As a writer, I have researched many top professionals across the country. I came upon a piece by Taryn Marie Stejskal, Ph.D. and was fascinated with her work. I reached out to her with a Q and A about relationships and how to stay resilient when a relationship ends. We have all experienced this in our lives and I wanted to get her expert opinion on the topic.
This will be a 2 – part series as the invaluable information she shared is extensive.
1: Please share with readers how they should handle a devastating break-up- whether it is divorce or a long-term relationship?
How to Handle Your Healing
There is no prescribed approach for healing in the wake of ending a significant relationship. In time, you will determine how to rebuild your life after the culmination of a relationship whose extremities reached deep into your collective lives, intertwining with your family, friends, and perhaps, even your children and career. Soon, you will make more meaning out of the end of a relationship into which poured your very heart and soul. In the not-too-distant future, will learn how to re-engineer your life as an independent person, after a relationship you thought would stand the test of time. Following this relationship that broke your heart, devasted your psyche, left your chest heaving and empty, and your eyes filled with perpetually with uncryable* tears, you will architect a new life.
*Note: Uncryable is not a word in the English language, but it should be to describe an aspect of the experience of a devasting breakup.
You will heal.
The next question is “How should you heal?”
“Shoulding” all over Ourselves
No one can tell you how you “should” heal after a relationship breakup. When the late Albert Ellis’ clients would use the word “should” in therapy to refer to what they thought their experience ought to be, compared with the reality of their situation, Ellis would tell them they were “shoulding” all over themselves.
Don’t “should” all over yourself.
This article isn’t about me “shoulding” all over you from the comfort of my objective perspective, with simple tips to mend your fractured heart, with an easy solution to your complex life. This article is not a quick fix to the agony you experienced when the person, who felt as familiar as another limb, was ripped away.
While this article will not tranquilize your pain, it is about how to journey well, with intention, toward your healing, amidst your hurt. This article is about how to summon the lessons that emerge from your suffering and come to a place of peace with your relationship’s end.
Each end is, by definition, a new beginning.
Healing is not formulaic. The work of healing is both ambiguous and empowering. Ambiguous because only we get to discover our own path toward healing. Empowering because we have the power to chart our own unique path toward healing, tailored to our specific needs. This article is about doing the good and hard work necessary to harness healing and resilience amidst the aftermath of your relationship breakup and rise again.
We all know the story of the Phoenix who, like an emboldened beacon of hope, triumphing over hardship, heroically rises from the smoldering ashes. What is less well known is that, in the story of this mythical bird, the Phoenix is the one who lights its own nest on fire.
Take that in for a moment.
Question: Why would the Phoenix light its own nest on fire?
Answer: Because this legend highlights an important truth: In order to truly progress, find our best selves, and live our best lives, we must, at times, strike a match, and allow the life, the relationships we have once known, to go up in flames.
In that fire, nothing real can truly perish. The fire cauterizes resilience, catalyzes strength, and what’s left behind, in those ashes, the friendship, love, and learning from the foundation from which we build our new life.
These inflammable truths become the cornerstone from which we will rise again, greater, wiser, and more compassionate than ever.
The question of resilience is not if we will encounter challenges, change, and complexity. Resilient living is the understanding that when these experiences inevitably arise, resilience means we are not defined by our challenges, but rather, we are defined by how we respond.
Challenges exist not to finish us, but to form us.
What Broke Us Makes Us Beautiful
We build resilience when we piece together the broken pieces of ourselves that shattered in hardship and make them beautiful again.
The Japanese practice of Kintsukuroi, repairing broken pottery with a lacquer dusted with precious metals, gold or platinum, elements even more costly than the original crockery.
Being perfect, pristine even, is not resilience.
As in Kintsukuroi, we become more lovely, more resilient, through our willingness to engage in our own healing, through healing the cracks in our own lives after the loss of a significant relationship. Perfection is never the goal. We can’t be resilient if we’ve only had beautiful experiences. The cracks don’t detract from our constitution, they create each of our unique appearance of beauty.
The Five Practices of Particularly Resilient People
For more than a decade, I have conducted qualitative research on what makes people resilient by asking people a single question about how they effectively addressed the challenge. This simple question led to hundreds of rich responses, and from this data, The Five Practices of Particularly Resilient People emerged, which provides a framework to guide our behavior during times of challenge, change, and complexity. We know quite a bit about resilient thinking through work by Carol Dweck on Growth Mindset and Positive Psychology, but we know significantly less about resilient doing, the actions we can take to behave in a resilient manner when we face hardship, like the loss of a significant relationship. The Five Practices of Particularly Resilient People expands the aperture of our understanding of resilient behavior in order to support our healing and growth during times of challenge.
Here’s an overview of The Five Practices of Particularly Resilient People to support more resilient behavior following a relationship breakup:
- Vulnerability: The ability to holistically integrate our internal and external selves, to accept all of ourselves, even the disowned parts. To allow what we think, feel, and believe on the inside to be congruent with the person we show the world on the outside. Vulnerability is the cornerstone of our own authenticity, as well as developing authentic relationships.
- Productive Perseverance: The intelligent pursuit of a goal; knowing when to maintain the mission, despite challenges, and when, in the face of diminishing returns, to pivot in a new direction. Productive Perseverance demonstrates how to engage in the single-minded pursuit of a goal and when to trigger in plan B.
- Connection: Creating and deepening our connection with ourselves, including developing our intuitive abilities to listen to and know ourselves, as it is about creating connections with other people. Alongside connection with self, this practice is also the ability to find, rely on, and gain encouragement from existing or newly created communities; to draw strength from the support of others.
- Grati-osity: A combination of the words for gratitude and generosity: this practice is the ability to cultivate gratitude for the lived experience inherent within our experience, and to appreciate how these experiences accelerate our development. Then, to share these experiences, generously, perhaps even vulnerably, for the benefit of others.
- . Possibility: The ability to, instead of being mired in perfection, see possibilities and potential for progress, even in the face of obstacles. Those adept at this resilient practice typically possess an enhanced Adversity Quotient (AQ), that allows all of us to better tolerate environments riddled with the potential for fear and failure. This practice is both resilient and cultivated by resilience in that the greater our resilience, the better we are positioned to pursue progress, potential, and the possibility of what could be.
Enhancing our resilience through The Five Practices of Particularly Resilient People is even more important during times of loss, such as a relationship breakup because we are, more than ever, in (at times, desperate) need of productive actions we can take toward our healing.
2: Many may feel that their life is now empty and they wasted precious time with their significant other- what proactive steps can someone take to not experience those feelings and to look at some of the good that may have come out of that relationship?
I remained in my first marriage, a relationship that became increasingly volatile and physically abusive, for more than four years. Today, I don’t look back on the time in that relationship as wasted. Was it unpleasant? Yes. Is that an understatement? Yes. Was it detrimental? Absolutely. In those years, I faced cruelty and brutality, at the hands of a man I loved. When I came face-to-face with my own mortality, when he threatened my life, I finally left the relationship.
Yet, even this profoundly negative relationship was not without bright spots. The fact that so few relationships are completely awful, is one of the aspects of abusive relationships that makes them so difficult to leave. In leaving an abusive partner, we also leave the parts of the person with whom we are still in love. Though the relationship was profoundly destructive, we also shared incredibly wonderful moments. We traveled the world to places like India, Belize, and France. On good days we laughed together, celebrated successes, and attended the weddings of friends.
The Ambiguity of When to Exit
Now, this is important: I not suggesting anyone stay in an abusive relationship even a second longer than needed to cut bait and bolt. I also know, from experience, that each person comes to a place of clarity about when to leave a relationship on their own time. This decision is as nuanced and unique as each of us are individual.
One of The Practices of Particularly Resilient People, Productive Perseverance, deals with this concept directly, the uncertainty and resilient practice of determining when to stay the course, and when, in the face of diminishing returns, to pivot toward a new path.
So, how do we know when to stay and when to go?
One of my professors in graduate school said, “Some people have deeper bottoms”, meaning that what is a relationship deal-breaker, rock bottom for one person, isn’t for another. Sadly, there are many people who never leave unproductive, life-sucking relationships, abusive or not. Still, others, attempting to leave an abusive relationship are significantly harmed or even killed.