Wondering how to mend a broken heart, and get over your ex? Brisbane Psychologist Dr Terry Olesen offers some helpful advice …
In Western society we entertain a great illusion about permanence or permanency. We act as if life will go on forever, and automatically assume that relationships will be permanent – but “all good things come to an end”. At least materially.
Oftentimes therapists are sought out by a partner who is in distress following the breakup of a long term love relationship, wondering how to get over their ex. If you are the one left “high and dry” when your partner calls it quits, and you are in shock and/or pain, then this article applies to you.
Dumpee or Dumper?
First, know that entering the pit of rejection is quite common. You are not alone. There were 46,604 divorces granted in Australia in 2016 [i] alone.
There are many books, articles and novels written on the subject; some of these may help you. The well-known founder of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), Albert Ellis, developed his program of healing largely from his own experiences of rejection. His personal story indicates he experienced many rejections from his teens through his mid-20s. With each rejection came both primary feelings of low esteem and self-doubt, which eventually spun off into feelings of blame, anger and low grade depression.
Basically if you are the Dumpee, you see yourself as the Rejected One. Being the rejected one is painful, and your mind will invent all kinds of torture for you. I don’t know anyone who enjoys being rejected, no matter how long the relationship was for, or even if the relationship was on its last legs.
In their manual on breakups Rebuilding When your Relationship Ends[ii], Bruce Fisher and Robert Alberti offer a program of healing that can make your next steps in getting over your ex a lot easier. I recap them here.
You are not the Target
In the words of Fisher and Alberti, as the Rejected One, you may feel like the ‘victim’ or ‘used one’, while making your partner into the ‘bad guy.’ In reality though you are not the target.
A good start to overcoming both the primary rejection feeling and the secondary feelings of hurt, victimhood, and pain, is to practise mindfulness.
During the painful doubting period after your breakup, you can enter into a mindful introspection, a period of self-reflection where you refrain from blame and accusation. Mindfulness techniques as taught by a psychologist or other trained therapist, can be part of this.
The post-breakup introspection is a self-examination: you can ask yourself questions like:
- What role did I play?
- What was my stance toward things?
- Did I truly share the values, beliefs or interests of my partner?
- Is it possible that I filtered what they said via my own baggage from the past?
Fisher and Alberti suggest that such self-examination can help you see yourself in a more dispassionate, clearer manner.
Basically, you are forced to take stock of your strengths and weaknesses, which in turn allows the possibility for you to alter the way you relate to other people.
How to Get Over Your Ex
This would be an opportune time to speak to a psychologist or couples counsellor. Your breakup could be an opportunity for you to deepen your understanding of yourself. With a thorough stocktake of yourself, it may turn out you are less likely to fall into a similar situation, or to project things onto others. Or you may come to accept that the relationship was a valuable tutorial in your life’s journey.
A second point is that with some Emotional Distancing (or Defusion) you may learn that the breakup of a love relationship is not solely your fault. There are many, many variables that enter into a decision to join together and many more involved in the parting of ways. An important factor is the ‘previous baggage’ which both partners bring into any partnership from the get-go.
Is there a way to mitigate the pain and delay, to get over your ex? Choosing whole heartedly and early on to do therapy will enable you to realise that because a relationship ends does not necessarily mean that you come to an end.
With the help of a therapist you will come to see that “breakup” does not equate to “I am inadequate”, “I failed my partner and children”, “I am inferior”, or “I will never be loved again or find another suitable partner”.
Like contracting a cold, or winning a lottery, breakups just happen. Partners for whatever reason, just grow apart.
It is usually not helpful to look at the other partner, or yourself, as targets for blame. Resentment (blaming) can leave lasting physical and mental marks on those who hold fast to these emotional schemas[iii]. And they can adversely impact your children, and even your relatives and friends.
Feeling Guilty: How much is appropriate?
Usually the Dumper is the one to feel guilt (although both partners can).
Fisher and Alberti make the suggestion that if we take on the role of Dumper, we will likely experience guilt and may even punish ourselves by being overly nice, or overly giving. We may start treating the Dumpee to dinners or even offer an overly generous pre-divorce hearing division of assets — all these things will slow or complicate the process of ending things. However, Fisher and Alberti recommend being on guard against compensating the other for their hurt. Even though one party initiates the separation (the Dumper), both parties have contributed to the break down of the relationship, and both will determine the quality of separation for themselves and any offspring.
Feeling Love: when it no longer serves you (or the other)
Turning now to the Dumpee: Fisher and Alberti found through their own research that at the point of the divorce papers being filed, the Dumpee is often still in love with their now ex-partner, and thus will feel much more emotional pain once divorcing begins (as described above).
Their solution is to accept the fact you now have the de facto role of Dumpee, and start telling those whom you can trust and who love you, that you are in the process of permanent separation from your former love partner. Don’t delay things via denial.
They also again recommend finding a couples or marriage therapist at this key time.
Healing After Separation
As stated above, post separation work requires a stocktaking by you, whereby you share your feelings about your ex-partner and your relationship termination with trusted others.
The old adage about ‘letting go’ certainly applies but this will be a very individual process and is not to be rushed. Research shows that healing is enabled or progressed with the engagement of a good therapist and as you reconnect to others via (gradually developing) new relationships and activities[iv].
New relationships (via friendships, clubs, church groups, volunteering) can help most if they are “growth-relationships,” say Fisher and Alberti. These are relationships that help you discover who you are, without you unnecessarily burdening the other. They work out best and more safely if they do not entail new romances (ie you avoid romancing ‘on the rebound’ or ‘trying to prove your worth’).
Growth relationships allow you the space to honestly and unashamedly share your feelings and get honest feedback; and this should eventually lead to a faster recovery:
- less anger talk (of getting even);
- less hurt (of what you think your partner did to you);
- and more ‘distance’ (objectivity) regarding the facts of the break up.
Once these start to happen you have started on the road to recovery and getting over your ex. Finding and working with a therapist can also be a Growth Relationship.
Getting such healing underway will have the important side benefit of making your divorce or mediation proceedings less of a drama. If you commit to doing the internal work, when you try to meet your ex-partner to arrange child support or divide assets, you will be more settled, more objective, and less prone to over-reaction. You will also be more open to seeing a positive future, “a light at the end of the tunnel”.
Author: Dr Terry Olesen, BA (Hons), M Psych, PhD Psych, MAPS.
For over 25 years, Brisbane Psychologist Dr Terry Olesen has been helping people via psychology-based counselling. He finds it particularly rewarding to work with people with a ‘life situation knot’: feeling stymied, distraught, sad or angry, while facing external challenges such as job loss, health issues or getting over an ex. The topic of his doctoral research was work-life adjustment and mental health, which, in addition to his years of clinical practice, gives him the expertise to help people with a range of career and relationship-related difficulties.
To make an appointment with psychologist Dr Terry Olesen, try Online Booking – Loganholme, or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129.
- [i] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Retrieved 3/12/2017. http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/3310.0
- [ii] Bruce Fisher & Robert Alberti, Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends: , California: Atascadero Books
- [iii] The Mayo Clinic, Retrieved 4/12/2017. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/forgiveness/art-20047692
- [iv] Andrew Reeves, An Introduction to Counselling and Psychotherapy: From Theory to Practice, London: SAGE Books, 2012