Cathryn's Articles for Stepmom Issues and Relationships

When Your Loving Relationship Ends...Take Care of Yourself: Part 2 of 2
Both of these articles were written many years ago, but I found them when converting to a new computer and hope there is value for anyone in need of support during this difficult time.

When your relationship ends; Review this list of things to resist and things to create (Part 2 of 2)
By Cathryn Bond Doyle.

Whenever we’re no longer able to be with someone we love there’s going to be grief, anger, regret, stress and any number of other upsetting emotions present. What how we act on all of the emotions running through us makes a huge difference in how long it takes us to recover and move into the future.

While part of this process can be excruciating. It can also be deeply healing. The key is to become conscious of our feelings and to be very adult-like in our choices and actions. Part One of this 2-part article was how to act responsibly when you’re the one ending a relationship. This month the topic is how to support yourself (or someone you care about) when a loving relationships ends. 

Relationships are certainly unique and they end for all kinds of reasons. However, there are strategies, approaches and ideas that can bring guidance, focus and comfort to this painful experience. As with all of my articles, I hope you’ll open up to the possibilities suggested here, then sift and sort through the materials, pulling out whatever makes the most sense for you and your situation. Here are some ideas of things to “resist” and some things to “create.” 

When your loving relationship ends, do your best to RESIST the following temptations:

1. Resist the urge to make hasty, life-changing decisions unless absolutely necessary. You may be in emotional shock. If you need to make critical decisions quickly, seek the guidance of trusted friends, loved ones and/or professionals to ensure your emotional, financial and physical well being.

2. Resist the “what if’s” and negative self-judgments. It’s natural to go through a grieving process when you lose someone you love. One of the phases of grieving is bargaining and spending time imagining how things could have been different if you did this or said that, etc. It’s also natural to search the possibilities, hoping to find something that can change the outcome but it’s not helpful once the decisions are final. We feel connected to people through love AND anger AND grief AND guilt AND when we are “trying to figure things out.” Be aware of this temptation to connect even though it can cause additional pain and anger. If you find yourself doing this, gently recognize this as part of the process and then turn your attention onto ways you can nurture yourself--right here and right now! See my articles about, “Negative Self-talk” and, “Comforting Ourselves” for more information.

3. Resist the urge to numb your feelings with punishing self-pity-like behaviors. What has happened is sad (hurt + anger) and will likely make you feel badly, however, when you’re feeling sorry for yourself past the point of processing that feeling, you may NOT actually be processing your feelings. You could be numbing them and punishing the people around you in any number of ways. Pouting, whining, refusing to take action but yet being willing to ask for advice for hours and hours and/or snapping at others while expecting them to understand are all few forms this emotion can take when it leaks outs. Self-pity is indeed a real emotion so when you feel the urge to feel sorry for yourself, process it privately and intensely for 10-20 minutes. You will find this challenging and very effective.
Please note: How do you know if you are feeling true grief versus being caught in punishing and numbing self-pity?

Do you ask for lots of advice but ignore it all or defend against doing anything? That is a sign of attention getting and draining others with your self-pity. Can you chuckle at ANYTHING at all?

If you can’t laugh (when appropriate) chances are good you are feeling sorry for yourself, stalling your healing process and probably punishing anyone around. Being able to smile or laugh at something that’s truly funny is a great way to break out of this alluring and common emotional anesthetic. Please review my article about hostility and self-pity for more details.
4. Resist the urge to blame, badmouth or strike out or back at the one you have loved and now lost. This is a distraction tactic and almost always creates additional problems. These reactions will not help your healing, can reflect badly on you and/or create remorse in your future. Although you may feel better momentarily, these actions are not usually wise or well thought out behaviors. They’re not necessarily bad or wrong, just unhelpful and usually create more pain or anger that you’ll need to handle.
5. Resist the temptation to distract your feelings of pain by fueling your anger. It’s likely that you’re going to feel anger AND hurt. Both feelings are valid. People usually have one of two patterns: some will avoid their pain by staying angry; others will avoid feeling their anger by falling into the sadness and grief. Either way, recognize that BOTH emotions need your attention even though you’ll gravitate towards one or the other. If you’re one who prefers anger, monitor this temptation so you can stop yourself once you’re aware of your path of least resistance so you can put your attention on the underlying feelings of hurt, fear, etc.
6. Resist isolating yourself from people who care. Too much isolation can lead to increased emotional pain, depression and other recovery-delaying feelings. It’s natural to want, “to be alone” at times yet you can also look for ways to create varying forms of companionship that nurture and console you without draining, annoying or demanding anything from you.
7. Resist the allure of denying and stuffing your feelings. It’s another temporary numbing strategy with delayed negative consequences for you and those around you. Like a foot that falls asleep when you cut off the circulation, the pain does stop, but when you begin to use it again the pain is much greater than before it went numb.
When you have just lost or left a loving relationship look to CREATE the following:

1. Create a list of trust-worthy friends & family to seek out when you need to talk, plan or make decisions and then call them when you need some advice, a sounding board and/or comfort. There’s no shame, at all, in getting help. Sadly, so many resist this support out of the fear they will look weak. Even if you’re the one who left, you’ll still feel grief and pain and you deserve all the compassion, wisdom and creative nurturing you can find.
2. Create a realistic time frame that allows you to recover and heal from your loss. It’s probably going to be longer than you’d like but shorter than you fear. Too often people have unrealistically short estimates for how long it takes to, “get over” losing a loved one. It takes as long as it takes. Be patient and recognize that grief and anger can come in waves and pockets based on many, many factors. Consider how long you think it will take and then double that! This gives you lots of time so you can truly heal while hopefully eliminating most of the negative self-talk that can accompany impatience and self-judgment.
3. Create your personal, “Honor Code of Behavior” and do your best to stick to it. If you were going to look back on your actions a year or two from now, how can you behave now, so you will be proud of yourself for the rest of your life? Hold yourself to your highest standard of ethics and actions. You don’t have to make yourself or someone else wrong in order for a relationship to NOT be right for both of you. (Please reread that sentence!)

4. Resist any childish or adolescent “scorned lover” behaviors by choosing to take the high road at every possible turn. By holding yourself to your own highest standards, you’ll be saving yourself untold moments of regret, embarrassment, shame or sorrow. You may find this difficult at first but profoundly valuable for the rest of your life.

5. Create healthy ways to process your anger so you can release it and be free from the negative impact of unexpressed or misdirected anger. Time spent processing anger is always valuable, never wasted.

6. Create professional or personal support to help you understand and process the hurt, pain, grief and sadness before it putrefies into depression, anxiety and/or boredom. Processing feelings takes effort and skill. By creating a support system (therapist, books, tapes, support groups, wise friends and family) you’ll be able to move through all the levels of feelings that will and need to surface in the most elegant and efficient way, saving you lost time and misdirected efforts.
7. Create a “safe place” for yourself so you have a pleasant, nurturing, uplifting place to hangout whenever you want to be alone to think, write, read, meditate, nap or talk privately. This can be a room, a place in nature, a favorite bookstore or café or ALL of the before mentioned locations. It’s very important to have the time and space for your feelings. Putting your attention and effort into creating this space or finding these spaces is a way you can take good care of yourself. Alexandra Stoddard has some wonderful books about creating wonderful spaces.
8. Create some lists of what you want in your future to replace what you are leaving in your past. Be patient and gentle with yourself. This is not about denying the past. It is about building a future at the same time as you are dismantling and putting the past to rest. These lists are VERY powerful. Review these lists every couple of months and revise them as you want.
9. Make a list of 10 experiences, adventures and/or skills you would like to have in the next 12 months and post it some place where you will see it everyday. Go buy a magazine or book about each item on the list so you will have them handy for a few minutes or a few hours of daydreaming!

10. Make a list of 5 Dreams you want to create in your future (2-5 years). When a relationship ends, some of the dreams that you created will die also. This can be even more painful than losing the person. It’s helpful to recognize you CAN separate the person from your dreams. You can still have your dreams; they will just be shared with different people. You can find the passion and joy you long for, they will just take a different form than before. Spend some time each day, each week, dreaming new dreams and you will begin to feel the joy of the future filter into your life.

What is the recipe for your ideal partner?

If you’ve lost a lover and feel ready to think about having a future loving relationship, make a list of the, “Top 50 Qualities of the love of my life.” As you create this list, think about your relationships, learn from them and make sure this list is as accurate as possible, as if it were a recipe for your ideal mate. Give yourself permission to think and feel how great this relationship will be even though you have no idea who it is. Be willing for this person to walk into your life at any moment. Miracles happen everyday!

Unfortunately sad things happen to us as we go and grow through life. The best, most helpful thing you can do when a loving relationship ends in your life is take responsibility for caring for and healing yourself. Make the decision to behave as a responsible adult. You can honor ALL of your feelings and still behave towards others in a way that speeds up the recovery with no regrets or additional unpleasant experiences. These are things you DO have control over. These are choices you can make for your own health, well-being as you create new, wiser, more awake true happiness.
Copyrighted, 2002 Cathryn Bond Doyle. All rights reserved.
Note: First Published in May 2002 on All Rights retained by author.
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