Get Over It
Years ago I went on a handful of dates with a very charming, fun guy. He had been married before, and that relationship ended badly — a fact he was very open about with me. Part of that story was his ex using his money to get breast enhancement surgery, then leaving him shortly after. While I enjoyed getting to know this guy, I was bewildered when he would anxiously say things like, “please don’t ever get a boob job,” or “I’d leave you immediately if you got a boob job” — a surgery I have never even considered getting. And yet, that thought overshadowed everything for him at that time.
People are hurting and they aren’t working through it. It’s preventing them from moving forward and creating healthier, meaningful relationships.
This is just one example of the many I have experienced or observed. People are hurting and they aren’t working through it. It’s preventing them from moving forward and creating healthier, meaningful relationships. And it makes sense — being emotionally vulnerable is terrifying, especially after someone has betrayed that vulnerability. That’s where the healing comes in, and why healing is so vital to moving forward from heartbreak.
Here’s what healing looks like: One of my closest female friends recently started dating a new guy. Her last relationship lasted for several years and could easily be seen as emotionally abusive. This new relationship, though? They are so healthy, supportive, and uplifting for one another. Still, she calls me at least once every couple weeks in a panic, worried that she’s not worth the time to him anymore, or that he’s going to break up with her. Each time I talk her down, and each time he proves her wrong. Her trauma is real, but she’s talking it out, taking leaps of faith, and learning to savor her new relationship in the moment — despite the long-held insecurities and negative thoughts that she’s learning to reframe.
Psychotherapist Dr. Julie Hanks recently shared a post on Instagram (November 17, 2019) with the headline “FOUR QUESTIONS TO STOP SABOTAGING YOUR RELATIONSHIP,” based on The Work by Katie Byron. You should absolutely read her original post, but I’ll summarize the idea here. In her post, Hanks encourages readers to second guess a thought you have about someone close to you (for the purposes of this article I’d suggest the thought “He’s/She’s going to break my heart”).
First consider “Is This True?” then second, “Can I ABSOLUTELY Know It’s True?” These first two steps help pause that automatic response. If you’ve experienced heartache before you’re likely going to be a bit guarded in a new relationship, especially if a certain situation triggers that fear. Think it out. Figure out if you KNOW your thoughts are ABSOLUTELY true, or if your thoughts are mimicking past hurt and defensiveness.
Third, Hanks poses the question, “How Do I Act When I Believe That Thought?” If I believe someone is going to hurt me I become closed off, stressed out, and defensive. I have never been in a relationship that has flourished with those negative reactions.
Lastly, Hanks asks, “Who Would I Be Without That Thought?” For me, when I’ve been able to let go of the thought “He’s going to break my heart,” I can bring more light into the relationship. I am more open, loving, and joyful. I can enjoy the relationship more fully without that burden on my shoulders. That is what I want to bring to every relationship.
I love these questions Dr. Hanks shares because I need them. I’ve worked so hard on healing from my own heartache and trauma, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t still get triggered, or experience negative thoughts in my relationships from time to time. I have to practice recognizing triggers, and deciding if they are valid thoughts or not. I regularly have to reframe my thoughts and my reactions. I’m learning to trust again. I’m hoping that whoever comes into my life next will be patient as I continue to work toward healing, and I intend to give them that same grace.
If you are in the first few months of a relationship ending, show yourself compassion. Healing absolutely takes time. But you should also be actively working to heal. This could mean spending quality time alone, listening to uplifting music, reading inspiring books, revisiting old hobbies, connecting with trustworthy friends, asking for help, talking it out with a therapist, eating well, moving your body, and getting enough sleep. It absolutely means caring for yourself as well as you should care for someone else in a relationship. And it means finding the right people to be vulnerable with and put your trust in. Not everyone’s going to spend your money on a boob job, and not everyone’s going to emotionally abuse you. The right people are worth investing in, and past heartaches help us learn who the right people are.
I’ll leave you with a quote from psychologist and growth-mindset researcher Carol Dweck: “A no-effort relationship is a doomed relationship, not a great relationship. It takes work to communicate accurately and it takes work to expose and resolve conflicting hopes and beliefs. It doesn’t mean there is no ‘they lived happily ever after,’ but it’s more like ‘they worked happily ever after.’”
Healthy relationships take work, and past trauma makes that work a bit harder. But I think that work is worth it, for the individual and the relationship. May we all “work happily ever after!”