Just about every week we get a question here on the depression site from someone who is going through a break up. Most of us can empathize because you usually don't get through life without experiencing the loss of at least one romantic relationship. In a lot of cases depression can play a part in a break up. Sometimes the person who ends the relationship is depressed. In other cases both partners suffer from depression. And in most cases heartbreak and depression follow a break up. The questions people have after their partner has told them it is over include: "Should I wait for him?" or "If her depression is cured will she come back to love me again?" For those who finally accept the break up the question becomes "How do I cope with the pain?" In this post we are going to focus on the healing process following a break up, how to deal with grief and move forward.
For all the broken hearted people out there, I have a message for you. You are not alone and you can heal from this.
My personal experience
I was fifteen. He was sixteen. We met on the stairs of my high school. It was cold. He gave his jacket to me to keep warm. This began our relationship which lasted over seven years. We were going to get married. I even had an engagement ring. But I couldn't go through with it. He was emotionally and psychologically abusive and the abuse was beginning to get physical. He was also addicted to drugs. I looked into the future and wept. The good times we shared and even the love could not make up for the way he treated me. One can only hope so many times that love will change things. I found out the hard way that in some relationships love is not enough.
Despite the fact that I was the one to end things my heart was still broken. I think it was when I went to our apartment to collect my things that the finality of it really sunk in. He had already gone and taken his stuff and the place was so quiet. I sat in a heap on the floor and cried. I was alone. There was no more "us." It was like falling into a gaping hole of nothingness. I remember calling my eldest sister who had been through her share of break-ups. I asked her, "Why does this hurt so bad? I am the one who ended things." She then relayed her experience of leaving an abusive partner. My sister confessed that she cried every night for months following her break-up. He was no good for her either but she still mourned the loss just the same. The heart is not logical. It just feels.
I can tell you that it took a lot of time to heal from my break up. It didn't happen overnight and there was a lot of anguish in between. You will grieve. You may become depressed. But you also learn. You learn to trust in your strength and resilience to get through one of life's greatest challenges, the loss of love.
Tips on how to cope after a break up
- Know that you are still loveable, likeable, and worthy despite your break up.
After the end of a relationship you may feel like it is the end of the world and that nobody will ever love you again. This is depression talking and telling you lies. You are no less worthy of love just because your relationship has ended.
- Accept that it is over.
This is probably the hardest part of a break up. You may feel ambivalence and uncertainty that the relationship has truly ended. Many of you write in to ask, "Should I wait?" or "Should I keep contact going?" There are no easy answers to these questions but there are repercussions for ambivalent behavior. Lingering, waiting, and hoping someone will change usually does not work out. False hope is the worst kind of hope. The time you keep investing in a broken relationship is wasted time. In this case you are not healing but prolonging the agony. A clean break is best for your mental health.
- Stop romanticizing the relationship.
Sometimes after a break up an interesting phenomenon occurs. You put on rose colored glasses and suddenly your memories are full of all the good times. You wonder how your relationship could have ended with all these wonderful memories of love and happiness. But what you need to do is to take a look at your relationship from a realistic point of view. There were problems. He or she wasn't perfect and neither were you. There may have been fatal flaws in your relationship which could not be resolved. If you want a realistic perspective ask your friends and family for their opinion. Your true friends and family who care for you will tell you the truth. It may open your eyes to find that both family and friends did not see this relationship working out.
- Sometimes love and hard work is not enough to save a relationship.
In our society we are led to believe that if we just work at something hard enough that we will succeed. We also believe in the myth that love trumps all. These beliefs are the fodder for many a romantic movie or love poem but are they really valid in the real world? In some cases one partner's self destruction or inability to grow and change cannot be overcome. As much as we may love someone, we cannot save them, fix them, or change them. Furthermore, this is not our role. You may have done your best. You may have gone to couple's counseling. You may have compromised and sacrificed to save the relationship. But sometimes despite our great attempts to work things out, the relationship just isn't meant to be. This is probably one of the most difficult of life lessons to learn. Sometimes a break up will also cause you to grieve over the loss of what you wanted to believe.
- You never lose love.
Okay so this relationship did not work out. You may feel as though you have lost love. Yet in many ways it is impossible to lose love. If you felt love in the relationship then what you felt or still feel is real. This love that you have inside of you doesn't go away because of a break up. You still have love but now you can give it to others including yourself. The human side to you that is able to give and receive love doesn't die due to a broken relationship.
- Lean on friends and family.
You are going to need support after a break up. You should not go through this alone. You may wish to isolate and sometimes you will definitely need alone time. But don't allow the isolation to take over to the extent that it is detrimental to your mental health. Allow your friends and family to help you even if it is to distract you momentarily from your pain. Most people understand how hard break ups can be. Someone who has gone through this can help you to recover and heal.
Sometimes the happy ending you had hoped for doesn't happen in your relationship. But this doesn't mean that you can't ever be happy again. We humans have an amazing emotional resilience to survive and even grow after loss.
If you are going through a break up right now, know that our thoughts are with you. Please don't hesitate to share your story here where others can lend a compassionate ear. We are here to listen and support you no matter what you are going through.
For more information about mental health and relationships please refer to the following Health Central articles and resources:
Schizophrenia and Divorce (Member question and response)