Whether with a partner, with a family member, with a friend, with a boss, ending a relationship is difficult. But what is most difficult is what comes next. Although starting all over again is inevitable, we often get “stuck” in our unresolved feelings, doubts, anxieties left to fill the voids.
Antonio Pascual-Leone, a psychologist and researcher at the University of Windsor in Canada, calls it a unresolved deal. A lot of people think that moving on is just a matter of time, but feeling like you’ve been run over by a train isn’t exactly easy to deal with.
Pascual-Leone would have identified a specific three-step process people go through after a relationship ends. However, it is a non-linear and messy process (two steps forward, one step back) in which one can get entangled.
How can we unblock ourselves?
Step 1: Begin to untangle your emotions and identify them
Two people are in a partnership, they are working on a project, one of them has mentored the other, spending a lot of energy and time training the other. Eventually, the trained one decides to suddenly leave the project. The woman who trained the former work partner reveals her concern about being able to meet her within the company: “If I see her, I shudder, it will be embarrassing, I don’t know!”.
The “I don’t know” reveals in itself a feeling of strong unease to which the subject is unable to give a label, an emotional meaning. “I feel bad but I don’t know why”. When we are unable to give a name to our discomfort, it is likely that we have “buried it under a rug” by postponing the possibility of dealing with it. The thing is, silenced emotions come to the surface with interests. You should log in as soon as possible.
How to unlock this?
Often, with the end of a relationship, anger and sadness prevail, which can intertwine like a skein with multiple colored threads. You have to take the time to divide these threads, find the right words to describe what hurts, what makes us ashamed, what is the most difficult thing to do.
To do this, let’s ask ourselves, “Where does it hurt? What’s worse?”. If we want the feeling of loneliness, agitation, emptiness to disappear, we must focus on these emotions and understand which of them generates the most suffering.
Step 2: start to understand what you need
When a relationship ends, some of us know exactly what hurts, but we often find ourselves trapped in a hellish loop of guiltbecause the breakup leads us to dig deep unpleasant emotions.
We find ourselves thinking about what to say: “it’s all my fault, maybe I deserve to be treated like this, to be neglected”. “It’s true, I’m incompetent, I don’t deserve to be loved, I have nothing interesting.” In this case, there is a greater awareness of what happened, we are no longer in the phase of disbelief, of perplexity. However, we remain stuck in a circle of self-deprecation and self-blame in an attempt to provide an explanation for the end of the relationship.
How do we know if what has been said corresponds to what we are going through? Also in this case we are not all the same, some manage to “slip” these passages, while others cross them with great constraint and with more “friction” between one step and another.
How to unlock?
Ask yourself, “What more do I need?” It’s not about superficial needs, like finding someone to go on vacation with, or someone who appreciates my ideas at work, or a sibling to help me care for my aging parents. , or a friend who laughs at my jokes, but with much deeper needs that have an existential character and which answer the question: what do I need to feel satisfied as a human being?
“I need to feel that I am a person of value, that I am lovable, that I have dignity, that someone is interested in knowing my true self.”
Chances are your deep needs will conflict with a broken relationship. “I need to feel worthy and lovable in a relationship where I felt easily replaceable by another.”
This is when change happens, you have to be ready to recognize those needs, how the relationship has not been able to meet them and especially to express those needs.
Step 3: Take a “journey” into the previous relationship and analyze what was lost
In the last step, you have to “go back” to analyze how the relationship endedlooking at what hurts and what we have lost, working on physical sensations, on emotional experiences.
It means bringing out all the sadness and anger, and dealing with that anger can be terribly difficult. When we’re going through grief, we often tend to focus on the positive things: “We won’t be going to that place by the sea anymore, there won’t be any more weekends out of town.”
We have to say goodbye to those old “routines” with this person. A less noticed aspect is the whole question of projects, dreams, hopes built within the couple. For example, for a couple divorcing after a short marriage, the loss could be children who will never be born; for two people in business, it could be the loss of a project that will never see the light of day.
How to unlock?
Ask yourself, “What hurt me the most? What am I missing? What dreams and hopes am I saying goodbye to?”
These are not simple questions that can be answered on the spot, and exploring them requires commitment and time. But that’s part of the hard work to complete the “healing” process.
According to Pascual-Leone, healthy emotions have a vitality curve: first they emerge, then you begin to feel them, you express them, and finally your work can be done. From this moment, a new process of acceptance and adaptation begins.