Two months after my ex-husband’s sudden disappearance, I wrote the following in my journal: It is the quiet times that are painful. As long as I’m at work or with friends, I am good. But, then there are days like today when I am home alone and it is quiet and the house feels too large for one. Faced with unanticipated heartbreak, I could not begin to fathom the journey I was beginning.
After nine years of cohabitation, I had forgotten how to live alone. And, in a city where apartments are the size of postage-stamps, I suddenly felt lost in my home.
But I healed. And learned a lot along the way.
Aimee Hartstein, LCSW (a relationship therapist) and I are writing a series on heartbreak, aimed to provide comfort for those grieving due to a divorce, breakup, betrayal or other relationship fallout. We speak from experience, having both survived (and thrived) post-divorce.
We’ll start with three truths:
Your hurt and confusion will diminish with time.
You will find love again. If you use this time wisely, love will be bigger, better and healthier the next time around.
This hurt provides an opportunity and a gift. You have an opportunity to learn how to soothe, comfort and love the most important person in your life — you.
After recognizing these truths, you can allow yourself to sit with them. From there, you’ll get to know these 10 gifts you’ll receive from heartbreak:
1. You’ll master new skills.
Couples, especially over significant periods of time, develop a level of helplessness. My ex-husband vacuumed the floors; I cleaned the bathroom. Once he left, I (embarrassingly) had no idea how to use my vacuum cleaner.
On your own, you’ll have no choice but to master a new skill-set. For you, this may not be about domestic chores around the house. But inevitably, there will be something you’re used to that is then absent when your partner is no longer present in your life.
“Breakups pull the rug out from under a carefully cultivated life. A wife may be faced with maintaining the yard for the first time. A husband may have to learn to feed a family on a budget. Approach new tasks with openness, curiosity, and humor,” explained Aimee, the relationship therapist.
2. You’ll discover the flip-side of sadness.
Fighting, accusations, threats, and alienation often mark the end of a relationship. Conversely, solitude may provide a respite from strife.
Take, for example, a client who reveled in her home’s peace and quiet after she kicked out an emotionally abusive boyfriend. “I once saw a couple fight on the subway,” she said, “and I breathed out a sigh of relief that I didn’t have to deal with that nonsense anymore.”
3. You’ll find comfort in meditative acts.
Formal sitting meditation, while wonderful, often is accompanied by self-judgment. Let’s face it: it’s tough to sit still and focus on your breath when your thoughts are racing, and pain fills your heart.
If meditating feels too far outside your comfort zone, try finding other forms of active meditation. Take a long walk in the park. Quietly read a book while sipping a glass of wine. Cultivate peace amid the daily grind, quiet your mind and tap into your intuitive awareness.
4. You’ll fuel your passions.
Couples negotiate two lives — their life within the relationship, and their pursuits, interests and friendships outside of it. And more often than not, the result is that they are short on time.
Newly single, you will have more free time to rediscover interests and hobbies.
“My happiest clients figure out what makes them tick. They surf, learn watercolor painting, study Spanish.” said Aimee. “Indulging in hobbies also has the very important collateral benefit of expanding one’s social-circle with like-minded people.”
5. You’ll find intimacy and love in other places.
Many couples, unintentionally, retreat unto themselves. They are comfortable with their partner, and unwittingly disconnect from lifelong friends and family for months (if not years).
“Breakups are a wonderful time to reconnect with people who love you. If it has been a while, mend fences. Good people are overwhelmingly forgiving, especially in the face of a contrite and hurting friend,” said Aimee the relationship therapist.
6. You’ll learn the power of prayer.
Life can bring you to your knees. Happy people find purpose and meaning even in life’s greatest tragedies. They communicate with their Creator and ask for strength. Regardless of whether you worship Jesus or Allah (or find your version of God in Nature’s beauty), connect to your Higher Power on a daily basis.
7. You’ll shore up the foundation.
Relationships are about two people. And even when they end sourly because of one person’s misbehavior, resist the urge to point fingers at the ex. Instead, figure out your failings and work actively to improve upon them.
“People who successfully navigate breakups ask, ‘What could I learn from this?’ Maybe they need to learn how to set boundaries? Or, fix childhood wounds that subconsciously cause them to pick the wrong people? Breakups are a wonderful opportunity to understand and improve upon shortcomings, so as to not repeat the same mistakes again,” said Aimee the relationship therapist.
8. You’ll gain perspective.
After my divorce, I volunteered weekly to cook meals for terminally ill AIDS and cancer patients. I enjoyed camaraderie with like-minded people and escaped briefly from my negative and spiraling thoughts.
Whether it’s through volunteering or trying a new activity, do something useful and generous with your skills. You’ll gain needed perspective, inner strength and empathy.
9. You’ll rediscover your sexuality.
Heartbreak decimates egos and shatters self-esteem. Rediscovering flirtation, romance and attraction work wonders to heal your spirit. Locking eyes with an attractive stranger. Laughing until the late night on a first date. Feeling the electricity of a crush’s hand in yours. A little romance makes you aware that the heart (and soul) does heal.
10. You’ll discover the importance of being your own best friend.
Becoming comfortable in your own company may be one of the most challenging skills you will ever muster. It may also have the greatest payout.
“When you’re happy alone, you are content. You say ‘no’ to negative people. You close the door on abusive relationships. You feel whole. And, in this state, you will place such a premium on your sanity and peace that you will only welcome happy, healthy and productive relationships into your life,” said Aimee the relationship therapist.