How To Prepare for a Healthy Relationship After a Big Breakup
by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
Author: Getting Past Your Breakup: How To Turn A Devastating Loss Into The Best Thing That Ever Happened To You (Hachette Book Group 2009)
Getting Back Out There: Secrets to Successful Dating and Finding Real Love After the Big Breakup (Hachette Book Group 2015)
Getting Past Your Past Workbook: The Definitive Workbook to Emotional Healing, Health and Happiness (La Bella Vita Publishing 2012)
GPYP Power! Affirmations (La Bella Vita Publishing 2019)
Preparing for a Healthy Relationship
After a Big Breakup
After your breakup, develop a healthy singletude before finding a new love
My first book, Getting Past Your Breakup (“GPYB”), was based on a program I created over the course of many years as someone who went through a difficult divorce and several breakups, someone who led volunteer groups for women getting out of bad relationships, as a therapist working with people moving on, and as a speaker, consultant, writer, attorney and media commentator.
I started the GPYB blog in 2005 for a handful of students and, before the end of 2006, people were reading it from around the country and then around the world. I was astonished and couldn’t help but ask, “Who are all these people?”
In March 2007, I held my first “international” seminar (I had 30 students from all over the country and 2 attendees from outside the U.S.! and I didn’t even have a book yet!). GPYB (the book) was published in April 2009 as a response to many of my seminar attendees asking for “the book” (which was NOT a goal of mine EVER – I was a busy attorney not interested in writing a book!)
But over the years, my audience has been organic and currently consists of private clients, boot campers, Facebook group members, podcast listeners, social media followers and the like. Through this audience, I keep my hand on the pulse of those breaking up, and I keep up with the latest research to be sure I am giving the right advice to those who need it. I released a workbook and a Power! Affirmations Booklet to accompany the two books (see below).
Over the course of those many years – one common thread that appears shortly after a significant breakup no matter the who, the what, the where or the how: worrying about the fact that they are unable to imagine their next relationship. This is significantly increased if their ex moves on quickly.
Many people fear being alone or try to get back into a relationship in response to their ex moving on. Getting into a relationship soon after a breakup is a bad idea. Until you learn to be okay by yourself, you’re going to lean too heavily on a relationship and, chances are, it will collapse underneath you.
Before you go back out there, you have to learn the meaning of these terms and how they affect your life:
independence, interdependence, codependency and dependency.
My second book, Getting Back Out There (“GBOT”) is about getting ready for healthy love and that should begin the very day you breakup (see below about how to use the books together to do the work). It’s work, it takes work and it’s about changing your mindset.
Check what I call your singletude. What is it?
Singletude is your ATTITUDE about being SINGLE.
Until you get that right, it’s hard to get relationships right.
What Is A Healthy Relationship?
It is not difficult to define healthy relationships. In healthy relationships, love is an action. In healthy relationships there is no abuse, no manipulation, no control and no criticism (constructive feedback, yes, but not criticism). It’s balanced, back and forth, give and take. Sometimes you give 99 percent and your partner gives 1 percent. Other times, your partner gives 99 percent and you are giving 1 percent. It’s about supporting each other through life’s adversities…you are a team…an unwavering partnership that works when things are good and when times are hard. No matter what.
If you look at a relationship and can say, “I love my partner, I am loved by my partner, I care for my partner, I am cared for, our reasonable needs are met, compromises are made and our relationship enhances our lives. We are fulfilled, well rounded people who care for each other. Our relationship is a priority but we each have our own interests and friends and time to ourselves.” then you are in a healthy relationship. It’s not that there are never issues or there are never arguments, but that the issues are worked out in a spirit of cooperation and not competition. No put-downs, no name-calling, no degradation. EVER. Not once. NOT EVER.
And what we are talking about with love and caring and compromise and caring for ourselves as individuals is what INTERDEPENDENCE looks like. Okay, let’s back up a bit. That is the mountain that we have to get to. For now, we’re on the ground looking up and wondering, “What do I need to know to get THERE?” Well here it is:
There are 4 states that come into play when we’re talking about relationships: codependence, dependence, independence and interdependence.
Four States of Relationships
Codependence is a pattern of learned, maladaptive behaviors. Codependents tend to be involved with people who may be self-destructive, unreliable, emotionally unavailable, abusive or needy. The codependent tries to control everything without acknowledging their own needs and this leads to a circular pattern of unmet needs. Codependents lack healthy boundaries and the ability to be truly intimate with others.
Dependency is usually not a balanced state. Usually one person is more dependent on the other, on the relationship. And this dependency leads to a very very negative experience within the relationship. And it’s very hard to see if you’re in the throes of it. You think you are forgiving and forgetting and being the understanding partner while the other walks all over you. But you are dependent and that’s a very unhealthy state to be in.
Independence is exactly what you would think it is. It’s the ability to be alone and be okay with it. To live life without the pressing need for a partner. But it is ALSO (most importantly) the ability to be self-sufficient IN a relationship. Many people “act” independent without a relationship but then collapse into codependency or dependency in a relationship. A TRULY independent person doesn’t do that.
Interdependence is all that is stated above. It is about different areas of needs being met by both partners and for both partners. There is intimacy, communication, caring and support. It’s a team and a partnership. It’s being together and appreciating each other in good times and bad. It’s about you are my partner and I appreciate you and I support you in becoming the very best person you can be and you do the same for me. When times are good or bad.
As I say in GBOT, it’s about, “The sun does not have to be shining for me to shine my love on you.” Only happy, whole people can contribute to a relationship like that. You have to be happy and whole when alone and you have to remain a happy, whole person with your own friends, interests and outside life when IN a relationship. There has to be love and trust for that kind of balanced “go away and come back together” to exist.
Your relationship is the springboard to the life you want to have. It’s the foundation for all that you are and can be inside and outside the relationship. If you’re having a bad work at work, you go home and receive comfort from your partner. If you get a promotion, you go home and get kudos. You go to work and can WORK there because you’re not obsessed with the latest argument or dysfunctional behavior of your partner. You can THRIVE outside of the relationship because you’re not worrying about the relationship or your partner. And when OUTSIDE the relationship issues pop up, you go to your partner for love, support and caring and comfort and you GET IT.
BUT BUT BUT: Before you have that, you have to develop what I call “singletude.” Singletude is your attitude toward being single. It can either be negative or positive.
Singletude: Your Attitude about Being Single
Many people (most?) see being single as second, a very distant second, to being in a relationship. Not just a healthy relationship but ANY relationship. Most people see being in a bad relationship as better than being single. This is having a bad singletude.
Why is that a bad singletude? The problem is that if you are not okay with being alone. If you don’t know how to fulfill your life and know who you are, you will NEVER EVER EVER be able to build an interdependent relationship. In other words, only codependent or dependent relationships await you.
Two empty people cannot make a whole relationship. Two halves do NOT make a whole where healthy relationships are concerned. You must be a whole and happy person who practices self-care and is TRULY independent before you are capable of an interdependent relationship.
If you have a negative singletude, if you don’t think you can be good at being alone, then you are doomed. Truly doomed. If you sigh and daydream and just wait until the time when Prince or Princess Charming comes coursing through your life…it’s never going to happen. The prince or princess will turn into a frog as soon as they have your codependent self-nailed to a chair in their dysfunctional life. If that sounds harsh (and yes, I know readers find my articles harsh), it’s because it’s TRUE.
You also will have a terrible singletude if you think that all couples are happy. They are not. The divorce rate is OVER 50 percent in the U.S. and I’m sure you know couples who seem happy and then they’re splitting. Why? Because they put on a big SHOW and it was just that – a SHOW.
Don’t believe “Fakebook lies” which are Facebook lives that create a world of fiction – where people post their hap-hap-happy photos and you know that’s not how it is.
And DON’T DON’T DON’T compare your insides to other people’s outsides. You must have been out with your partner once upon a time, looking like a happy couple (or a couple) and one or both of you were NOT happy. Don’t rewrite history. You know that there are many times you’ve FAKED it while IN a relationship. Don’t you know that others are faking it too?? They are.
There ARE nice things to being in a relationship and every relationship, no matter how bad, has good moments and moments that almost match your idealized notion of relationships and happily ever after. There are things that ONLY a relationship can give you…but it’s not worth it if it brings more heartache and sorrow than joy or idealized romance.
And before you can get into a relationship where misery is not the end result, you have to have a positive singletude. You have to recognize the importance of living a fulfilled life and the part it plays in a healthy happy life whether that life is coupled or not.
You have to figure out how to make your life matter. How to make your life mean something. Not just in conjunction with another, but to the world. How does your life matter to the world? If it doesn’t, it should. If you can’t see your intrinsic value, you can’t sell it to someone else. No one worth anything is going to be attracted to someone who has no clue what their life is worth outside of a relationship.
Single is not a step down and dating is not something you have to go through to get to happily ever after. You have to look positively at being single and dating in order to do coupling, healthy interdependent coupling, successfully. You also need to look at being single positively so that it’s not “OH NO NOT THAT!” when you’re in a relationship on the rocks or going nowhere. It HAS TO BE a positive alternative to being in a bad relationship. If it’s not…guess what?…only suck ass relationships await you. Being single has GOT TO BE better than being in a bad relationship and the ONLY WAY to make it that way is to make it the best thing when you’re single.
Otherwise you will avoid the dreaded singleness by being in dreadful relationships. Not a good choice!
You cannot have the wonderful interdependent relationship until you have something to bring to the table. You cannot be the 99 percent support when your partner needs you if you are not a strong, valued and independent person when you meet. You must learn to be independent before you can be interdependent and that requires a new and healthy positive singletude.
And sometimes singledom is thrust upon you even if you do find your true love in a wonderful interdependent relationship. And the grief you feel over losing this person to death or illness will be easier to deal with if you have faith in yourself to be okay alone.
It’s just the way it is. That is life. Life renders you alone a lot of times for a variety of reasons. You have to learn for it to be okay. No matter how and no matter why. The world needs to know that being single is okay, being single matters; single people get things done and add to the world’s joys.
Create your life. Find new friends, hobbies, interests. Get involved in things. Get active. Build a unique and wonderful life. Revel in being alone. Put down the phone and other distractions and meditate. Learn mindfulness in a world full of noise. Look at your life and think, “I’d rather be alone than be in a bad relationship for one second.” It will help you make strategic choices when you are in a relationship or dating. Who is this person and can he or she really support the life I have built?
The other question, that I discuss at length in GBOT is, “Will he or she support me?” and, “Is my life full enough to accommodate another person?” Yes, that is not a mistake. Your life has to be FULL before you can accommodate another person. Otherwise you make that person your world and that is a relationship that collapses.
During your singlehood, do the Standards and Compatibility Inventory in GBOT. I recommend doing this RIGHT AFTER the Relationship Inventory in GPYB (Again, see the button down below for how to use the books together).
The Standards and Compatibility Inventory will be a living document that you can add and subtract because if you’re doing singlehood RIGHT, it will change. You will get pickier as your life fills with great things. And it should. Don’t throw pearls to swine. You build something fantastic and only let someone fantastic in to share it.
As it says in both books, the goal is “To find the right person, be the right person.” Being the right person starts with having the right Singletude and building your life to prepare to accommodate another person. You can do this. See also this GPYB video: Is It Bad To Not Want To Be Alone
Check your singletude. Figure out if it’s positive or negative and how to change it so that you can turn into a happy, healthy independent person who will be attracted to happy and healthy independent person who will be capable of an interdependent relationship.
YOU CAN DO THIS!!
A book I highly recommend: