Thursday, 5 January 2012

What becomes of the broken hearted?

There aren't many people who haven't at some time experienced the heartache of a breakup. Whether it was the ending of that first young love, or separation after a long time together, the loss can be similar to the feelings we have when someone close to us dies. Today I spoke to Alex Dyke and Laura Ansell of BBC Radio Solent about broken hearts. (Recording coming soon.)

It is real
There is a direct link between the way we feel and our physical health. If you ever doubted how extreme this can be look up Takotsubo cardiomyopathy , sometimes known as 'broken heart syndrome'. The good news is that the strong link between our emotions and our physical being works well in reverse too. If you are feeling low for any reason, notice how much better you feel if you take some simple exercise, like a walk round the block, taking in deep breaths of fresh air. 

Why does it hurt so much?
The drive to have a life partner is very strong. Behind this drive is the need to know there is someone you  can trust to be there for you. Always. Without judgement. With love. And all you need to do in return is provide that same level of support, care and understanding. When a relationship breaks up, the focus shifts to the gap that's left: the loss of someone to turn to who's on your side. 

Doubts creep in, eating away at self-esteem - when you are already feeling low:
'I'm no longer attractive or he/ she wouldn't have left."
"It must be my fault, I'm not easy to live with."
"I'm not love-able."

Is there a way out of the heartache?
Though not everyone takes it. Sadly Nigel and I see people who are stuck and unable to move beyond the hurt. Sometimes we can help. Other times they remain fixed in their belief that their happiness is entirely dependent on the other person.

We tend to use the 5 stages of the bereavement cycle (Kubler-Ross) as an indicator of where people are and what steps they can take to move forward. People can get stuck at any of the first four stages before they move to acceptance.

Breakup is usually difficult for both parties. There are not many people who enjoy inflicting pain, especially not on someone they have cared for deeply. The 'unsuspecting; partner is prone to shock and disbelief that this can be happening. We have helped many couples work through this stage and helped them get on the same page of understanding about the demise of their relationship.  

Anger can be directed outwardly or inwardly. Initially anger is a useful emotion, providing the impetus to take action. Unfortunately it becomes destructive when allowed to stick. The way through this is to find out what is behind the anger and deal with that. I will be writing soon about 'What's behind the anger?'

Sometimes people find a half way point - an almost solution - that allows them to hang onto the past without properly dealing with it. People may negotiate to stay good friends. Or they may make a bargain with themselves that they will never experience this sort of hurt again. On the face of it this can be a good place to be. Unfortunately, it doesn't make a good basis for a future healthy and loving relationship. This stage is easily confused with people who have moved on and who are now able to look back on their past relationship, acknowledging what it gave them without bitterness or regret. We have helped couples be very clear about the boundaries they now need to have in place so they don't give each other mixed messages.

For some people this is more like sadness and is the beginning of acceptance that the relationship is over. It is often helped by the acknowledgement that what they are grieving for is 'the relationship that might have been'. It is no longer a real relationship. This is a time to explore internal resources. To list strengths and start to rebuild self esteem. 

Although the end stage and much more positive, there is still work to be done. This is a time to reflect on what's important in life and to refocus on the things you really want to achieve. It involves a long hard look at the lessons to be learnt from the relationship and an openness to change.
If you feel stuck and broken-hearted, the first step is to accept that you can - and must - be responsible for your own happiness. This might sound simple and under-estimate the depth of your current pain. Give us a call if you need help with this.

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