Relationship Breakdown: The things I wish I’d known.
Updated: Jun 24
A few years ago, my life changed suddenly and unexpectedly. One morning I woke up happily married and by the evening I was contemplating divorce.
My relationship had broken down.
I was in such shock that I didn’t feel able to tell any of my friends or family for weeks. The solid base that I had built my life upon was no longer there and it sent me into a spiral of grief and loss that I struggled to deal with.
Ten years later my life is far richer and happier than it has ever been. At the time though, I couldn’t imagine ever feeling happy again.
My friends would say to me:
‘You’re better off without them’.
‘Give it time’.
Whilst these statements were largely true it was not something I was ready to hear or believe. What I needed to hear was that what I was going through was completely normal.
Being out of control
Your life has suddenly changed, and you no longer feel in control.
If it was not your decision to break up, then you may feel that your ex holds all the cards.
Maybe your ex is giving signals that you may get back together again. Or maybe they have completely cut you out of their lives and have, seemingly, moved on, while you are still struggling to come to terms with the breakup.
You feel helpless and out of control.
For me, it felt like I was no longer in control of my life and truthfully, at that time, I wasn’t. I made some dubious decisions and did some unhealthy things. I felt like I had no control over anything.
I felt completely helpless, and I couldn’t understand why I was reacting in this way. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I kept thinking that it was a cruel joke, and I would wake up and life would be back to normal again.
Now I know that this is all normal behaviour when faced with such a significant life changing situation.
For the first time since your relationship began, you now find yourself alone.
The responsibility for running your life is now solely yours. All the little things which in the past would have been joint decisions are now yours alone and this can be overwhelming.
There will be areas of your joint life together where your partner took control and now you have to re-learn how to do these tasks. For me, I had lost my confidence driving, it was something my partner always did, so it felt like I had to learn to drive again.
If your partner was your support system you may need to establish a new friendship group. It can be a difficult experience, having to put yourself out there, building new friendships and relationships.
Raging against the need of having to do something you never thought you would have to do again.
To assuage the loneliness, you may find yourself seeking comfort from others, the ‘rebound relationship’. It is natural to want to feel a connection with someone. We are all social beings needing love, relationships and connection. However, be careful when rushing into a new romantic relationship before you have come to terms with the grief of the previous one. You may still be reeling from the impact and may miss any red flags that appear.
Plagued by 'what ifs' and 'if only'
I spent all my waking time wondering “what if” or “if only”.
What if I had been a better person?
What if I had noticed things sooner?
What if I had tried harder?
If I do this, maybe things will work out?
You may have heard of the Five Stages of Grief, a model developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969. Being plagued by ‘what if’s’ is a part of this grief process called the 'bargaining' stage.
It is a way of trying to bring things back under our control, a bargaining with yourself in the hope of finding a better outcome. To find things to do that make you feel less helpless and give you the feeling of being able to manage the outcome of your life again.
However, if this goes on for too long it can keep you in a spiral of self-recrimination and blame that is, in the long term, unhealthy.
After all, 'what If' and "if only" are pretty useless phrases. We can't turn back time or see into the future.
Difficulty sleeping or having disturbed sleep is common and can be caused by many factors.
Rumination. Constantly going over and over what happened. Analysing every word said or every action taken.
Maybe you are planning what you need to do tomorrow, how you will react if you bump into your ex or any of their friends or family.
Or are your emotions so strong that they feel all-consuming and so deeply seated that you are not able to let go of them.
For me this was probably the most harmful thing I went through. Not being able to sleep caused me to be irrational and affected my day-to-day judgement.
Things got so much better once I was back in a regular sleeping pattern.
If you are finding yourself experiencing insomnia or difficulty sleeping, there are many things you can do to help. A couple of things that helped me were:
Learning to deal with rumination. One of the tricks I used to help me let go of a persistent, unhelpful thought was to imagine myself writing it down, scrunching it up in a ball and throwing it into the bin.
Meditating for Calm. It was at this point in my life that I discovered meditation. Which is a fabulous way of bringing some calmness into your life.
Waves of uncontrollable strong emotions
Nothing prepares you for the waves of emotion that come over you.
One minute you can be feeling OK, and the next minute you are besieged by strong emotions. As if you’ve been side-swiped by a truck.
You may swing between intense anger; anger at yourself, anger at your partner, anger at life in general. Other times you may be overcome by waves of sadness, where all you can do is curl up in the corner and cry.
Maybe you feel consumed by guilt or blame or anxiety about the future. Whatever emotion you are feeling can become so intense that it feels overpowering.
Over time these intense waves of emotion can calm down and you start feeling OK. Almost to the point of thinking you’re back to how you used to be. Then maybe you’ll hear a special song or go to a special place and the sadness can hit you just as strongly.
As time goes on the cycle between the ebb and flow of these waves of emotions gets longer and longer and their strength, when they do hit, lessens.
When it was happening to me I thought I was over-reacting and going mad. Of course, I know now that what I was experiencing was grief, a natural reaction to a loss of something significant from my life.
Over time I learnt how to heal. I didn’t do it all alone, I reached out for help from friends and family and spent some time with a therapist helping me to get my sleeping back on track and to deal with the anger and grief I was feeling. Meditation also helped me to bring some much needed calm into my life. Once I was sleeping well things started to improve and I can honestly say that I have a much better life now than the one I thought I was losing.
When you experience a relationship breakdown, you may experience some of the above, or none at all. There are no right and wrong ways to experience grief. Ultimately, we all deal with grief, loss and change in our own way, but if you recognise any of these symptoms then know it is normal and you are not alone.
If you feel that you would like some help through the process then please contact me through my website www.carinasnelling.com