I broke up with my fiance a few weeks ago (I counted the days up to about day 30 and then lost count). Unlike my last break up eight years ago, which was super easy, this one has been painful. I’ve cried a lot. And I’ve been through all the stages of grief in the Kubler-Ross grief cycle.

This diagram makes the cycle look like a one-time thing and then up and out of it. The truth is you go through this cycle again and again. You live it until the painful parts get progressively shorter in duration and the feeling better parts get longer until you’ve healed.
I know everyone has to go through this for any trauma: at the end of a relationship, the end of a life, when your kids leave home or you lose a job. Some people get stuck in the cycle at the anger part and I’m aware of that so am being careful not to let that happen. I’ve allowed myself to express my anger to my ex a couple of times even though I’d promised myself no contact. Weighing it all up, I’m not sorry because it helped me to release some of the rage I was feeling. And directing it at him kept it between the two of us (and some close friends). I didn’t go spouting off publicly, saying things I may not have meant, which I know I’d have regretted. This is not advice by the way, it’s just how I feel about my choice. If you’ve resolved to go no contact, I recommend you stick to that.
I have noticed some ways of thinking that make it all much easier (and some ways that make it much harder!) What’s helping most is focusing on the thoughts that feel better and rejecting those that don’t feel good. And sometimes forcing myself to do this even when I’m pulled into wallowing in pain. Writing it down helps.
The thoughts that feel the worst are about self blame. I’ve blamed myself for being naive, for not spotting major red flags, for trying too hard to please, for ignoring deal breakers, for allowing myself to be taken over by the relationship, for settling for less than I deserve or want and for seeing my worth through someone else’s eyes. I’ve felt foolish and pretty stupid and I don’t know why when I was stuck in it, I couldn’t see with the clarity I now have. This has tortured me! I’ve gone over it and over it wondering why I didn’t get out earlier. Where was my pride and self respect?
The trick is to stop this self blame in its tracks or it prolongs suffering. To keep on blaming yourself over and over again is like getting lost when you’re driving to London and then spending the rest of your life driving around and round Watford services blaming yourself for getting lost in the first place. Just switch on your sat nav and get right back on the motorway to your destination.
Think the good feeling thoughts instead. Write them down. What are they? Remind yourself that even though it feels like you’ve been through a painful waste of time, this is an illusion. Each life experience brings you to a new realisation about what you want from your future.
Seeing this has lifted me up from some of the worst despair. I know that I’m now so much better equipped for any future relationships. It’s been like relationship university.

What have I learned?

Along with all the little lessons, I’ve learned three huge life-changing things:

  1. What I want (and what I definitely don’t want) from a relationship.
  2. The knowledge that I won’t ever again settle for something that’s less than what I want.
  3. That I’ll never again give up my sense of self in a relationship.

I naively didn’t consciously know any of these things before I met him. Or if I did, I’d forgotten them. I won’t now!

So if you’re blaming yourself after a break up, instead of thinking: “I did something wrong, I should have known better,” ask yourself how you are supposed to figure anything out about what you want if it isn’t by exposure to the experience? I notice when I look back on my life that I’ve learned from every bad experience I’ve ever lived through and everything has 100 per cent always turned out well in the end.

This is just an episode. It’s obvious I’ll be happy full-time again. In fact, right at this moment I am happy precisely because I just wrote this and put my relationship and my break up into perspective. Even though it feels important at the time, it’s only as important as my past traumas – all of which are not important at all to my current life. I can barely remember them. Even the grief after the death of a loved one fades and life gets back to normal. This definitely will.