Time doesn't always heal.
Photo by NomadSoul1 on Freepik.com
"You're still my darling wife"
In my thirties I watched my friends Haley and Paul get divorced. They had a long but difficult marriage — their divorce wasn’t a surprise— but when Haley left, Paul refused to accept it.
He told everyone who would listen that Haley was coming back. This went on for years, well after it was clear she wasn’t. Haley eventually remarried and even after that, Paul refused to accept she was gone. They had kids together and at family events Paul would try to talk with Haley, calling her “darling” and reminiscing about the good times they’d had.
He complained to his now-adult children constantly, trying to find out what Haley was up to and talking about how much he wanted her back.
He stayed firmly stuck in the pain of losing his wife. Eventually his children got sick of it; they stopped visiting him altogether.
Paul is an extreme case. But staying stuck in heartbreak is not uncommon. We’ve been told that time heals, and to some extent it does, but only if we put in the work. Time alone does not heal. Humans are fully capable of staying in grief and heartbreak for years. Is that where you want to be?
“If the person broke your heart, either they and/or the relationship simply were not as amazing as you thought.” — Dr. Guy Winch
What stage of heartbreak are you in?
I’m guessing you’re reading this because you're heartbroken and want to stop hurting.
I was in your shoes a few years ago. One minute you think you’re fine and then some little memory pops into your head, a photo appears on Facebook, you drive past their favorite cafe… and it reminds you of how happy you once were.
Nothing is like the feeling of being in love and when it’s over we plunge into achingly painful withdrawal.
I haven’t forgotten how that feels. But I want to ask you — and this might sound like a strange question — are you ready to get over your ex?
I hear you. Stupid question. No-one wants to stay miserable and heartbroken, do they? Actually, a lot do. They say they want to forget their ex, stop feeling heartbroken, and move on but then they hold on tight to their pain and misery — sometimes for years.
Asking “Am I ready to get over my ex?” is the first step. Whether you’re ready to move on will depend on what stage you’re in.
The Withdrawal Stage
In the first 48 hours after a break up, your body is physically withdrawing from “love” hormones. Studies have shown that the brain in a breakup is similar to a drug addict in withdrawal. Heartbreak is a physical reaction and, yes, it actually hurts. The pain you’re feeling is real physical pain.
If you’re in this stage, you aren’t ready to move on. This is the time to just be kind to yourself. Get a friend to come stay with you. Take a day off work. Sleep all day. Weep loudly. Eat a whole block of chocolate! Whatever you need to do to get through those two days, do it.
Resist the temptation to contact them in this stage. You’ll just end up begging, arguing, crying, and getting messy. Give it 48 hours — set a timer if you need to. Don’t message them, just cut off contact and let yourself grieve. Let your brain re-stabilize.
The Make-or-Break Stage
Once you’re past the initial two days, you enter this stage. This is when you decide if you can work it out or need to move on. I know people who have successfully gotten back together, even after a year apart, but it is rare. Is there a realistic chance it can work out?
Ask yourself if the relationship is worth saving? Was it healthy? We often hold onto toxic relationships way too long because we’re “in love.”
When you’re in love it can be hard to think clearly about your situation. Getting a close friend or family member’s perspectives can be helpful. Talk to someone who knows the full situation.
If you want to make it work, what indications is your ex giving that they do too? Be honest with yourself: are they saying they want to try couple’s counseling, talk it through, make changes? You can’t save a relationship on your own.
If they’re telling you they want out, believe them.
The Rose-colored Memory Stage
It’s common a few months after a break up for people to get back with their ex for a short time. (Or just for one night!) This is because we tend to remember the good times more than the bad. All those lovely memories make us want to rush back into their arms — no matter how terrible it was in reality.
If you’re in this stage, consider whether you want to risk starting the process over. Are you opening yourself up to fresh heartbreak?
The Forever Broken Stage
Some people get locked into heartbreak. If you’re in this stage you feel like you’ll love your ex forever. No-one else will ever be as perfect. You lost your soul mate.
I’m so sorry. Whenever people tell me this, and there have been a few, I can only imagine how painful it must be. It must feel so out of your control. I want to tell you — and I know you might not believe me — it’s not out of your control. I hope, for your own sake, you’ll consider this idea.
You are in control of whether you heal or not. You can choose to say “I’m ready to let them go” and start the process of moving on.
Psychologist, Guy Winch says, “If the person broke your heart, either they and/or the relationship simply were not as amazing as you thought.”
Figure out which stage you’re in and then, when you’re ready, take the necessary steps towards healing. (Guy Winch’s Tedtalk is useful to watch too.)
Moving on isn’t easy, but the effort is worth it. Life can get better after heartbreak, I promise!