The aftermath of a relationship’s demise is a mental minefield. Emotions are in overdrive. Hormones go haywire. Self-doubt spikes. Self-esteem dive-bombs. It’s a tough gig to get up day after day, apply a touch of smile, a sweet scent of civility, and breeze unfalteringly through yet another routine day without raising suspicion that your soul might just actually be dying inside.
Painful as may be, it’s important to take time at the end of a relationship to reflect. What was great about your last relationship? What was not so great? Why did you fall in love with your last partner? What lessons have you learned? What new parts of your character were unveiled during your time together? How has your experience changed what you are looking for in a future partner? These are all difficult questions to answer, but they are important for your growth as an individual and as a future partner.
It’s not easy to think about your relationship from an objective standpoint, especially when the pain of losing someone you love is still fresh. Avoiding the tough questions about why your last relationship ended robs you of the chance to learn from your mistakes and predisposes you to repeat the same ones in a new relationship.
How do you know when you’re ready for a new relationship? How long should you wait after ending a relationship to begin another relationship? One week? Two months? Six months? However long you dated plus one year? There is no hard and fast answer here. How soon you choose explore new connections with other people depends on a multitude of factors, such as the circumstances surrounding your break-up, what you want out of a new relationship, the strength and integrity of your support network, and your own psychological resilience. This will be different for everybody, and the right time is, of course, simply the right time for you.
Were You Betrayed?
Relationships that go sour leave gaping wounds in the heart and soul. If you were abused, cheated on, betrayed or deeply hurt by your partner, then leaving a bit of time between your old relationship and your new relationship is a smart move. You’re probably angry, hurt, and fiercely adamant that no one is EVER going to get the chance to hurt you like that again. Your bullshit radar kicks into overdrive, and it’ll be a cold day in hell before anyone gets past that sturdy fortress you’ve constructed around your heart. This is a normal reaction to deep emotional pain, and if you’ve been badly hurt then preemptive bullshit detection and reinforced emotional defenses are integral to the healing of your emotional wound. This is a process, just like physical healing. It can’t be rushed; it takes as long as it takes. While a strong defense stops the people who may hurt us at the door, it also stops those who genuinely want to love us from getting too close. Keep those shields up as long as you need to, but no longer. Carrying the baggage of anger, mistrust, and assumptions into a relationship with a new partner is not fair on them. They are not the person who hurt you. Deal with your own emotional baggage before jumping into a new relationship.
Did You Initiate Your Last Break-Up?
If you were the partner who initiated the break-up, you may feel as though you don’t need time. The impetus for a break-up doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s likely that you’ve done a good deal of emotional processing already. For your partner however, the break-up may have been from left-field. If this is your situation, the dangerous emotion that you’ll need to watch out for is guilt. Witnessing the pain of a loved one resulting from your decision to end the relationship cuts deeply. Guilt is a treacherous emotion to leave unattended when heading into a new relationship. It is kryptonite to healthy boundaries and self-esteem. A person wracked with guilt is prone to take on more than their fair share of the blame for both the old relationship ending and for problems in a new relationship. This refusal to push the emotional baggage of others back to their rightful owners results in low self-esteem and makes it more likely that they will accept substandard treatment and become a victim of emotional abuse.
Did Your Partner Initiate Your Last Break-Up?
If you were the partner left behind, you’re probably feeling rejected, hurt and full of self-doubt. Your ego plies you with incessant, counter-productive and self-defeating thoughts such as: Why did they leave me? What went wrong? I gave them everything! Wasn’t that good enough?! Does that mean that I’m not good enough? Will anyone EVER love me? I’m useless! Ugly! Too fat! Boring! Stupid! You get the picture. These are not empowering thoughts to have bombarding you at any time, let alone as you seek a new relationship! If you’re not secure within yourself, then you’ll project neediness, clinginess, desperation, and require constant reassurance from a new partner. If you can’t draw upon your own reserves of self-worth to get you through the tough times, then you’ll naturally try to fill that quota elsewhere. Just don’t let that “elsewhere” be a new romantic relationship. You’re painting a bullseye on your heart as a prime target for emotional manipulation. Make sure you’ve replenished your well of self-worth before you go seeking someone new.
What Do You Want Out of a Relationship?
Jumping into a relationship without knowing what you want or why is always a bad idea. Consider the type of relationship you desire. Do you just want to hang out and go on fun dates with people? Are you looking for a boyfriend? Companionship without sex? Affection without the responsibility of a relationship? Marriage? The father of your children? The type of person who you’ll want to attract in each of these situations is quite different. If you know that you are looking for someone suitable for marriage then you know full well that investing time and energy in someone who is just interested in a physical relationship with you is a bad idea. Similarly, if no-strings-attached is how you roll, then steer clear of family-oriented types who can’t wait to settle into suburban life with a spouse and kids.
Define for yourself what you want out of a relationship BEFORE you get into one. Knowing what you want automatically filters a lot of incompatible matches so you don’t waste your time or anyone else’s. Set your own agenda or you’ll end up living out someone else’s by default.
Social Support: Who Has Your Back?
A strong social support network is vital in the break up stage. It’s important to have friends you can confide in, who can give you perspective, and who will fiercely reinforce the fact that you are beautiful, special, unique, gorgeous, and a catch to boot. It’s easy to forget these things about yourself if you’ve just come out of a bad break-up. It’s not so easy to forget if you’re surrounded by awesome people who love you and who remind you all of the time. If you forgo the grieving period and jump straight into a relationship while still emotionally vulnerable, you deny yourself that support and you deny your friends the chance to help get you back on your feet, dust you off, and get behind you as you re-enter the dating and relationship ring.
Psychological Resilience: Are You Ready For a New Relationship?
There are two times that your emotions and hormones go absolutely haywire. The first is at the beginning of a relationship. The second is at the end of a relationship. Combine these two times together and you’ll be lucky to know which way is up.
The end of a relationship and it’s aftermath require quiet time, self-reflection, and consideration of how you have changed as a person as a result of sharing your heart with your last partner. Taking time for yourself is useful during the emotional rebuilding process and for staying grounded as you embark upon the rediscovery of Self.
New relationships require the exact opposite. Your energy is directed outwards, dedicated to thinking about your new person, wanting to see them, and spending lots of time with them. That time and energy has to come from somewhere, and it’s usually from those things in your life that serve to keep you stable and grounded instead of floating off in love la-la land.
This emotionally charged period is the riskiest time to get involved with someone, and you must be aware of this if you are to navigate your new relationship on healthy footing. Strong bonds are formed in times of deep emotional experiences, and there are few emotional experiences more intense than break-ups or new relationships. If you know what you want, define your boundaries well, and choose the right person, then this energy can form a powerful and intimate bond. Get these things wrong and you’ll be hurtling headlong into the territory of emotional dependency.
If you do choose to jump relationships, do it consciously and for the right reasons. Go in with an open heart and an open mind, but take heed of your emotional vulnerability and make sure you’ve tuned up your bullshit radar and packed extra batteries. Know what you want and only take that relationship leap of faith when you are ready.
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