A California woman in her mid-40s—a nurse by profession—took seven years to overcome the heartache of a marital breakup and then to move on to dating other men. Her justifications? First she had to care for a sick parent, then to finish graduate school.
“Yes, her excuses had some validity. But the real reasons she didn’t move on sooner involved all her fears and anxieties. It’s tremendously hard to disentangle your life from another person,” said Regina Fletcher, a San Francisco-based former teacher and matchmaker turned “break-up coach” (www.breakupbreakthrough.com).
Indeed, Fletcher — one of a new breed of life coaches who help people navigate love transitions — says that in the current era of social media it’s especially tough to cope after a breakup.
“On Facebook and other social media, you keep seeing pictures and reminders of the love you’ve lost. This is a huge problem,” said Fletcher, a certified life coach who counsels those seeking guidance on how to build back their emotional and social lives after a breakup.
Fletcher’s clients, both men and women, range in age from their 20s to their 50s. But often those who suffer most are young women with “fresh wounds” from a breakup with a man they hoped to marry. This is especially painful if the guy made a surprise move and left her for another woman.
Fletcher says millennial women — born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s — are particularly vulnerable after breaking up with a guy they met through a dating app such as “Tinder” (www.gotinder.com). She says such “swiping apps” — which often attract those focused on appearance rather than common values—rarely lead to lasting relationships.
“It’s easy for young women to fall into a temporary, transactional relationship when what they truly want is a husband,” Fletcher said.
Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a psychologist and breakup specialist based in Atlanta, says it’s important for those going through a break-up to sever their ties with the ex.
“You can’t really move on if you are always in contact through phone calls, emails and texting. If you send a text, you’re going to waste a lot of time and energy waiting for a response,” Bradford says.
Here are a few other pointers for those struggling after a breakup:
• Acknowledge the grief.
Bradford says it’s important for those who’ve recently split to accept the losses they’re suffering.
“You have to experience the grieving process. It’s not just about the person. It’s also about the hopes and dreams of what you might have had with that person,” she said.
Depending on the length and depth of the relationship, Bradford says the post-breakup grieving process can last six to 12 months or longer, and that it’s unwise to try to rush it.
• Reach out to old friends—but not negative ones.
Fletcher says it’s critically important that those who’ve gone through a break-up not isolate themselves socially in the aftermath. Social isolation is especially risky for introverts who relied on the former partner or spouse to initiate social interactions.
“I strongly recommend you reach out to your community—except for negative people who keep dwelling on the short-comings of your ex,” she said.
For some people, one hazard of the post-breakup period is that they’ll turn to substance abuse in an attempt to comfort themselves—especially if they have friends that encourage bar hopping.
“It’s not that you can’t take a single drink or two. But if you’ve had issues in the past—with either alcohol or marijuana—it’s wise to be attentive to the possibility that you’ll overdo it again during this cooling off period,” Bradford says.
• Use the post-breakup time to broaden your life in new ways.
Although break-up coaches advise clients to confront their sadness directly, they also allow that this can prove a fruitful time for those who use it to reshape their lives.
Bradford, who’s worked as a breakup specialist since 2007, urges clients to expand their social and professional interests during this period. One way to do so is to participate in “meetups” with people who share your interests, including athletics. For this, she recommends such websites as www.meetup.com.
But she cautions against rebounding into another serious relationship right away.
“It’s good to date in a casual way to help define what you’re looking for. But the last thing you want to do is jump into another long-term relationship before you’re ready,” she said.