If you are reading this and have recently gone through a break-up - I am so sorry. Even when something ends after a short time I always feel like I got kicked in the face. It's totally normal that this separation is gut-wrenching and some of the deepest pain I have felt in my own life. I wanted to write this short piece (and do a podcast) on break-ups because I really think the experience is so common, and yet, like the common cold it feels like there is no REAL cure.
Of course, it takes time, but here are some narrative techniques I have used myself to get over the pain of a break-up.
1. What Stories Are You Telling Yourself About the Break-Up?
When something ends (whether we made the decision to cut it off or we are on the receiving end), there is a story to back it up. You might have ended it because they treated you like shit, or maybe they were too unavailable. If they ended it, you might think they didn’t find you attractive, or maybe you made some mistake that you think ruined it. Or maybe you are analyzing all the reasons that they didn’t choose YOU.
Whatever the circumstances, think of the stories behind the break-up. What reasons are you giving to your friends and family about the end? Are they true? Are they the whole picture?
2. What Stories Are You Telling Yourself About Yourself?
This step is even more important than the last. What stories are you telling yourself about yourself? Recognize your feelings related to the stories you are telling. Do these stories say that you are unlovable, that you failed, that you didn’t try hard enough, or that you weren’t good enough? When I was going through the early stages of the divorce I really had to fight against the story that I was ruining my family or that my children would be permanently scarred. These were stories that implicated me and were making me feel even worse about a decision that had to be made.
We can be our own worst enemies, telling the most negative versions of the stories and about ourselves, especially when a break-up uncovers deeper shames, guilt, and even childhood feelings of disconnect and unworthiness.
3. What Are You Missing and What Story is Being Left Out?
I want you to challenge some of these narratives about the break-up and about yourself. Yes, we want to ask whether it is true (and usually there is no evidence to back up our negativity bias), but more, we want to uncover some of the missed storylines. What does the break-up say about your strengths? What does it say about your values? Did you leave someone because their life or choices didn’t align with your values? What values were at stake at the end of the relationship?
When I decided to leave my marriage, it wasn’t just about some selfish decision. It was a painful feeling I had for years that I knew I had to resolve. I valued my independence, yes, but I also valued being treated well, feeling safe and secure, and holding onto the belief that I deserved to be happy. I also know that in the end my partner and I did not share the same values. I had to break-down stories about what a divorce is, what the experience will be for my children, and the cultural messaging I felt around being a single mother. Now I can see my own strengths, empowerment, and the reality that I was actually doing the best thing possible for myself and my children.
4. Restory Your Break-up! Rewrite the Ending and Your New Beginning
Your version of the break-up does not have to be, “My marriage failed,” it can be, “We had a great relationship until we grew apart, and now we are moving on with our lives.” Instead of, “I’m not good enough for him,” another version is, “He didn’t value me and it wouldn’t have worked out anyway.” It’s not about changing facts, it’s about seeing the events from a different perspective. Think about the positive things you learned from the relationship. What will you bring from this relationship going forward? What might you do differently? What might you do the same? Are there new qualities you will look for in your next partner and are there ways that you can make more empowering choices for yourself?
When we are talking about narratives- it’s not just making up a new story, it’s about challenging the one that already exists and looking for alternative truths. So, the work is really about looking at your relationship and it’s ending from a different angle- what aspects of the story are missing, what has been forgotten? What positive elements are being overshadowed by a negativity bias and a sense of loss?
As someone who has gone through a lot of break-ups and divorce, I really believe that this deep pain is also an opportunity to see where we need to work on our sense of self, rebuild our storylines so that we can move forward with optimism and hope. After my divorce, I was really able to see my own strengths and the ability to make the best choices for myself, regardless of external perceptions or cultural pressures. I also was able to rewrite my story, to see myself as a character of decency, strength, and resilience. I also know that I am totally loveable and deserve to be happy- just like you!
If you have gone through a break-up or want a therapist who can go through some of these steps with you, consider booking a free consultation with me. I’m happy to help you navigate and grieve in this process.