As a society we have historically romanticized long-term relationships and marriages even if they are totally unhealthy. All of us have likely applauded the model grandparents who stuck it out in their marriage for fifty-plus years, without thinking to inquire about how they both truly experienced the relationship throughout that time. When it comes to marriage, we have placed value on things like sacrifice and tradition, while deprioritizing one’s rights to autonomy and self discovery. The advent of dating apps and social media has very much changed the way we date and couple since our parents’ generations - we now have more options than ever and not always for the better. We won’t get into the trials and tribulations of modern dating in this article, but in addition to this we have also seen a shift in the way people are choosing to navigate ending relationships.
Cue conscious uncoupling. Modern couples seem to be valuing things like autonomy and self discovery and this often leads to a conscious uncoupling. Originally coined by a psychotherapist and popularized by Gwyneth Paltrow and celebrities alike, conscious uncoupling is a term to describe a peaceful separation of partners with the focus on honoring what each meant to each other. This is a far cry from the drama, anger, and bitterness that most often goes hand in hand with divorce or separation. As a licensed psychotherapist, I am both curious and hopeful about this new way to exit romantic partnerships. It shows we are valuing looking within and sometimes making the courageous decision to exit a loving relationship because we are emotionally mature enough to value health and self-actualization over what has been instilled in us as ‘tradition’. Moving forward and healing from a relationship break-up can bring varying levels of grief to an individual. Let’s look at this conscious uncoupling trend to discuss helpful steps to navigate life post break-up.
Find a new way to regulate your emotions
Our romantic partner helps us regulate through something that is called co-regulation. When used in a healthy way, it’s a beautiful thing humans do together to feel safe. When said relationship ends, we will feel destabilized to varying degrees and finding ways to self soothe is necessary. The pain and disorienting feelings of a break up often leads individuals to attempt to cope in self destructive ways - impulsive or unsafe sex, episodes of restrictive or binge eating, drugs or alcohol. It is much preferred to make room to move through these painful episodes by intentionally naming the thoughts and feelings in the moment and identifying what needs are unmet. If we unconsciously become swept up in painful feelings of grief, we are more prone to seeking negative ways to cope, which ultimately prolongs our suffering.
Take inventory of the relationship and lessons learned
How does this relationship story fit into your life story in a helpful way? What was your part? Discovering the lessons learned and how the relationship changed you will allow you to begin the process of moving forward with life, rather than remaining stuck or ruminating about things you cannot change (like their harmful behaviors towards you). Without doing this work it is easy to become jaded and move through your next relationship with unhealed emotional wounds. It’s much healthier to take stock of the relationship as a whole – the highs and lows, your part, and most importantly what it has taught you about what you want and don’t want in your next relationship or life chapter.
Practice self-compassion skills
Processing a relationship break-up is grounds for individuals to become unnecessarily hard and critical on themselves. Feeling embarrassed, angry or regretful for how one acted or didn’t act is common. Ruminating about what cannot be changed won’t be helpful, but offering grace and understanding will. Self compassion allows us to be human and still remain worthy of respect and goodwill. Cultivating an inner dialogue that is understanding, but still holds you accountable to acting within your values for the future is the most helpful way to move forward from the past.
Nurture parts of self that were dormant or lost in the relationship
Relationships often require us to sacrifice or give up some of our own needs to make it “work”. It’s not uncommon to realize how much of your true self was sacrificed in the relationship post break-up. Healing can look like taking the time post break-up as an opportunity to reconnect with oneself. This may be returning to old (or new!) hobbies or interests, challenging yourself to learn a new skill, or simply basking in the right to do whatever you want, whenever you want as you are now the most important person to nurture and attend to. As a therapist, I believe loneliness is often an invitation to connect more deeply with oneself, but we are conditioned to look outside of ourselves to fill this void.
Emotionally mature individuals realize one does not have to wait until something catastrophic happens to end a relationship. It can be that we love someone very deeply but still do not desire to move forward through life’s trajectory with them by our side.
Erica Basso is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist practicing statewide in California. She helps guide women in overcoming anxiety, perfectionism, and relationship challenges. To learn more about working with her, visit www.ericabassotherapy.com.