“If someone loves me, I must have significance” – Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages
The woman sobbed as she sat in my therapy room. “I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I don’t know what to do with myself every day when I get home from work,” she said as she described the way she felt in the days after her relationship ended. Riddled with anxiety about the future, she hardly recognized herself.
The end of an intimate relationship is brutal. Even in amicable splits, the predicament of “where to from here?” can leave people feeling anxious and without an anchor. All aspects of your life are often affected, from finances, to housing, and relationship with friends and family. The life you knew is over. A new life awaits but it is one that might not feel exciting when you begin the journey.
Relationship ends are destabilizing because they challenge our sense of security in this world. All humans have a need to feel secure and safe with another. It begins in our babyhood and continues through our partner relationship in adulthood. As Gary Chapman reminds us in his book “The 5 Love Languages” for humans, love makes us feel like we are someone, that we are special in someone else’s eyes. Losing this creates feelings of psychological stress.
If you are experiencing severe symptoms of stress such as difficulty sleeping, eating and anxiety, this will generally pass within the first two weeks. In some cases seeking support from a general practitioner or counselor may help but the symptoms will generally pass after the acute phase without professional help. During this time do no put too much pressure on yourself to act like the normal version of you. Instead:
• Nurture yourself. Do things that feel good. Eat well, sleep well, and exercise.
• Accept that you may not meet the usual standard at work until this phase passes. Allow yourself to do the best you can, under the circumstance, without being overly critical.
• Spend time with caring others. Until you feel better, avoid isolation even if you feel like hiding away.
• Even if it feels like you are worth less now that you are no longer with your partner, remind yourself that you still have value.
• Allow and develop thoughts that help you move to the next stage of your life. Perhaps there was a goal you had that your partner didn’t share that you can pursue now, maybe there is space for a new hobby that was hard to fit in and make time before.
• When you have grieved the end of the relationship it’s ok to want to find a new partner. Wanting to feel loved is a basic human need.
• Seek professional help if needed. If you stay stuck in the longer term or continue to have difficulty with sleep, eating, and motivation, see a physician or mental health professional.
You story is not over when your relationship ends. You can choose what chapter you want to write next.