This article was first published on Mind Body Green:
I often marvel at the strength of public figures who endure the ego-decimating effects of divorce or breakups in the public eye. Take, for example, Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck’s recent split. On a daily basis, they are hounded by paparazzi. The media and public scrutinize their relationship, toss around accusations of infidelity and addiction, and ascribe blame (all without knowledge of the inner workings of their marriage).
While few people will have to face the judgment of tens of thousands of strangers, many will have to tell friends and family about the end of our relationship. This acknowledgment—especially if others are unaware of the existence or nature of problems—can be humiliating.
Aimee Hartstein, LCSW (a relationship therapist) and I are writing a 10-article series on heartbreak. Having both survived (and thrived) post-divorce, we felt it imperative to address the topic of “failure.” Neither of us characterize breakups as “failure,” although they can often feel that way. Instead, we think breakups can bring enormous opportunity and blessing.
To harness the upside of defeat, however, we suggest a moratorium on the following 5 habits:
1. Do not flog yourself mercilessly.
None of us are born with an intuitive understanding of how to be in a relationship. Through trial and error (and a decent number of missteps), we learn how to communicate, fight, and forgive—the cornerstones of happy unions.
When I feel defeated, I remind myself that it took Thomas Edison 10,000 attempts to create a light bulb. Michael Jordan, who many consider to be one of the greatest basketball players of all time, admits the necessity of failure. He said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve almost lost 300 games. 26 times, I have been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Keep this in mind when mending a broken heart—it may be an integral part of your journey in finding true love.
2. Do not maintain a stoic demeanor.
The media perpetuates the myth of a “flawless break up”—both parties are amicable, they co-parent perfectly, and neither person needs time or space before effortlessly gliding into their next relationship.
This myth, while poised to sell magazines, is not grounded in truth or reality. Unfortunately, break-ups are traumatic. People need time to grieve. So, tell friends that you are hurting. And, ask them to support you.
“Grief is a natural process and it’s healing. There is nothing bad about crying, feeling depressed and mourning. It’s only problematic when it goes on for an extensive period of time or leaves you unable to function on a day-to-day level,” said Aimee the relationship therapist.
3. Do not subscribe to social media’s version of “reality.”
When you’re feeling depressed (or grieving), it’s wise to limit time on Facebook and other forms of social media. In this “false reality,” everyone’s relationship appears rosy, effortless and perfect.
The reality is that life is messy. Emotions and people are complicated. People fight.
“I advise clients, ‘Don’t compare your inside to someone’s outside,’” said Aimee the relationship therapist. “Facebook portrays an inauthentic reality. The truth is that every one of us is hurt, imperfect or wounded in some way.”
4. Do not play the blame game.
Failure is a gift when it forms the basis for self-reflection. All too often, men and women become mired in their version of “truth,” which often means pointing an accusatory finger at their ex. A more productive choice is to look inward—an empowering decision that breaks destructive patterns and helps people avoid repeated mistakes. For example, if your ex told you of their unhappiness, did you fail to take the complaint seriously? Did you shut down any discussion of the relationship and change the subject?
“My healthiest clients take a long, hard look at their own behavior. They figure out patterns (often rooted in childhood) that undermine their chances of success and work diligently to craft a new way of relating,” said Aimee the relationship therapist.
5. Do not give up.
Every day, we are saddened by clients who DO FAIL in one of two ways:
• They have given up on love. Beaten by painful breakups, they've stepped off the playing field entirely.
• They keep repeating the same mistakes. Their egos refuse to believe that there is an easier way to achieve the desired result.
Allow yourself to grieve and experience heartbreak. But, don’t get stuck in this sadness. There is no defeat in falling down, only in refusing to try again.