SINGAPORE: Just broke up and feel like checking on your ex’s social media pages to figure out what they are up to? Stop right there.
The few days, weeks or even months following a break up can be painful, and there may be instances when you may miss your ex and wonder how they’re coping.
But checking up on them is not a great idea. Stalking an ex on social media can contribute to greater distress, more negative feelings and lower personal growth, according to research.
Obsessing over your ex, if taken too far, could also lead you to inadvertently committing crime, as was the case with one man who was sentenced this month to community service and supervised probation for stalking his ex-girlfriend by impersonation, and using her social media accounts repeatedly for over four years without her knowledge.
He told the court that he wanted to see who she was talking to and “monitor” her. He had missed her dearly and so, turned to illegally accessing her social media accounts to keep himself "abreast of the happenings in her life".
It’s common to miss your ex after a break up, regardless how long you have been together. It’s only natural, given the time and emotions you have invested in the life you once shared. But there are better ways than stalking to get over a break up.
IT’S OKAY TO GRIEVE
Your best friend may have already dropped you this first piece of advice: Move on, buddy. But we all know that “moving on” isn’t as easy as emotions take time to heal.
According to research published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, it takes 11 weeks to feel better after a relationship ends, but 18 months to heal from a broken marriage.
In reality, however, I’m sure we can all agree that each and every person take a different amount of time to heal from different relationships.
So then what? Why not give in to your grief?
There are five stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, according to authors David Kessler and Elisabeth Kueble-Ross who introduced the framework to help others deal with loss.
At each stage, you can take actions to help yourself feel better while going through the motions.
CONFRONT THE BREAK UP
In the denial stage, the overwhelming pain may lead one to believe the break up may not be “official”. You may ask yourself: What if the relationship can still be salvaged? What if you hadn’t initiated the break up? Or what if they had said no?
Fantasising about the “what ifs” will only make you feel worse. The only way to get over denial is to confront it.
Let the people around you know about the break up. Speak about it openly. A somewhat public announcement is one way to keep yourself accountable and avoid slipping back into denial.
Then try to acknowledge that the relationship is over. Don’t answer their calls and avoid contacting them to leave some space between you both. This will allow you time to process the end of the relationship.
IDENTIFY RED FLAGS
Once you get over the denial phase, you may feel angry. Feeling angry is a natural response to hurt. At the end of the relationship, one can get angry over many things including disappointment or feeling disrespected.
Maybe then this is the time to re-evaluate the multitude of red flags that you may have ignored or missed during the relationship - the bad habits or unreasonable attitudes that you once put up with.
Perhaps your ex had a habit of borrowing money from you and offered you the lame reason that you should do it because you “love” him. Or that you were constantly told by your abusive ex that "if you love me you’ve got to love me at my worst”. These are major red flags, and you may have been in a toxic relationship.
Take time to think about all the red flags while grieving. It can help you feel a little better knowing that all the negative vibes are now behind you.
STICK TO WHAT YOU BELIEVE IN
There will be a time when grieving that you’ll start finding excuses to reignite the relationship despite the red flags that you have identified. This is the bargaining phase.
You may try to negotiate a change in the situation, thinking that if you made lofty promises like you’ll change for the better, he or she will return. You may feel tempted to ring your ex’s friends to persuade them into “talking some sense” into them.
You may even start looking for signs in tarot cards or the daily horoscope in an foolish attempt to find some reason that the break up was a mistake and you should get back with your ex.
It’s best at this point to ask yourself again why the relationship didn’t work out.
Sometimes, it’s not “failure”, but incompatibility of values and a vision of where you both will be years from now which caused the end of the relationship. Chemistry and passion can get start a relationship, but it’s values and vision that keep you together.
GET NECESSARY HELP IF NEEDED
When you feel that you’ve exhausted all options to make yourself feel better or that preoccupying yourself with work in an attempt to avoid those inevitable emotions isn’t working, talking to people that you trust is a healthy outlet.
Grieving the loss of a relationship is all part of the healing process, but you can fall into depression if you feel sad and empty for a long period of time. This can happen to anyone after a loss, even those with the strongest of will, but for some it may be more serious.
If you are stuck in this terrible phase of grief, a professional therapist can be extremely helpful. It is important to recognise symptoms of depression and get proper treatment, as leaving it untreated can take a toll on your physical health.
FIND MEANING IN OTHER THINGS
There’s always light at the end of the tunnel. When life is starting to look “normal” once again, and you stop repeating your sob stories to everyone around you or looking like an isolated figure from the world, you have reached the end of the grieving phase.
In this phase called “acceptance,” you would have found peace with the situation. Some sadness may still linger on, but you’re now one step wiser and you take a balanced view to the world.
Instead of looking at a break up from a point of loss, you can reframe it as a lesson and an opportunity to grow and build a new identity for yourself.
Maybe the relationship was holding you back from taking up activities that you wanted to explore, such as solo travel or picking up martial arts as a hobby.
There are decades of psychological research stating that exercise and being social are beneficial to our emotional health. These are activities that counteract against the pain and loss that you may experience through the break up.
Some say you should get back into the game but I personally would not recommend dating right away. It’s important to take some time to grief and heal from the loss before dating again.
Jumping too quickly into the dating pool after a break up may be problematic especially if you’re doing so just because you’re afraid of being alone. You may end up in an unhealthy rebound relationship.
Pain is meant to be felt and not avoided. And only through pain, that you’ll grow and become a better individual.
Marcus Neo Kai Jie runs a dating consulting company.