How to Survive Breakups and Divorce

Crystal Jackson

Rarely do we enter relationships thinking that we won’t make it. That would be an incredibly unhealthy way to approach it after all. It remains, however, a fact that not all of our relationships are meant to last. Sometimes, we’re just meant to learn the lessons and move on.

It sounds so simple said aloud, and yet it rarely is easy to achieve. It’s not even a linear process. We often find ourselves triggered, set back, and sent right back down the road to healing that we thought we’d already covered.

Healing comes in waves, and it can feel like we’re drowning in them. It won’t stay on our neat path or follow our carefully chosen timeline. No one can tell us how to go about healing the “right” way because there isn’t one right way. There’s just moving forward, one foot in front of the other, until we get to the other side.

To say it’s painful is a massive understatement. It’s excruciating. It’s further complicated by the fact that everyone around us wants us to hurry up and move on- not to ease our own pain but to remove their own discomfort.

In comes the unsolicited advice, the reminders of our worth, and the repeated assurances that we will not die alone (although who said anything about dying alone, right?). Cue lectures on self-improvement and pro tips on dating. Cue the heavy sighs that we are taking far too long to grieve. Get on with things now.

What’s often humorous (if your sense of humor is dark and a little twisted) is that the most advice comes from the people with the least experience. The people doling out advice on divorce have had no experience with it. The ones giving us dating pointers have been in one relationship after another since the dawn of man. The ones who tell us to get over it have never fallen in love so deeply that the word grief doesn’t even scratch the surface of the loss.

They’ve never been to this place. They can’t find it on a map. It’s not even a destination but a journey, a series of hills and valleys we’ll pass through to get somewhere else someday.

They think they have a sense of it from glancing at the terrain from afar. They have no idea. They want to chart the maps, but we’re out here trying to survive in terrain the likes of which they can only imagine.

We’re navigating only by feel. This feels good. This doesn’t. This doesn’t feel good, but we know in our hearts it’s what we need. We take one step and then another.

We learn to create new lives from the old ones, shaping something from the remnants of what came before. It’s strange alchemy, this transforming, and we put all of ourselves into it. We come out the other side something other. But sometimes it takes a while to get there.

While I can’t tell you how to get there, I can certainly tell you that you’re not alone. I can tell you that I’ve been there, too- wandering through the loss as if it had no end. Some days, I’m still there.

It’s an ongoing process of locating the hurt places in our past to heal them. It’s excavating shadows and letting go of ghosts. It’s coming to understand who we are and what we need in a way we’ve never even touched before. It’s returning to that touchpoint time and again to remind ourselves that we will not live in the past that’s gone but in the present that will lead to the future that we create.

But we’re not there yet, so I offer this one piece of advice on surviving breakups and divorce in hopes that you find some solace in knowing that you are not alone and that your healing, too, is coming.

Get a relationship sponsor.

Just like addicts are assigned a sponsor in recovery, we sometimes would benefit from having someone keep us accountable when recovering from a relationship. It is a great way to grieve the relationship, heal, and eventually move on without tripping ourselves up with those long walks down memory lane. We can move forward because we’ve got someone else who believes in us absolutely and who won’t judge us for feeling conflicted or missing someone who was bad for us.

I know that I went through a breakup where everyone around me hated my ex and wanted to bash him. While I didn’t disagree with any of their opinions, that wasn’t what I needed. I didn’t need to be judged for having moments when I missed him or stumbled upon a good memory.

That’s when I learned that I needed to cultivate the kind of support system who would listen to what I need and give me that, even if what they really wanted to do was rage about the person who broke my heart. A relationship sponsor could give us what we need and help us get back on track with a reality check without judging us for being human or having a tough day.

In fact, these are the essential components for identifying a relationship recovery sponsor:

  1. Must be non-judgmental (all feelings are totally acceptable)
  2. Must be willing to put aside their own feelings about the relationship and give us the requested type of support (vent and rage on your own time, darling)
  3. Must be capable of delivering advice, tissues, a hard reality check, and any other support on an as-needed basis (reality check one day, comforting hug the next)
  4. Must understand that grief is not linear and doesn’t follow any particular timeline (we might waffle back and forth, just be there)
  5. Must be patient with our nonsense (just one text, please)
  6. Must be trustworthy when it comes to handling sensitive information (if he/she was bad in bed, it all comes out now)
  7. Must be able to check us if we try to rewrite the past (no, he wasn’t Prince Charming at the start; let’s count the red flags…)
  8. Must be willing to confiscate electronic devices temporarily as needed (I promise this is the last text!)
  9. Must be willing and able to help us delete and block said ex from all social media accounts, as needed (often necessary to check our cyber-stalking tendencies)
  10. Must be willing to support us, even if we jump back into the relationship they’ve already admitted we dodged a bullet by leaving (hearts are capricious; we want what we want) and be ready to jump back in when said relationship inevitably falls apart again (they won’t say I told you so, and we’ll be grateful for their restraint).

I will happily sponsor any of my friends who go through a breakup. I will be the motivational life coach, unrelenting personal trainer, drinking buddy, or armchair therapist (not practicing actual therapy, of course)- depending on whatever is needed. I will rage or cry with them and take away their phone when the temptation to text becomes irresistible.

And I know that if I’m ever in that dark place again, there will be friends who will step up and do the same for me.

Recovering is hard. We need all the support we can get. If it takes assigning ourselves a sponsor to get through it, it may be the best thing we ever do to start the long, hard journey of healing.

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Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned writer. She is the author of the Heart of Madison series and a volume of poetry entitled My Words Are Whiskey. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, The Good Men Project, and Elephant Journal. When she's not writing, you can find her traveling, paddle boarding, cycling, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with one puppy and two wild and wonderful children. Crystal writes about relationships, mental health, parenting, social justice, and more. Never miss an update. Subscribe to emails:

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