How to Be Single After a Long Relationship
Going through a break up can be an emotional roller coaster regardless of whether you are the one who initiated the breakup or the one who gave up on the relationship - one moment you can be calm and rational, full of motivation to start afresh, and the next moment you are crying buckets, incessantly stalking your ex's social media or calling and messaging them, or you are suffering from immense feelings of regret.
It is not an easy journey to be single again, especially in long term relationships that you had dedicated a lot of time and effort into. Some people may also have intense fears of being along for the rest of their lives (e.g. loneliness is currently a social problem in Japan).
So what are some tips on how to be single after a long relationship?
1. First, stop blaming yourself
Questions like why, how, if, what went wrong, is there something wrong with me, naturally comes to mind after a breakup. Of course, we cannot be completely faultless as relationships do take both parties to work - we have to be truthful to ourselves that we may have played a small or big part in the breakup.
However, the time will come where you need to stop dwelling on the past, blaming yourself or waddling in self criticism or hate.
Cry and move on. Learn and move on. We all make our fair share of mistakes in life.
You should start strong on your journey to be single again by being free from negative images about yourself. Cultivate self love so you can become a happier and more confident person.
For the relationship leavers
For those who did not wish to end the relationship
If you made up your mind to leave the relationship, be patient with your ex partner as he/she could still be in denial and will need time to adjust.
It will be a difficult time to adjust. Give yourself time to heal, look after yourself and find some support.
Try to be understanding as it is an emotional time. If possible, it would be good to clear things up and talk things through to give the relationship some closure.
You may be be struggling to get closure and understand why your ex partner has left. However, there are many complex reasons why a relationship did not work. You need to be prepared that you may never get a clear answer as to why the relationship has failed.
You may experience many negative emotions such as feelings of guilt, regret, fear or hate. Remind yourself of the reasons why you made the decision to leave. It does also take some courage to leave a long term relationship. Seek help if needed to get your emotions back in balance.
You may experience negative feelings such as abandonment, self- hate, worry, loneliness, anger and sadness. Keep your feelings in check and slowly work towards picking yourself up. Talk to your friends or family if you need a listening ear.
You may not be able to control your ex from trying to get you back. Instead of focusing your ex's actions, focus on yourself - what you want in life, what improvements you want to see.
Instead of focusing on getting your relationship back, focus on yourself and what you want and need in life. It will only prolong your pain if you refuse to accept that the relationship has ended. Don't be obsessed with knowing what your ex is up to (e.g. checking to see if he/she is in a new relationship). Finding a partner is not a contest - so stop comparing or competing.
2. Be more emotionally independent
When we have been with someone for a long time, they have become a big part of our lives. As such, it can be a little emotionally difficult to adjust. For example, one of the best things about having a partner is that you can tell them almost anything - even the most insignificant things like a broken nail, how sleepy you are at work or what you had for lunch everyday. It makes us happy and feel wanted because we have someone to share every minute details of our lives (and vice versa).
Long term relationships can also makes us emotionally dependent because we are frequently seeking our partner's opinion, acknowledgement and approval of us and the things we do.
The emotional bond with another individual can therefore be very strong and it makes you wonder how to be single after a long relationship, when that emotional dependency is gone.
Therefore, one of the first things you should do when you become single is to work on becoming more emotionally independent.
What you can do!
An effective way to help you be more emotionally independent is to write about your feelings. You may have heard this advice a thousand times but writing has been scientifically proven to help improve your emotional well being.
It is worth noting that writing offline rather than online (such as venting on social media) is much more effective in helping you to manage your emotions. Based on a 2013 paper in the Journal on Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, people who use online sites to vent their emotions are less effective in dealing with their anger issues. In a 2008 paper in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, research has shown that expressing our inner thoughts through writing letters have been linked to better pain control and less depressive symptoms in chronic pain sufferers.
So if you decide to try writing, it is best to write privately in a journal. Writing in a personal journal gives you the freedom to express your inner most thoughts and emotions and 'talk' about the details in your life (be it big or small) whenever and however you want to, without any judgement or criticisms. You will feel better and calmer after you pen your thoughts down.
- Create things
There is something magical about making things. It gives us a sense of satisfaction and great pride when we create something - these feelings can strengthen us emotionally by giving us confidence and improve our self esteem.
You do not need to aim to create things to seek the acknowledgement and attention of others to feel great about yourself (e.g. a masterpiece painting, creating a blockbuster). It can simply be creating a great meal for yourself from scratch, redecorating your house, creating a new image for yourself, learning a new hobby which involves creating new things (e.g. pottery, cooking or drawing like Zentangle).
- Practice self acceptance
Start making decisions on your own without having to seek the opinion or approval of others. Find acceptance from within and be confident that you are capable and beautiful and strong.
Being single is an opportunity to do things for yourself
3. Get busy
When a breakup is still relatively ‘fresh’, your mind will be filled with thoughts of your breakup. It will be the first thing that comes to mind when you wake up, the last thing you think about before you sleep, and thoughts of your breakup will surface whenever there is a small window of opportunity for your mind to wander.
You may also feel lost, directionless or a lower sense of self worth after a breakup.
Sometimes, the only easy solution that you think could help end your misery is to try get back to your previous relationship or getting into another relationship.
But don’t be too quick to jump onto the relationship wagon again after a breakup, as you need time to recover from your last relationship and re-assessment your life to see if you need to realign your priorities and needs. For added guidance on how to find yourself again, you can refer to the article below.
- How to Find Your Real Self Again
Do you feel like you have been suppressing the real you - what you feel, your true aspirations, likes & dislikes? Start with these 5 ideas to help you get re-acquainted with your real self today.
To keep your mind away from these negative thoughts, you can get busy by filling your time with activities. Make a list of things that you want to do or achieve - then do it. Take “being single” as an opportunity to do things for yourself. Go try things that you always wanted to try, but kept finding excuses not to. Start saying ‘yes’ to events or activities that you get invited to, even if you are not sure if you will enjoy it. You never know what wonderful things will come your way if you just get out there. Even if you do not like it, at least at the end of the day, you can say you tried it.
Find an activity that you enjoy and also where you can meet a lot of people. For instance, you can join a group activity such as a hiking group, photography or baking club. There are many platforms on the web such as Meetup, Groupspaces and MEETin to find an interest group near you.
Gaining more new experiences and actively making the effort to do things that you enjoy can also help to boost your confidence level.
Do you enjoy being single?
4. Find other single friends
It's not that your attached or married friends should be suddenly banned from your social life when you become single, but having single friends who may be able to relate more to your challenges of being single can be comforting.
You can also do more spontaneous things with single friends (such as a last minute dinner date or holiday!) and enjoy what singlehood has to offer.
Even if you are a single mother or father, you should not forget to take care of yourself and also do the things you love whenever you can. Seek help from friends and family when needed and also look out for families who are also single parent household for mutual emotional support.
For those who have childen from the relationship
If possible, both parents should be present to inform the children on the decision to separate so they may be assured that the parents are there for them regardless of what is happening. They will also have an opportunity to ask both parents questions.
Children are fearful of change (and so are most adults). So before informing them of the separation, evaluate what are the things that will change (e.g. will someone be moving out, frequency of meet ups) and the things that will remain the same (e.g. children will still get to see both parents, grandparents, stay in the same school) after a separation. This will better prepare everyone (including yourself) of what is to come.
It will take time for you to adjust to becoming a single parent or being separated from your children. There will be moments of intense guilt, unhappiness, uncertainties, self-doubt. Be prepared - find healthy avenues to address these negative emotions.
Separation is an emotional time for the family. Give the children and yourself time to process. Whatever you do, try not to argue or act out on your partner in front of the children. Stay strong (pretend if you have to!) when with your children (especially with younger ones) so they will not suppress their emotions in fear that they may be adding to your distress.
5. Get comfortable doing things on your own
It can be scary to do things on your own when you are so accustomed to having your partner readily available to do things with you or doing things for you.
However, learning how to be single after a long relationship requires you to get accustomed to being comfortable to do things on your own. These include fun things such as going shopping on your own and also more serious things like learning how to get your laptop fixed, or doing an administrative chore.
I remember watching a movie on my own after breaking up with my boyfriend of many years. It was difficult finding people to watch with me because my friends had either watched it already or had conflicting schedules with mine. It was never really a challenge to find someone to do something I wanted because my boyfriend was always available. We were always on each other's priority list whenever a new movie comes out or when there is an interesting event happening. Eventually, I decided to watch the movie on my own.
I must say it was a little uncomfortable at first (especially when you are at the ticket counter buying a ticket for one). However, overall it was not as bad or awkward as I imagined and I felt a small sense of achievement after the movie because I managed to do something for myself, by myself.
You can start small, like going out shopping on your own for an hour or 2 before meeting friends for dinner. It does take time to start feeling more confident to be on your own so practice often and you will gradually get used to it. You may even start to enjoy doing things on your own because it is such a liberating feeling to be able depend on yourself.