Ask The Therapist: Saying Goodbye


Q: What are the best steps in getting over a relationship? P., male, 45 year-old.

A: Getting over a relationship is one of the hardest things many people have to go through. As adults, we usually establish and then break several relationships before we finally find and settle with the “One”. A multitude of factors contribute to why a particular connection didn’t work out, and quite often it’s not the personalities clash but rather a mismatch of expectations and individual life timelines that pull two persons apart.

The intensity of post-breakup feelings do not always correspondent to the length and type of the broken relationship, it is the emotional connection developed during the relationship that usually determines how much time you need and how much work you need to do to move on in life. Also, such factors as whether or not the breakup was unexpected and if the final goodbyes and explanations were given contribute to the intense emotions and lack of closure you may experience. Unfortunately, “ghosting” has become a norm in our modern society that always leaves a person on the receiving end with emotional trauma of unanswered questions that require extra time to work through and close a relationship where a definite end was not provided.

I always say to my clients please do not pay attention to how short or seemingly insignificant the relationship was, going through the end of it is no different than going through a loss, you’re grieving the connection and physical presence of a person who is no longer there, take as much time as you need to go through the process. Yet, I also add that despite the popular notion “time heals everything “, it’s more about what you do with that time that’d help you and not the actual passage of days or months. Time in itself doesn’t change anything, it’s the inner work and closure that’d ultimately help you move on.
First, you need to ensure some steps are taken in bringing in the closure in the physical sense: if possible, talk it out with your partner before you separate, if it’s not possible, give yourself time and space to review what are some possibly factors that contributed to the disconnect, there are usually signs, whether we notice them or not, even if the relationship is still intact that something wasn’t working, try to refrain from the immediate blame on the other person as the breakup is rarely a 100% fault of only one individual. A full understanding may not happen till much later, often it takes years to fully examine the true underlining of the past relationship but know that mistakes and heartbreaks are there to make us grow and ultimately understand ourselves better and choose a different course the next time around.

It is also important to give yourself space in creating a “relationship-free” environment: as difficult as it is, you need to disconnect from the other person in a physical sense as not to create a constant roller coaster ride of emotions, cut all the social networks ties, don’t go to parties or gatherings where you can bump into each other, don’t ask their friends, or mutual friends if you have any, how the other one is doing – you’re not pretending the person doesn’t exist, you’re giving yourself a chance to work on whatever feelings arise without a constant reminder what you’ve just lost. Yes, it is possible to reconnect and become friends in the future, you may have even discussed it with your partner before you split, but those are rare occurrences, and much time and healing need to happen before a possibility is even approached to make sure you don’t end up in the same, or even worse, situation.

I also urge my clients to not pay attention to what the other person might be currently doing in life and don’t take it as an indication of the quality of the whole relationship, just because it wasn’t long or wasn’t seemingly profound or going the right way, it doesn’t automatically mean it was meaningless and you didn’t have genuine feelings for the other person. Please concentrate on your feelings only and deal from the point what you felt in the relationship and what you’re feeling now. Find all the “silver linings” that existed in the relationship, no connection is ever void of anything good that happened, concentrate on creating good memories and remember the positive traits of your partner, refrain from coloring them “evil” and closing the relationship with anger or hate, even if you think you have been wronged, anything negative will never bring you a true closure, take as much time as you need to work through your anger and find all the lessons and growth you can possibly take out of what may seem like a failure.

When difficult emotions come up, allow for them to exist and don’t fight them, you need all the chances to express your grief, approach each wave the same way surfers ride the ocean waves – they yield to the force of nature and ride it as long as it takes them to reach the calm waters again, they do not drown and are not overwhelmed by the sheer power of that wave. So cry, be sad, talk it out with friends, see a therapist if you need it, use all beneficial coping skills that you need to get yourself through it and know that no matter how desperate the situation may feel now, there will be an end to it, don’t let yourself sink into deep depression, don’t color your whole life in bleak colors because you lost that person, be like a surfer, allow both current sadness and future hope to exist.

There’s no definite timeline that I can give you to when things would feel normal again, each situation is very unique and also depends on each individual personality. Take time to go through your own process of healing, fill each day with both sadness from a relationship loss but also some joys that you do have in other parts of your life. Be gentle on yourself and be a friend to yourself, love all the good that you have in you and guide your soul though difficult times.

You will be happy again, I promise!

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