With your partner being physically absent and the once promising affection gone, you’re left with a broken heart and feelings of incompleteness and despair.
A breakup is one of the hardest things to get over in life, and that’s because the pain can be so profound it’s unbearable. But did you know, grief is a critical stage to healing the pain and letting go of what once was in order to truly move on?
We had the honour to speak with Shadeen Francis, licensed sex and relationship therapist and graduate professor, about what it takes to cope with the end of a relationship and answer any questions you might have: Are hookups ok? How do I know I’m ready to date again?
Is It Important to Mourn a Relationship When It Comes to an End?
Grief is our natural reaction to loss. When a relationship comes to an end, the process of grieving can help mark those endings.
In the context of a breakup, Shadeen said, “grieving helps us process our experiences, encourages us to treasure the positive memories, and gives us the opportunity to reflect on the lessons we may have learned or may need to work on.”
Without going through this stage, you may find yourself unwillingly tethered to the past, and that’s crucial to moving on. “We need to accept that whatever it once was is finished so that we can be emotionally available for whatever is next for us,” she explained.
She highlighted some signs that indicate you might not have mourned a past relationship:
- Your new relationships feel unfulfilling
- You avoid being single or rush into new relationships quickly
- You find yourself repeating old relationship patterns
- You try to “win back” or chase after former partners who no longer want to be in the relationship
- You avoid new relationships because you are afraid to get hurt
If You Are Going through a Break-up
Although the grieving process can look different for everybody with different levels of impact, Shadeen remarked there are common emotional experiences of grief, which can be manifested with other emotions as well. For example, anger, sorrow, restlessness, disappointment, and guilt.
At the end of the day, “the important thing to note is that grieving is an outfit we will all wear but not one-size-fits-all,” she said, “your grief is custom-fitted to you.”
That said, there are recommended steps we can take when going through a breakup:
Step 1. Be gentle with yourself
“The pain of a loss is hard enough without the added burden of critical self-talk or cruelty,” she said. The least and the most you can do is to be there emotionally for your own self.
One thing to keep in mind is it’s important you tell the difference between holding yourself accountable for your role in the relationship and punishing yourself for things you could have done differently.
So, as it’s always been said, be kind to yourself the way you would someone you love.
Step 2. Reach out for support
On one hand, ask yourself who can be there for you when you need support, encouragement, or company?
On the other hand, Shadeen noted, there are logistical or administrative support that you might need. For example, moving companies to help you if you need to leave a shared home; an accountant to help you with budgeting or financial planning if the breakup will lower your household income.
“Let your team be as big or as small as you need it to be,” she said. “We are wired for connection – we need each other. You are not a burden for needing support.”
Step 3. Don't keep yourself from pleasure
“The world may feel like it is over, and some parts of it have indeed ended, but part of moving through grief is to allow ourselves the opportunity to feel better.”
Know that moments of despair are not going to go on forever. While going through this mourning period, don’t forget to allow yourself to feel good as well. Do what gives you joy, create happy memories, experience new things.
Is Temporary Relief Like a Hook Up OKAY?
When going through a breakup, especially when it’s a long-term relationship, hookups could seem like a possible way to cope with the unbearable pain.
While hookups can be great for finding sexual pleasure and rebuilding confidence of pursuing connections, Shadeen acknowledged, temporary relief like that can actually do more harm than good in the long run.
“Hookups can be emotional risky territory,” she said, “and we all know that quick fixes typically don’t fix much, especially the kind that numb the pain.”
Here’re a few things she recommended to consider:
- If you didn’t enjoy casual sex before, you probably won’t now – so it’s best that you skip it.
- Hookups require collaborative decision-making (e.g. what do we like, what are our boundaries, is this a one-time thing). Do you have energy for or interest in negotiation? If your current phase of grief says nope, then a hookup is probably not what you need right now.
- Is this for an addition of pleasure or a subtraction of pain? A hookup will not make the pain of loss go away. If the idea is to help you get over someone, you should instead focus on your emotional wellbeing than jumping into a new relationship or temporary fling.
Yes to Self-care Instead
Whether you’re going through a breakup or any stages of a relationship, there’s never a wrong time to take care of yourself.
Below are some self-care basics Shadeen recommended practicing:
- Protect time for sleep
- Eat food that feels good in your body
- Move around to keep from feeling stagnant
- Journal or mediate to practice letting yourself feel your feelings without wallowing in them
- Spend time with people you enjoy that treat you well
- Set boundaries with the people, places, and things that you know do not serve you and make you feel worse
- Treat pleasure like it is necessary, because it is
Am I Ready to Date Again?
Now that you’ve endured the most difficult times and feel ready to move on, you may wonder: am I emotionally available to be in a relationship again?
Well, the answer is simple. Whenever you decide you want to.
“There is no universal metric,” Shadeen said. “If you want to date again, that is a good enough place to start.”
“As you recognise what support you might need getting back out there, please know that you are worth it and deserve to feel pleasure.”