This originally appeared on Mamamia. Republished here with permission.
In a cruel twist of fate, just as my contract with Harper Collins to write my latest book on dating and relationships was finalized, so too was I finalizing the end of what had been an incredibly important partnership with a man I deeply loved.
Although I had to end this relationship, this doesn’t mean the decision was easy. In fact, making the decision that a relationship isn’t working anymore can be almost as heartbreaking as when someone breaks up with you. The sense of lost opportunities and dreams can leave you just as raw.
Me? I spent that first week after I broke up with this man in tears. I was quite committed to this. I cried with gusto and pride. I became an Olympic crier. The advice I was tempted to give to young girls during this stage? “Run! Guard your hearts!”
But instead, I literally began at the end and started my book by researching and exploring how to deal with heartbreak. Physician heal thyself.
Since then, I have dated a few men and have had to make the choice to end some of these relationships too.
So what have I now learnt about being the bearer of bad news?
1. If you feel like crying—let the tears flow. Tears may feel pointless, but a dear friend, Ella, who is a nurse, wrote to me after my cry-fest to say what I was doing was actually vital work: “In nursing, we use normal saline for almost everything. Normal saline is the artificially made version of tears.
We use normal saline for a lot of things, the two most striking are to rehydrate patients and to clean out wounds…Normal saline is the best way to clean out a wound because it gets rid of the crap and stimulates the healing process.
I was told some time ago that tears are the ‘normal saline’ for the wounds that we can’t see. Just like a vial of normal saline will clean out a cut or a scratch, shedding tears helps heal our heart. It stings at first (as does cleaning out a wound) but when the pain is over, there’s relief.” Wise words.
2. Breaking up is meant to be (at least a little) hard to do. When I was a teen girl, it was considered OK to send your bestie across the playground to break the news; “You’re dropped.” Today, plenty of people think it is fine to simply send a text. It’s not. If you consider yourself old enough to be in an adult relationship, you need to be mature enough to face your partner and speak your truth (unless of course you fear they may get violent, in which case, all bets are off. Get out. Now).
3. There is no easy way out. Yes, the grown-up approach may be to break the news face-to-face but this won’t necessarily be smooth-sailing. You cannot predict exactly how the other person will respond. Recently, I started seeing a man who seemed truly kind and affectionate.
Alas, despite working hard to make something that seemed so good on paper translate into an emotional connection, I just couldn’t get there. I expected him to understand, as it was obvious I’d tried, and I had voiced my concerns along the way. The reality? He seemed genuinely crushed, ignored me, and then finally resorted to saying some very hurtful and unnecessary things.
Instead of allowing him to feel what he needed to feel, and seeing it for what it was (hurt), I made the mistake of trying to convince him to feel the way I wanted him to feel; to be cheerful and move straight onto Planet Friendzone with me.
In hindsight, this was naïve at best, self-centered at worse. This is not to say you should allow anyone to treat you badly, but rather that people all move through the grief cycle differently. Some will start at anger and may take their own sweet time to move to forgiveness. Others will launch into denial, or try to bargain their way out. Bottom line: You cannot control how others will react, nor do you need to absorb the negativity that may be directed at you.
4. See their response for what it is—pain. And step away so that they, and you, can heal.
5. Don’t romanticize the past. As you find yourself single again, all of your ex’s good qualities—the ones that attracted you in the first place—may suddenly blow up to gigantic proportions in your mind. Meanwhile, you might go completely blank when you try to remember all those valid reasons you had for breaking up. And then suddenly, all the happy times may start replaying themselves in your brain. You must have been in the grip of temporary madness when you decided to break up, right? No. Put down the phone. Cancel that text message you’re halfway through writing to your ex.
Remember that even when it was you who made the decision to split, you may be going through the process of grief too. You had hopes and dreams in the early days of the relationship, but for whatever reason, they didn’t become reality. That can be heartbreaking.
But don’t let the heartbreak fool you into thinking that the only way you will feel happy again is to call up your ex and say it was all a horrible mistake and you didn’t really mean it and can you just go back to how it was before and pretend it never happened.
It’s important to honor the reasons that made you decide to end the relationship, and to be protective and nurturing of your long-term happiness.
6. Learn. Take time out afterward to figure out what you really want out of a relationship. Despite what many of the women’s magazines would have us believe (that the key to success is to learn all about what “he” wants, needs, and desires), to form a relationship with someone, you need to first learn more about you. Take stock: What worked? What didn’t? How could you have made it even better?
7. Finally, take some time out before dating again to find, love, and enjoy yourself. And remember, whether you find someone new to love or not, you’ll be fabulous either way. Despite the rhetoric about us all needing to be one of two to be whole, we are all already complete. The heart can sing amazing solos too.
Dannielle Miller is the author of The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo: A girl’s guide to claiming her power and The Butterfly Effect: A positive new approach to raising happy, confident teen girls (Random House). Her latest book, co-written with Nina Funnell, is “Loveability – An Empowered Girl’s Guide to dating and Relationships.“ She is the CEO of Enlighten Education, Australia’s leading provider of in-school workshops for teenage girls and is an avid blogger at The Butterfly Effect. You can follow her on Twitter: @MillerDannielle