your time deciding if a second try is worth your time or if you’d like to create some space for something more aligned with your desires. The support of a trusted coach or an objective friend can be helpful as you work through your feelings.
- The Breakup Diet
- Post Breakup: 5 Reasons Why Guys Return And How To Protect Yourself When They Do
- Breakup 2.0
- 7 Things To Do Immediately After A Breakup