In this interview with Commitment, Susan J. Elliott, JD, MEd, a certified grief therapist and author of "Getting Past Your Painful Breakup: How To Turn A Devastating Loss Into the Best Thing That Ever Happened To You" shares her experience of going through a devastating divorce that left her feeling that her "life was over." She writes: "When you start with a pile of emotional rubble, the only thing you can do is clear the wreckage and start fresh. I grieved my marriage as well as many other losses I had while making a new life for myself. I did what I suggest others do, I worked out the bad while working in the good and built a healthy and wonderful life." Read on for Atty. Elliott's story of healing and her advice for others coping with the same situation.
Commitment: Can you share with our readers your experience of going through a very difficult divorce? How did going through this devastating break-up change you and impact your life?
Susan J. Elliott, JD, MED: After my separation I thought my life was over. I had lost my job, I had lost my marriage. I had moved out of my house with my kids. My husband had been involved with someone from his job and became very open about the relationship very quickly. I was devastated. Although I wanted to focus on all the wrong he did, I had to take a long, hard look at myself. It was excruciatingly painful but ultimately it is what led to me putting together a really wonderful life.
When you start with a pile of emotional rubble, the only thing you can do is clear the wreckage and start fresh. I grieved my marriage as well as many other losses I had while making a new life for myself. I did what I suggest others do, I worked out the bad while working in the good and built a healthy and wonderful life.
Commitment: What do you think is the hardest part of going through a devastating break-up?
Atty. Elliott: It can differ from person to person but usually it’s the loss of routine and the loss of dreams for the future. People find it very difficult to adjust to being alone after being in a relationship rhythm for some time. Even if the relationship was chaotic and dysfunctional, the initial feeling after a breakup is the void of what is no longer there.
Commitment: What are the best five pieces of advice you can offer to those who feel they will never get over the person who has left them?
1. Focus on you. People get stuck when they stay focused on what their ex is doing and thinking or when they drive themselves crazy with questions that have no answers.
2. Grieve and know that your grief is NOT about how much you loved this person but that you’ve had a loss and loss hurt.
3. Do nice things for yourself. Join hobby groups, social groups, support groups. Build a new life full of interesting people while spending time doing nice things for you. People who become self-sufficient and give themselves care and attention are less likely to think that someone else is the be-all, end-all.
4. The person who left you is not “the one” because “the one” wouldn’t leave you. So long as you’re focused on this one person who was wrong for you, you won’t be paying attention if the right one comes along. Remember that love is an action and you deserve to be loved. Someone who left you is not capable of loving you the way you deserve to be loved.
5. Do your grief work while caring for yourself and getting interested in new things and one day you’ll find that you’re over it.
Commitment: What are the positive benefits that came from your break-up? How were you able to ultimately survive and thrive despite the intense pain you went through?
Atty. Elliott: Early on I found a therapist and a few support groups which helped me stop interacting with my ex in the same way we had always interacted. My therapist told me “The only way to win is not to play the game.” And I had to stop reacting and learn to respond, or even better, not respond at all.
Once I started to put the focus on me instead of him, my life changed for the better. I had to put my life together and not worry about what he was doing.
Commitment: How can our readers turn a heartbreaking break-up into a positive, when perhaps they feel overwhelmed by feelings of grief, loneliness, rejection and sadness?
Atty. Elliott: Feeling the feelings is an important part of getting over it These feelings are normal and natural but the only way to really learn to sit with it and go through it is to balance it with positive self-talk, being good to you and building a new life.
In the book I talk about the importance of balancing your grief work with positive self-care as well as learning to take breaks and take charge of your emotions and your life.
Commitment: You wrote that we tend to choose partners with a similar degree of "brokenness." Can you explain that?
Atty. Elliott: Usually our choice of partner reflects where we are in life. If we come from a family where we were criticized and controlled, very often we will choose critical, controlling partners because that is who we are most comfortable with. Comfort, in this case, means familiar and familiar comes from family. We gravitate toward people who represent our unfinished business with people in our past.
Another less obvious example is people who get into relationships with people who are afraid to commit. These people will feel confused and complain but in some way, afraid of commitment themselves.
Even though someone might say they want to be in a committed relationship, their selection of one person after another who can’t commit usually means they have an issue with commitment themselves. Other times people are afraid of intimacy and seem to pick partners that are impossible to get close to.
Commitment: Can you explain the path to healing from a break-up?
Atty. Elliott: The path is to work out the bad (the grief and anger) while working in the good (self-care, positive self-talk). Work on building a new life while grieving the old one. A healthy life is one of balance and so moving toward a healthy life also has to be balanced. It’s very important to attend to your grief work while putting a new life in place. One day you will have worked through all the hurt and find yourself in a new and wonderful life.
Commitment: You wrote that many of your clients have spent most of their adult lives in relationships where they were only "running from grief." What advice do you have for those who are constantly getting into the wrong relationships because they are simply trying to escape their grief?
Atty. Elliott: My advice is to stop and attend to your grief. So many good things come from healing your grief. One of the authors that I quote a lot on the blog, Stephen Levine, has said that people who have done their grief work are the lightest and happiest of beings. That is very true. Working through unresolved grief frees you to open, fully, to life and love.
Commitment: How can a person stop communicating with their ex, when perhaps they still feel a lot has been left unsaid and they need closure? Why is ending all communication with an ex so important?
Atty. Elliott: As I say in the book, closure is something that has to come from inside you. It doesn’t come from another person. Not communicating is important so that you can focus on yourself and your healing and not be continually distracted by interaction with your ex. Many times people think it’s important to say things, but it’s really not. It’s important that you find closure within yourself. Your healing does not depend on anyone but you.
Commitment: What are some ways parents can make things easier for their children during a divorce?
Atty. Elliott: A parent needs to continue to be a parent and help the kids navigate the post-divorce world. It helps to recognize that new families have been formed and the kids should have some input into what the new family will look like. Give them responsibilities and input into meals, activities and family nights. Give them lots of praise and let them know you’re there for them while maintaining limits and enforcing healthy boundaries.
Kids need limits to feel safe in the world, to know that you are in charge. If you let them walk all over you, they resent it because you’re not doing your job which is to keep them safe in a dangerous world. They need to trust that you are strong but also reasonable and loving and that your rules and discipline make sense. Give them limits and rules but also lots of love and assurance.
Commitment: What is a Life Inventory? How can a person do a Life Inventory, and how will this help them heal from a bad break-up?
Atty. Elliott: The Life Inventory is a survey of sorts where you go through your relationships and understand how your patterns, unfinished business and unresolved grief continue to affect you and your choice of partners. It brings your issues into focus and how they’ve been playing out in your life.
Commitment: In your chapter, 'Moving On' you write that it is important to "keep your standards high even when you're madly in love." Can you explain what this means?
Atty. Elliott: It means don’t start backsliding on the things you’ve decided are important in a relationship. For example, if you decide that you don’t want to be with someone who is controlling or possessive, you might ignore the signs that this person is. Keep observing people and don’t compromise what you’ve decided is important. If there are red flags, don’t ignore them.
The other thing is don’t compromise the good things you’ve brought into your single life. Keep giving time to friends, family, hobbies and interests. Don’t give up your life for a relationship. This way, if it doesn’t work out, you still have a great life to return to. If it does, you’re a complete and fulfilled individual who will have more to give to a relationship.
Commitment: How can a person who has suffered in many dysfunctional relationships finally get themselves into a healthy, loving relationship? What steps need to be taken to do this?
• Do your grief work.
• Do the Relationship, Life and Parent Inventories.
• From the inventories you should be able to identify the issues you have and you can buy books or go to therapy and support groups to deal with those issues.
• Take time each day to give yourself affirming and positive messages.
• Do fun things and join hobby and social groups.
• Set goals and work hard to achieve them.
• Set healthy boundaries with others.
• Learn to monitor and model healthy behavior.
To purchase Getting Past Your Painful Breakup click here.
About the Author: Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed., is an author, motivational speaker, expert commentator, life coach and attorney. She is the author of Getting Past Your Breakup: How To Turn A Devastating Loss Into The Best Thing That Ever Happened To You and the blog: http://GettingPastYourPast.wordpress.com