I remember when I found out my marriage was over. It sent me into a downward spiral; a drink-and-drug-fuelled period of bad memories and even worse situations. I didn’t care – the pain inside me was too raw, too visceral to cope with. Blacking out and forgetting was better than dealing with the crushing reality that the future I had envisioned had crumbled into dust.
Maybe you are experiencing this situation right now. Maybe you are also struggling to cope with the fallout of divorce, and are engaging in some questionable activities. Maybe, like me, your days have become about existing, rather than living. You don’t know when the pain will end. All you want is for it to go away.
There is no timescale for how long it takes a broken heart to heal. Sometimes it can take days; other break-ups can take months or even years to overcome. There is no secret cure; all you can do is continue living.
As a man, my mentality is the same as most other men: there’s a problem; how can I fix it? How can I save this relationship? The truth is that, most likely, you can’t. Nobody walks away from a marriage without an awful lot of thought. When the conclusion they have come to is that it is over, there is very little you can do.
The Kübler-Ross model of the Five Stages of Grief can be applied to the end of a relationship. Although nobody has passed away, you still need to grieve. The death of a relationship; the ending of a future you had planned out; in many ways, it is harder to handle than death. At least there is finality to death. With heartbreak, there is no finality. There is no clean break. You can’t help but wonder “what if…?”
The five stages of the Kübler-Ross model are: Denial; Anger; Bargaining; Depression and Acceptance. Each of them apply to the end of a relationship equally as much as the grieving process:
Denial – “This isn’t happening” “Don’t be silly, it’s just a row. You’ll feel different in the morning”
Anger – “Why are you doing this to us?” “What have I ever done that’s so bad?”
Bargaining – “I can change” “Please, let’s work through this”
Depression – “It’s all my fault” “I don’t blame them for leaving”
Acceptance – “It was over; it has been for a while, I just couldn’t see it”
All of the above are phrases I’ve used during the period after a break-up, and I suspect I am not alone in that. I have used them to highlight how the Kübler-Ross model of grief relates to the end of a relationship too. Now, it isn’t as clean-cut as I’ve perhaps made it appear. You may get to the Bargaining stage and then slip back to Denial. Depression and Anger often overlap; especially in men, who generally display signs of depression differently to women. Indeed, the first four stages can be a nightmare to work through, and there will be times when you feel you will never get past it.
When you reach the stage of Acceptance, that is the moment you will start to live again. The thing is, you can’t wait around for the acceptance of the situation to come—that isn’t how it works. Acceptance isn’t a moment when you suddenly become fine with what’s happened, and waiting for that moment makes it much more unlikely to come.
What you need to do is focus on yourself. Look at the aspects of your own life that you are unhappy with. Maybe you feel like you have let yourself go physically. Maybe you feel like your life has become mundane and routine. These are all things that you have the power to change, so do it! Sign up to a gym; take up jogging, work on your physique. If your life has become boring, make more time for the things you enjoy, and take up new hobbies. Become the person you’ve always wanted to be, and you’ll find that acceptance of the divorce comes so much quicker.
It is important to reflect on why the relationship ended. In the immediate aftermath, people always tend to blame the other party, but there is always fault on both sides. If you can begin to understand why the relationship failed, then it will leave you in good stead for the future. Hard as it may be to believe right now, one day, you will love again. When that day comes, be the person you’ve always wanted to be. Learn from the mistakes of relationships past.
You may think you can’t get through this time, but you will. Sometimes, good things have to fall apart so better things can fall into place. Focus on yourself, and improving your life, and I promise you will be happy again.