Nobody likes a breakup. Whether you’ve been together for five years or five months, breakups hurt and they can often make us question our core beliefs.
Taking the time to grieve the loss, feel pain, treat yourself to some cupcakes, and lounge around is all part of a healthy transition process… but what about when you are ready to take steps forward? How do you use your past experience to better inform your future? Enter the concept of a meaningful separation…Think of it as an exit interview from the relationship. Exit interviews help inform what went wrong, what went right, and help to provide valuable insight into how things can look different next time.
Lately, a new type of clinical counseling has been gaining in popularity: post-separation counseling. This isn’t the typical rehashing of a breakup and telling the therapist everything that went wrong, but rather a more mindful approach to understanding patterns, and getting to know yourself better in the process. Having a healthy dose of self-awareness and reflection is never a bad thing!
Here are seven questions to ask yourself that will help to promote a breakup-free future.
1. What did I learn about how I handle conflict?
Any relationship has its fair share of arguments and conflict. This is a normal fact of life, but it’s about how you deal with it that’s important. There is no right or wrong, but knowing your conflict style will help you understand how you approach arguments. Reflect on past conflicts — how were they dealt with? Two avoiders may have let a lot go unsaid, and may have left you both feeling passive aggressive. On the contrary, two instigators may have been explosive, and constantly in each other’s faces. Learning your personal conflict style will help you understand how to fight more productively in your next relationship.
2. How did I feel about myself when things were difficult?
Even the best relationships have highs and lows. Reflect on how you personally managed when things may have been feeling uncomfortable or uncertain. Were you somebody who felt guilty, or took on all the blame? Were you someone who pretended like everything was fine, and denied? Conflict makes people uncomfortable, and fighting with a significant other is no exception. Negative emotions will come and go — this is healthy. It can become a problem when the negative emotions are impacting how you define who you are. This is the kind of baggage that you do not want to take with you.
3. How do I manage my hurt feelings?
It is important in any relationship that you be able to take care of yourself first. Knowing how to help yourself is key to any future relationship. Just like on an airplane, you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, before helping a loved one. Relationship stress is like this too, if you are not able to do what you need to feel whole, the other partner will be impacted. Don’t forget the importance of self-care, especially when feeling hurt or sad.
4. What positives can I take from this experience?
When I work with couples, they are often feeling very angry, defeated, and frustrated. The truth is that even in the most challenging relationships, there is always a silver lining to be found. Oftentimes, the positives can be learning something about yourself, or learning something about your relationship style, or your wishes. Regardless of what the positive is, by finding one, you may feel less resentful and more confident as you re-enter single life, and eventually the dating pool.
5. What is something I would change if I could go back in time?
Moving on is not about dwelling on the past, but it is important to understand our role in where things went wrong. It takes two people to make a relationship, and two people to end a relationship. Nobody is perfect, and mistakes will happen both in and out of relationships. Try to think back — were there times when you wish you never said or did something? These are the important times because they often speak to a larger pattern of behavior. By understanding things that we may not be most proud of, we can be more likely to adjust and work on these in the future. Don’t beat yourself up or stay stuck…Easier said than done right? But, by being mindful and accepting, you can surely work on it moving forward.
6. What are non-negotiables for me in terms of a partner?
Arguably one of the most important parts of any separation is that it allows for us to have a greater understanding of our likes and dislikes. Knowing what our dealbreakers are will only lead to greater relationship satisfaction in the future. The couples I work with often come to the relationship with fundamentally different views. This can often work, but in some cases can also be a recipe for disaster. If you know something is very important to you — religion, wanting children, or any other lifestyle choice that is non-negotiable for you — communicate that in the future. Is the other person willing to compromise? Trying to force the other person into wanting the same thing is like trying to force a square peg into a round hole. In relationship terms, this more often leads to heartbreak. Know yourself and what you are not willing to compromise on!
7. What do I want from this separation?
Last but certainly not least, a breakup is a time to re-evaluate your wishes. There is so much information out there about what you “should do” after a break-up. Delete them from social media, stay friends, never speak again, stay in contact with their mom…. Believe me, I’ve seen it all. The truth is, there is no right or wrong answer as long as you are not feeling pressured into making a decision that doesn’t fit for you. Figure out what you want your post-breakup relationship to look like, and honor that.
At the end of the day, regardless of how good a relationship may be, the person you can count on the most is you! By being the best version of yourself, you are taking out an insurance policy on your future relationships.