Grieve Your Relationship, but Heal and Move Forward
Breakups are hard enough as a teenager, but as an adult, having a job and raising children can complicate and overwhelm the situation even more. Not only do you experience your own strong emotions, but you must care for your children, who also are struggling with the turn of events. You want relief both for your kids and yourself, but you may not even know where to start. Creative expression, self-care, intentional social support and the right professional can help with healing and restoring a sense of normalcy to you and your children.
The Grieving Process
When a relationship ends, it’s a major loss, and, like any loss, you must grieve for it, which takes time. It’s normal to experience periods of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Give yourself permission to embrace these stages of the grief process and understand that many people go back and forth among them, experiencing more than one at a time or going through them out of any specific order. Just because you accept your breakup today does not mean that you won’t struggle with denial or depression tomorrow. No timeline or time limit exists to grieve, so allow the emotions to come and go as they will. But, understand that these feelings will pass.
Your children will also experience their own grieving process if your partner was their parent or a major fixture in their lives. Or, they might notice your grief and feel concerned for you. As you walk through your emotions instead of around them, your kids will learn that it’s OK to grieve and feel fully.
Expressing themselves through music, writing, visual arts and creative movement often helps people process intense emotions after a breakup and has the added bonus of becoming excellent life tools to share with your children. When feelings threaten to overwhelm you, write them out for 15 to 30 minutes without stopping, compose a poem, or write a letter to your former partner without sending it.
If words fail you, pick up a paintbrush or colored pencils and use colors, shapes and images to communicate your emotions. Sometimes, it’s cathartic to dance out intense feelings or sing along to a favorite playlist on full blast. Different modes of expression can be helpful at different times, so be open to trying new things as you move through your grief.
Caring for Yourself
Taking care of children, working and grieving for a relationship can all feel like full-time jobs, so if you find yourself neglecting self-care in the midst of it, you are not alone. Remember: Before you can help others, you must first put on your own oxygen mask. When you find yourself feeling hungry, angry, lonely or tired, think of the acronym, “H.A.L.T,” and take a few minutes to tend to your own needs. Eat some nourishing fruits and veggies, go for a walk, have coffee with a good friend, attend a support group or go to bed early.
Attend to these same needs for your children, too, to keep your home life as peaceful as it can be during these trying times. As your little ones see you taking care of yourself, they will learn that it is OK for them to do the same.
To help ease the pain of a breakup, nothing is like the company of a compassionate friend. Aim for 10 social interactions each week, whether by phone, text or in person. Plan to meet a friend for lunch one day and share a potluck dinner with others the next. Sit with other parents and chat during your child’s dance rehearsal, attend a support group for single parents, or volunteer to serve meals to the homeless. Join groups to explore common interests like hiking, yoga or music. Many health clubs or churches offer childcare to help with your children while you attend, which gives them a little social interaction and relief of their own so you all can go home feeling better.
Remember to ask for help if you or your children are having trouble coping, your emotions are keeping you from functioning in daily life, you’re feeling depressed for longer than two weeks at a time, or you’re struggling with thoughts of suicide. Contact an emergency hotline, your doctor or a good therapist right away. Professionals are trained to help you identify emotional hurts and start feeling better quickly, as well as to help you design a plan for moving forward constructively in the long term. Many of the tools you learn can help your children, too, and set them up to successfully navigate the challenges of life now and into adulthood.
- Psychology and Health: Mending Broken Hearts: Effects of Expressive Writing on Mood, Cognitive Processing, Social Adjustment and Health Following a Relationship Breakup
- Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology: Self-Complexity and Reactions to a Relationship Breakup
- Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin: Physical, Emotional, and Behavioral Reactions to Breaking Up: The Roles of Gender, Age, Emotional Involvement, and Attachment Style
- Psychology Today: The Five Stages of Grieving the End of a Relationship
- Psychology Today: Grieving the End of a Relationship
- University of Rochester Medical Center: Journaling for Mental Health
- American Journal of Public Health: The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature
- Research in Nursing and Health: A Measure of Self-Care Self-Efficacy
Anne Kinsey is a Certified Trauma Recovery Coach and missionary, residing in rural North Carolina. She is the founding executive director of Love Powered Life, a nonprofit organization with the mission of creating loving community for trafficking survivors and their families. Anne has enjoyed writing for publications like Our Everyday Life, Bizfluent, Career Trend, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Houston Chronicle. She resides in rural North Carolina with her husband, three children and a house full of furry friends.