Let’s be honest. I believe separation, divorce, and relationship break-ups always have a gift to offer us, but the initial breakup period hurts. For most of us, when we’re in relationship, it feels like we’re on solid ground. It may feel comfortable and soft to walk on, or it may be rocky and painful, but at least you know where you stand.
When a relationship ends, we are inevitably launched into a void or abyss, where there’s nothing solid yet to land on. This is when the emotional rollercoaster goes on overdrive. Falling into the void feels disorienting and we don’t know where or when we’re going to land on our feet again.
Living in the void is a critical time to really dance and flow with our feelings. We feel the grief, sadness and loss not only of the person, but the dreams we had and the opportunities that were not yet realized. This grief is intense and overwhelming. Even those who initiate the break-up are not immune from this, although the degree of their emotional suffering is different than those who were left behind.
Inevitably the conclusion was “You can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you can’t go around it. Oh, no! We have to go through it!” Our healing comes from going through and flowing with our feelings, not bottling them up or denying them.
There is discomfort in the void, often bordering on pain. Literally, our hearts ache. It seethes with anger. It curls up in despair. Yet it’s so important to take time in this vacuum. Emotions live on a spectrum, and when we cap the downside risk of pain, we simultaneously cap the up-side reward of joy and love. If we rush the process of grief we risk leaving some unresolved pain and issues within us that will make an encore appearance in a future relationship.
Imagine when a child develops an infection. It stubbornly grows into a swollen, painful abscess below the skin. Eventually the toxins built up to the point where the abscess burst, releasing the infection in the form of pus. It was the release the doctor was hoping for, but it was nonetheless painful. Yet to complete the healing process for the child, it wasn’t enough. The doctor had to make a small incision in the seeping wound to make it bigger. He had to probe within the wound with medical instruments and disinfectant to ensure all the pus was indeed leaving child’s body. The wound had to be intentionally left open for a few days to ensure that everything drained out so that the healing would be complete.
Just as my doctor selected from various medical instruments to probe the child’s wound, here are some recommendations for how to probe gingerly into our own wounds to ensure a complete healing.
1. Practice pranayam
One strategy I’ve been using effectively is to welcome and breathe into my wounded heart. Make sure you take deep, conscious breaths. Shallow breathing doesn’t allow sufficient oxygen to come into the body and creates stress. Deep belly breaths help to quiet the ego-mind that may begin to start racing with thoughts in an effort to avoid the pain. Breathing deeply while having an emotional moment will help you digest the feelings and be able to restore a sense of calm and grounded ness more quickly.
2. Your Journal is Your sponge
A journal is like a clean, sterile sponge for a seeping wound. A journal is a safe place to collect all of those internal thoughts and feelings that must be released. I would even argue that life in the void requires a journal. Otherwise the unreleased feelings and toxic thoughts that are created in relationship break-up simply continue to run rampant within your consciousness. It is also the doorway to connecting with the wisdom and gift of why you have manifested this situation in the first place. There are no rights and wrongs about how to journal properly. Its job is to provide an arena for catharsis and objectivity.
3. The Medicine of Music
Music is a powerful tool to explore and help you release emotion. One particular tune or lyric can touch your heart to either uplift you or stir the pot of sadness and grief. If you feel numb and don’t know how to jump-start the release of your emotions, music can do it.
4. Let the tears flow
No need to bottle them up or keep a stiff upper lip. Talk it out with a friend or out loud to yourself and vent out your emotions. Feelings flow like water. When we bottle them up, resist them or deny them, it’s like we damming up the water. Like the water in the dam also finds its own outlet so do emotions, especially when we least expect them to. Therefore many dams have trickling water which has found its way to the other side and they are called weeping holes as they help ease the water pressure on the dam walls. Similarly expressing emotions in terms of tears just helps us channels emotions in an appropriate manner and releases the tension built up inside us. This in fact prevents unexpected flooding due to dam walls caving away suddenly or inappropriate demonstration of emotions. Tears are not a sign of weakness or neediness, but as a sign you are honoring your heart and growing stronger.
5. Time heals
Break-ups are painful and people struggle to dodge that pain. Sometimes our loved ones, hating to see us in pain, may urge us to move forward quickly and out of the void. But the void is the place where we will find the wisdom of the relationship breakdown, so we need to take the time to do our own inner work.
Leena and Akash had been married for about 4 years when Soham, their first child was born. They had been looking forward to having a baby and believed that the birth of the child will further strengthen their marriage. However, during pregnancy, Leena became irritable and depressed. She was aware of hormonal changes and mood swings during pregnancy and discussed it with her gynecologist as well as with Akash. Akash initially was very supportive but after the first trimester he started working longer hours and avoiding spending time at home. He found Leena’s constant complains and irritable nature difficult to bear. To add to this, he, without realizing, in his want to provide the baby with financially secure environment started feeling justified of his absences and expected Leena to understand. Especially now, that the financial burden was completely on him for a period of 3 years when Leena would be focusing on being a full time mother and would soon quit her work. Akash’s absences however made Leena feel more uncertain and insecure about their marriage, as now she was not only dealing with the physiological discomfort of the pregnancy but also the loss of work life. She desperately tried to regain their marital bliss and in her attempts to communicate this loss, fluctuated between getting angry / demanding with Akash to crying and feeling hopeless and hurt. Both started feeling justified and thought that their spouse was insensitive and uncaring. In the last trimester when the doctor advised that they should refrain from sexual intercourse, her anxiety heightened. Post natal depressive symptoms and the hectic schedule of keeping up with the baby’s demands did not help either. The emotional distance and anger intensified and eventually blew into a full fledged argument on the day Akash attended the child naming ceremony held in Leenas maternal house and forgot to get the return gifts. Leena was to return to her matrimonial house after the customary maternity break at her mother’s house right after the ceremony. Akash’s lack of involvement in the child raising because of the distance and also because of his own anxieties fueled Leenas own anxieties of managing the infant without her mothers help and dealing with their marital discord. Leena very reluctantly returned to her matrimonial house. After her return, she felt all the more lonely and abandoned. Akash’s focus was Soham after he returned from work partially because he missed the first three months of his son’s development and partially because he didn’t know what to communicate with Leena. He felt rejected by Leena whenever he initiated sexual intimacy between the two of them, often as Leena would be tired after a long day and would struggle to catch up with her own sleep while Soham rested. Leena, on the other hand, seemed to have nothing much to share with Akash apart from Soham’s daily activities. She felt worth less, unloved and unappreciated. Motherhood seemed to be her only identity now. She had also stopped taking care of her physical appearance. Without realizing they had made Soham the center of their relationship in their individual attempts to reconnect with each other and deal with their marital crisis. But this only lead to further spiraling down of their relationship as they both felt ignored by their spouses and jealous of whom soham preferred. Their concerns for a helpless infants needs to take priority seemed justified.
When they finally approached the psychotherapist they had a long list of hurts and anger against each other and both wanted to be acknowledged that they were justified in their feelings.
How could couples like Akshay & Leena regain their love and intimacy for each other?
1. “Parenthood As Crisis” typically includes a decrease in positive marital interchange, an increase in marital conflict, and a decline in marital satisfaction. This is because parenthood brings new identities and responsibilities for mothers and fathers.
3. There are often changes in a couple’s sex life and experience a slow down in their sex life. Women often feel differently about their bodies after childbirth, and they become insecure and less comfortable being intimate. Often, women gain a substantial amount of weight during pregnancy, and they have a hard time dropping the excess pounds after they give birth because they are so overwhelmed with the responsibilities of being a new mommy. This occurs because of the strains, stresses, and sources of conflict as parents adjust to their new care giving roles, responsibilities, and routines—and the gender differentiation therein—amidst depleted resources of time and energy.
4. Many women are known to undergo post natal depression and require more help in the form of attention and care.
5. At times child birth is used as a ruse to get back to your spouse / avoid troubling topics between the two. Often these problems have existed for a long time in their relationship, child birth just give a valid reason to exit mentally and physically from a less satisfying relationship. It is emotionally less straining for a couple to accept that they are unable to spend time with each other because of the child than to say that they have lost interest in each other.
6. Couples have to consciously choose to bring these up with each other and deal with the hurts and anger rather than pushing it under the carpet.
7. Sometimes men feel rejected and unloved by their wives because of the amount of time she is devoting to caring for their baby or children.
8. Some women feel resentment towards their husbands because they don’t feel like their husband is involved enough in taking care of the children and household.
9. Husbands and wives need to understand that they have to work together as a parent team and they also cannot forget to foster and nourish their relationship as a couple.
10. Husbands need to compliment the wife and help her out in the house management as this is a crisis phase.
11. Wives on the other hand need to nurture and care for their husbands as well as their baby.
12. Both need to remove time to make things special between them. Romanticizing each other again by initiating loving acts for each other.
13. Arrange for time off work. Ideally, get at least a week off following the baby’s birth. Your wife will need your help and this will be a wonderful time to bond as a family. Plan nothing else during your time off but helping your wife and child.
14. Ask relatives / friends to look after the baby for a while, while the two of you can catch a candle light dinner or cuddle up with popcorn to watch a movie.
15. Remember the heart of happy family lies a happy couple relationship.