We don’t have to accept everything that happens to us. Sometimes we need to resist, make a change, or fight for what we believe. But when it comes to the end of a relationship—acceptance is really the only good option.
Anything else is torture and ultimately prevents life from moving on.
I’ve seen clients struggle with this many times over the years. One stands out in my memory, Tori. She did not want help healing—because she didn’t want to face that there was anything to heal from. She did not want help moving on; she absolutely did not want to move on.
Tori’s ex-had broken things off several months before I met her. He had told her, "It's over." He had been firm, but kind—at first. Then he became mad because Tori was stalking him in person, on Facebook, and via texts and calls. He was already in another relationship by the time Tori came to me, desperate for "tips to make him want me again." Tori was in denial.
With this blog, I hope to guide people who are struggling to face the reality of a breakup closer to acceptance.
First, let’s look at the signs of denial.
Denial is normal. Most people will, at some point in their lives, experience it—if only for a moment or two. When someone dies, when bad news hits, when a challenge seems insurmountable…our brain tries to protect us from the pain. For a moment, it cannot—does not—see what is there. The truth hides behind a false belief: He’s not really dead. That didn’t really happen. I don’t really have to do that.
Denial can last a minute, a day, a week, or even a lifetime.
If you are feeling pain because you want to get back together with the person you lost, your brain may be preventing you from accepting that loss. Instead of processing and moving on, you fixate on the fantasy that "it will be great again" as soon as you get him or her back.
Caveat: Sometimes couples do try again. When that makes sense is when both partners are 100% committed to the reunion, willing to face the issues that arose in the relationship the first time, and ready to do the hard work needed for success. If those conditions are not in place, reuniting is a no-go.
If your ex-has made it clear that it’s over, but you don’t believe it—you may be in denial.
If your partner is gone, has moved on, is in another relationship, has asked you to stop communicating, seems frustrated with you, avoids you and screens your calls—these are evidence of a very hard truth to accept. I feel your pain. But, you need to start believing it.
If you find yourself believing "truths" that no one else can see—you may be in denial.
You see something that is not there, in order to protect yourself from the ultimate loss. Perhaps you think obsessively about how perfect things will be when you reunite—better than ever—and that you are just SO close to helping your true love finally see that (version of the) truth. You just need one more chance to see him/her face to face, to explain, cajole.
Wait a minute! Stop right there.
You want to be seen and loved, right? You want to be chosen freely and with a full heart by a person who will partner with you joyfully. Do you really want to use guilt, manipulation, or the slow wearing down of resistance in order to get your "second chance?"
Check it out: If you are trying hard to "convince" your lost love that you are the ONE, there is something wrong with that picture. If you are making lists of all the reasons you are right for each other, and feel uncontrolled anxiety when the lists don’t work, take a step back. You deserve so much better than this.
It’s time to let go of the fantasy and face the reality. It's over. It really is.
How can you reach acceptance? Here are 7 things you can do, now.
- Take a deep breath and look back. Do a little retrospective of the last months, or even years, of your relationship. Maybe you thought it was great. Maybe you were 100% shocked when your partner called it quits. But there is a very good chance that the signs were there all along, and maybe you just didn't see them. Denial often begins before the break-up happens, and the post-break-up denial is just a continuation of a pattern that has been in place. Be gentle with yourself, and do not succumb to self-blame. Just choose to look more closely—and more honestly—at the relationship than you perhaps have thus far.
- Cut the cord. You need to go a minimum of 30 days with zero contact. No calls, texts, emails. No Facebook messages or tagging your former partner on Instagram. Do not stalk him/her on social media. In fact, blocking is a good idea. You can always unblock later when you are in a better place. If you see a mutual acquaintance, don’t ask how your ex is doing. Do not drive past his/her work, home, mom's home, gym, or anywhere else where you might "accidentally" have contact. Zero contact is the only way to prove to yourself that a.) it is over and b.) life goes on.
- Take time to be with yourself, your thoughts, your feelings. Go inward. I suggest trying a form of meditation—one that works for you. If you are not familiar or comfortable with meditation, just do this: go outside and sit in the sun. No book, no phone, no company but your own. Close your eyes. Sit in silence. Breathe deeply. At first, your mind may race; but then it will clear, bit by bit. Acknowledge thoughts and feelings as they pass through. Release them without judgment. Try this for three minutes. The next day, try four, five, even 10. I promise you, healing will happen.
- Write in your journal. Do not try to control or limit what you write—whatever you are feeling; wherever you are in your process. But the thing is, it is a process and what you write today will be different from what your words reveal in a week, or a month. In addition to writing your feelings, try to address your plans, your hopes, and the steps you are taking to heal. When you go back later to read what you committed to paper during this time, you will be amazed and impressed by how far you've come and how hard you worked.
- Find someone to talk to. Someone who is not going to "yes" you to death; but rather, will support you on your path to acceptance and all the steps that follow. A therapist, coach, mentor. The thing I hear most from people struggling to accept the end of a relationship is that talking about it helped. A lot.
- You’ve heard the phrase, fake it till you make it. That advice reflects the effectiveness of modifying your behavior until it becomes natural. So even when you don’t feel like putting your shoes on and taking a walk with a neighbor, do it anyway. In time, you’ll want to. Get in touch with family and friends even when you think a day spent with Ben & Jerry on the couch watching bad Lifetime movies is more your speed. It also works with what you choose NOT to do. So even when you are dying to tell yet another coworker or acquaintance about how you might get your ex back—resist. Talk about the weather, your shoes, climate change—anything else.
- Look ahead, not back. The future is there whether you can see it or not. It awaits—a future in which you are strong, confident, fun, and ready for love. Ready, in fact, for a love that will come to you willingly, and not need to be cajoled, tricked, or begged. The love you deserve.