Avoiding Self-Destructive Breakup Mistakes
During a traumatic split, it’s hard to focus on anything except the pain. To avoid making these painful (and common!) missteps yourself, follow the “Conscious Uncoupling Process” outlined below.
Katherine Woodward Thomas has been through her fair share of bad breakups. “For years I was searching for this one true love, this man I was going to have this perfect life with — and yet, I had this pattern of drawing in unavailable men, and I went from one traumatic heartbreak to
another,” says Woodward Thomas, the author of the national best-seller, Calling In “The One,” in which she guides readers through the process of attracting love and describes the experience she herself had of “calling in” her husband Mark when she was 41.
|I was anticipating drama and deep suffering when Mark and I broke up.|
But when it became clear that after 10 years together, Mark and Katherine’s marriage was headed for a split, Woodward Thomas feared that she was heading into another traumatic breakup similar to those she’d had when she was younger. These devastating breakups had caused her to take up smoking again, gain weight, socially isolate herself, and lose years pining away for a lost love back then. “I was anticipating drama and deep suffering when Mark and I broke up,” Woodward Thomas says.
How she turned her pain into positivity
But that’s not what followed. Instead, a split that could’ve been excruciating for them both actually turned into a growth experience for the separating couple. “We both went out of our way to be supportive and kind. When the divorce was final, we both felt really complete and ready to open our hearts to other people,” Woodward Thomas explains.
Her experience made Woodward Thomas realize that “most of the pain we feel over a breakup is really coming from taking the wrong approach,” she says. “The real damage we are suffering from isn’t coming from the endings themselves, but rather, from how we are ending things. We’re making some very real mistakes in our approach to a breakup. The three most common breakup mistakes steal joy not only from our present, but also for our future — and can prevent future love from ever taking root in our lives again.”
Woodward Thomas began to recognize that bad breakups — those traumas the average person experiences two or three times over the course of a lifetime — are “major crossroads in our lives that can either derail us or prompt us to take a stand for ourselves in a new and powerful way.” Since then, Woodward Thomas has been teaching teleseminars on what she’s dubbed the “Conscious Uncoupling Process.” In these sessions, Woodward Thomas guides participants through the process of ending their relationships in a healthy and conscious way, which helps them avoid the three common and destructive breakup mistakes listed below.
Mistake #1: Moving from “soul mate” to “soul hate”
Virtually anyone who’s been through a breakup has watched the person they once thought of as The One evolve into The One who Shall Not be Named. And, as Woodward Thomas points out, our whole culture will lend support to those suffering through it. Magazines offer advice on how to “dump the jerk,” while friends will urge the brokenhearted to move on and forget about that “loser.” We also have very clear and understandable motivations for “moving from soul mate to soul hate” with a soon-to-be ex: “Our new disgust for a former partner helps to sever the bond between us.” But not, Woodward Thomas says, without paying a very high cost.
Woodward Thomas points out that while the instinct to trash your former partner is a common one, it only serves to “devalue the relationship that you both chose” — and ultimately, to devalue yourselves. “In an attempt to emotionally disconnect from a former partner, we’ll go from loving [that person] to hating, devaluing, and even despising [him or her], which at first might seem like a good idea, as it can help us detach from that person,” she explains. “But ultimately, we have to learn to disconnect in a healthy way. Otherwise, we end up doing a
tremendous amount of damage to ourselves and others, and completely sabotage our ability to reclaim our power and reinvent our lives. When we replace a bond from a positive one to a negative one, we only dig our hole and become enslaved to the shadow side of love, unable to reclaim the vibrancy of our spirit and the sweetness of life.”
|Many of us hope to just wait out the suffering from a bad breakup.|
“Very big feelings can come up in a breakup — so big, in fact, that they can be very hard to navigate,” Woodward Thomas says. “Big hurt, big rage, big despair, big desire for revenge… In the midst of these feelings, we can suddenly find ourselves spinning out of control.” Woodward Thomas counsels, however, that in a healthy breakup, “the first step is to harness these feelings and transform the desire for destruction into the energy of construction.”
Mistake #2: Failing to take responsibility for your part in the relationship’s demise
In the middle of a breakup, it’s very easy to point fingers and dwell on all the ways that former partners have let you down — whether the breakup was your idea or not. It is especially easy to put all the blame on the other person if he or she betrayed you, lied, or acted in less than honorable ways. But, Woodward Thomas says, even in those cases where one partner’s clearly been mistreated, it’s imperative to look at the ways in which you willingly participated in the relationship and chose to ignore any waving red flags before its demise.
“Yes, the other person might have been messed up,” Woodward Thomas says, “but your primary attention needs to be on you. To try to integrate loss, you constantly re-tell the story of the breakup, but you tell it in an incomplete way. If the majority of your attention is on the former partner, you can’t be looking at your role in the split, i.e.: Was I trying to buy her love? Was I fostering a sense of dependency? Was I auditioning for the role of wife?” Find out what you contributed to the relationship’s demise, and be willing to accept responsibility for it.
“Until you take full ownership of all the ways you covertly colluded to create all the dynamics of the relationship, you can’t access your own power to create a different experience and break those old patterns of love. You need to look at how you can show up differently in the future so you can trust yourself to never, ever do this again,” Woodward Thomas advises.
Mistake #3: Buying into the myth that time heals all wounds
Many of us hope to just wait out the suffering from a bad breakup. No matter how bad we feel, we keep moving one foot in front of the other, muttering some version of “This too shall pass” to ourselves. But Woodward Thomas says that “it’s not actually time that heals everything; it’s really us doing the work. Time can diminish the acute impact of the pain you’re in now and reduce it to a low-grade depression so you can function again. But in the end, that heartbreak will have stolen your joy and contracted your heart.”
“You want to first recognize that this is a profound opportunity to grow yourself beyond the patterns of the past and set an intention to nurture your own breakthrough in how love goes for you,” Woodward Thomas says. “Take a stand to have happy, healthy love from now on, and be willing to identify where you need to grow in order to navigate your way to that future. When we are in great amounts of pain, we will often be motivated to do the work that might otherwise be theoretical. The opportunity presented by a breakup is that it can finally be the bottom you’ve needed to hit in order to evolve beyond those old, toxic patterns; once it’s over, you can grow healthier and more available to loving others — and being loved in return — than ever before.”
Click here to learn more about Katherine Woodward's Thomas Conscious Uncoupling Program
Theo Pauline Nestor is the author of How to Sleep Alone in King-Size Bed: A Memoir of Starting Over and a regular contributor to Happen magazine.