Separation: the journey starts
When a major relationship ends, and the foundations of our life tremble, then our emotions can erupt in all sorts of ways, choices can become unclear, and we can lose any sense of purposeful living.
When this happens, then our everyday experience can become hugely distressing.
In order to build a satisfying life after breakup, we can’t stay in this unhappy place: we need to go on a journey. Whatever the reasons for and the circumstances of the breakup, the journey always contains the following three main stages, not necessarily in sequential order:
1. Regaining emotional balance
At almost every stage of the break-up of a long-term relationship there are likely to be heightened emotions (unless you’re an Enlightened One or a psychopath, and I’m guessing you’re neither…)
So it’s worth remembering that our emotions are a signal that something needs attention, they’re not the something itself. Although we need to be conscious of our emotions, and try to alleviate them – and of course we need to take care not to be swept away by them – recovery and growth can only happen when we pay close attention to the underlying causes of emotion.
We are not our feelings. Pain is not the destination, it’s a signpost along the way.
For example, if we feel a powerful sense of being rejected, then perhaps this is signalling that our sense of self-worth needs adjusting. The feeling is simply the issue of self-worth screaming its way into our attention.
Finding the way to balance and benefit from emotions is like constructing the road we must travel along: smooth is good.
2. Finding clarity
It’s important for our sense of well-being that we feel clear about our options – not just for ourselves but perhaps for our children and others too.
On the journey out of relationship we will almost certainly need to make choices, some of them difficult, about some important aspects of life: living arrangements, finances, children, work, boundaries of all kinds etc.
To choose effectively we need to be clear what our priorities really are and what the impact of our choices might be. A bad decision now could create problems further down the line. We don’t want to take a wrong turning or we might not get where we want to go.
Wise choices will keep the road relatively straight.
3. Redefining purpose
‘Every crisis is an opportunity’, even if it hardly feels like that in the moment of crisis. To get the best from the opportunity, it’s crucial to recognise what our heart yearns for. This is the best indicator of purpose.
Purpose isn’t a permanent thing, it can change as you change. It’s sometimes the case that a relationship breaks down because one or both of the couple are not living to their purpose. If we are not following our purpose, our lives can have a brittle quality in all respects.
And purpose is also multi-layered. The mother of a young baby may have the care of that baby as her prime purpose, but that doesn’t mean she has no other aspirations to fulfil nor that this will remain her prime purpose for ever.
In the new situation out of relationship, all kinds of adjustments may be needed, including revising and re-setting a sense of purpose.
As we leave the dust of the explosion of breakup and separation behind us, we may start to see the shape of a newly satisfying life emerge, because the three stages have been passed: our emotions don’t overwhelm, the view is reasonably clear, and we feel we’re heading in the right direction.
Separation wasn’t, after all, simply the end. It was a beginning.