Single again…no, not that!


Being single again can leave you feeling as if you were dropped off in the middle of the Mojave Desert with no map, no compass, no guidebook, no guide. Your bags? Bulging with loss, sadness, and a desire for connection. Here are four randomly-selected suggestions for you to consider to get you started on the path toward a civilized recovery.

1. Your emotional health comes first

To ease any confusion that you might have about where to begin, consider your state of mind. If you’re thinking that you want to “replace” the partner you no longer have, resist the urge. Unless you’ve healed from that loss, you’re not ready to jump into another relationship. Other people may have already told you that. Or well-meaning friends might have advised you to “Just get out there and date. Forget about her [or him].”

Sorry, but letting go is not that simple. Here’s why. Your mind holds a full-sensory imprint of your ex-partner. Your mind and every cell in your body is still attuned to the other person. If you lived together, slept together, shared emotions and feelings, it’s all still locked in memory. So, a shared sensory stimulus like hearing your favorite song or seeing her [his] social media page or smelling the shampoo she/he used can wake up longing for the other.

If you start dating right away, in all likelihood, you will project your ex on to the other person.  Are you attracted to the new person or deluding yourself into thinking she or he is your ex? Regardless of how miserable the two of you were at the end of the relationship, you shared intimacy and joy at one point. Otherwise, you never would have gotten together. If children are involved, there’s even more of a connection.

2. Let go of expectations of perfection

Everyone hopes for hassle-free intimacy. But that’s like saying I’ll have a double-dip ice cream cone with chocolate sprinkles without the calories. It just isn’t possible. Intimacy comes from working through each other’s imperfections. Certainly, it’s human nature to want to avoid making the same mistake twice. Your last relationship had problems, otherwise, you’d still be together. So you want the next relationship to be better than that one and all others before it. So far so good. But, a list cannot prevent heartbreak or conflicts. If you have a long list of wants and don’t wants for a new relationship, you will miss out on the spontaneity and wonder of getting to know someone new.  Mindfulness practice can help you let go of grasping. The image of the perfect partner is an illusion.

3. The exception: meeting someone online

Some people do meet, date, and marry people they’ve met online.  According to the Pew Research Center article titled 5 Facts About Online Dating, “5% of Americans who are in a marriage or committed relationship say they met their significant other online.” Those odds are better than winning the lottery. But is that potential ROI worth the time you spend looking for someone online? John McElhenney said no it was not and deleted all of his online dating profiles.

“…the illusion created by social media makes us think we have a pretty good idea of who these “potentials” say they are, and what they look like today, while in truth we don’t.” Read his article at Good Men Project, a site dedicated to changing the stereotypes of men. “Guys today are neither the mindless, sex-obsessed buffoons nor the stoic automatons our culture so often makes them out to be.”

Online dating “success” stories travel fast because they are the exception. If you remember the movie He’s Not That Into You Anyway, you might remember Drew Barrymore’s character learning that stories that she had heard about married men leaving their families for the “other” woman are the exception to the rule. Online dating companies make a fortune promising the exception.

4. Be happy.

I know. I know. It’s more complicated than a two-word sentence. But think about it. Who would you rather fix your friend up with? Someone who’s miserable or someone who’s happy? Whatever it takes on your part, practice being happier. Sometimes, this can be done simultaneously with healing, but most of the time being happy has to wait. Notice that being happy does not depend on another person! When you’re ready, this Time Magazine article, lists four ways you can create more happiness in your life. There are other articles on the internet all backed by scientific research. But these four are a good place to begin. UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb found that these four practices spiral people up into increased happiness.

  • Get in touch with gratitude.
  • Label negative feelings.
  • Make the decision you’ve been avoiding.
  • Touch people.

Like all well-meaning articles, this one is limited. The information is solid. You might feel inspired and hopeful that you have a plan. The follow through will take determination and practice. Changing old ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving means practicing the new ways every day.

Divorce recovery

Divorce can drain the life out of life. But a bad relationship can too. People over the age of 50 have unique challenges after breakups.

John Gottman, Ph.D. has studied married couples for decades, but his research can apply to any relationship, not just married couples. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (2015), he describes attributes of relationships that he predicts “with 90% accuracy” will end. Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling are what he calls the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. No one enters a relationship with these attributes; they develop over time. Unfortunately, many divorcing couples carry these attributes into the negotiations and courtroom.

divorce recoveryJohn*, 50, lives in a rented apartment in the same town he and his wife had lived for the past 22 years. John liked being married. He envisioned “growing old” with his wife. But two months ago, she said that she had “had enough” and wanted a divorce. Over the years, John’s wife had complained that John never listened or talked about anything meaningful in their relationship. John said he didn’t like confrontation and avoided conversations about feelings. His wife had tried over the years to “make the relationship work,” adjusting her personality to meet his needs. When she finally hired an attorney and froze the marital assets, she had reached the just-get-me-out-of-here stage. She was stuck in anything-to-stop-the-pain thinking. Their children were disappointed but not surprised. John ruminates about what went wrong and worries about how, at his age, he will ever recover. He feels a sense of relief from his wife’s “emotions” and her “demands for more intimacy” but he misses her too. Without attention to healing, a loss of this magnitude has the potential to become a permanent state of inertia, sadness, or resentment. It doesn’t have to be, though.

First let’s acknowledge what’s happened. Divorce is a loss, a big loss, on the magnitude of death. Unlike losing someone to death though, there are no grieving ceremonies, no neighbors bringing food, friends calling to ask how you’re doing. You may have a few close friends who understand, but for the most part, you’ll mourn the losses of divorce alone. What did you lose? There might be an initial finally free feeling. But what about the dreams you had, the plans, a future with someone, a connection to another human being, social status, the list is long and personal.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross observed five stages of grief that she describes in her book On Death and Dying. The stages apply to any loss, divorce too: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, hopefully, acceptance. There may also be a stage of elation or relief.

Like healing from a death, the recovery process from divorce or breakup is not linear. The stages are not guaranteed or experienced by everyone in the same way or in any order. You may have heard stories of people who “don’t miss a beat” and get out right away to meet people, have fun, and celebrate their new-found freedom. They are the exception.

John is stuck. He’s not living in the present. He can’t. The past is creeping into the present and the present has become so painful he experiences physical symptoms. He doesn’t sleep through the night, he cries every night, he has lost his appetite, and has little energy. His mind, body, spirit, and heart have been assaulted by the trauma of the separation and the loss of the most important relationship in his life.

Divorce is personal

Keep in mind that every divorce is different; every healing process unique. There are no guarantees for recovery; no time line anyone can point to and say, “You are here and in six months you’ll be there.” Initially, like John, being left can result in a state of shock. Emotional numbness. Feeling like you’ve been run over by a truck or ripped in half. You might not even be able to take care of yourself. Asking friends and family members for TLC is a good idea if you can do that. Support groups, therapy, also good ideas.

If not shock, you might feel buried by an avalanche of emotions. All at once. All at extreme levels. Sadness. Elation. Fear. Anger. Loneliness. Despair. Confusion.

Divorce and the past, present, future

Past Whether painful experiences happened twenty years ago or twenty minutes ago, the human brain is wired to hold on to them. That’s why you’ll think about a conversation you had with your partner, or ex-partner, over and over and over again. Or think “what if” or “if only.” Remembering scary, painful events supposedly protects us from getting hurt again. Usually, though, we just continue to feel the pain. When we’ve experienced too much pain, like John, some of us shut down. Or we react to real and perceived situations on autopilot, often with unpleasant results. We relive, not learn from,  the unpleasant situation. Strategy #1: When you catch yourself reliving the past, distract yourself into the present. Listen to music, go for a walk, eat a lemon, hold an ice cube. Rub an essential oil in your hands and smell it. “I am here. He (she) can’t hurt me anymore.”

Future The future you thought you were headed for is gone. Your new future is unknown. Future thinking includes worry and fear, feelings about real or imagined difficulties with health, finances, relationships, children. Some people might call this anxiety or stress. Another survival mechanism, worry and fear about what could happen offers an opportunity to plan for the future. But excessive worrying or fear serves no purpose and can prevent planning, which involves thinking, not feeling. Strategy #2: When you catch yourself worrying about finances or being alone, ask yourself to put that worry aside just for a minute. Time yourself. Take a few deep breaths, then ask, “What can I do now to prevent that from happening?” If nothing, then ask, “What are the other possible futures?”

Present The present is all that we have. But when the present is too painful, we’ve got to go somewhere. Be especially careful to avoid using substances and other unhealthy activities to escape. Sometimes all we can do is focus on the moment. Take a long deep breath. Smile (even if you don’t want to). Exhale. Savor the moment.

The past is gone. We cannot predict the future. Talking with a trained professional can help you to heal from past hurt and reduce worry about the future so you can live a more satisfying life now. The present is not always pleasant, but it is a real experience rather than imagined or remembered. Some effective ways to do that are:

  • Mindful awareness, meditation, or learning to live in the moment with awareness of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and behaviors. Living mindfully can reduce worries about the future (anxiety) and unpleasant feelings about the past (sadness, anger, betrayal, shame). Try this: Take a long breath in. Exhale. Do that ten times and count “Breath in one. Breath out one. Breath in two. Breath out two.” And so on.
  • Emotion regulation You can learn to harness the power of your emotions and reduce reactivity (acting without thinking).
  • Self-knowledge Learn about who you are, how you relate to yourself, and how you relate to others.
  • Self-care You can learn to be more kind to yourself and to value your feelings, thoughts, hopes, dreams, and desires. You can learn to take yourself seriously while making time for play, relaxation, and enjoyment. You can learn to forgive yourself for being human (we all make mistakes). And learn to accept kindness from others while being more kind and respectful even when you disagree. Learn to respect boundaries (yours and others’). Of course, self-care also means knowing who to stay away from.

This is another example of the importance of being aware of habits that don’t serve you and practicing habits that do.


*John is a fictional character; image from

Kubler-Ross, E. (2014). On death and dying: What the dying have to teach doctors, nurses, clergy and their own families. New York: Scribner.

Breaking up…so hard to do

Breaking up is hard to do. It doesn’t matter if you’ve ended a marriage, living arrangement, or friendship. Losing someone you care about takes its toll. Especially when it ends like this…

Break up recoveryJulie and Jim* dated for several years. Theirs was an on-again, off-again relationship. When Jim needed or wanted Julie in his life, they were on; when he needed space, it was off. Julie wanted a long-term relationship; Jim said he wanted one too. Julie often suggested they “talk,” but Jim was always too busy. One day, seemingly out of the blue, Jim sent Julie a text message saying he did not want to see her anymore. Julie was stunned. She called, texted, and emailed Jim saying “we can work this out.” After weeks without a response, she suggested “Let’s talk…just one more time, for closure.” Jim would have none of it. He blocked her phone, blocked her from his social media sites, and disappeared behind an impenetrable wall. He was done. He had moved on. “How could this happen?” she thought. “We just spent a beautiful weekend together.”

Break up recovery

Emotional cutoff hurts. Being left without an opportunity for closure can leave you feeling powerless, flattened, in shock. In the beginning, all of your energy and attention rushes to thoughts about what you could have done differently. What you did wrong. But maybe it wasn’t you.

Break up recovery starts there.


  • the breakup is not your fault.
  • the breakup is no one’s fault.
  • the person you wanted to build a relationship with lacks the tools or the skills to tolerate intimacy.
  • you lack the tools or skills to tolerate certain emotions or intimacy.
  • you and your partner grew apart.
  • you and your partner were never a good match for each other.

And while those thoughts may not lessen your disappointment and pain, it can give you a perspective you can work with.

Regardless of what happened and who did what to whom, breaking up hurts. It’s not uncommon to feel angry, resentful, sad, lonely**, fragile, scared. Sometimes all at once. Fear of the unknown and sadness over what’s been lost are common. Activities that used to be fun now remind you of her or him. A song, a fragrance, or visit to her or his social media page can elicit torrents of tears. And what are you doing there anyway? You might eat more or lose weight. Sleep more or wake in the middle of the night. Energy? Pfft. What’s that? Research compares breakup recovery to addiction recovery and you are in withdrawal.

I have suggested, and this metaphor seems to help, that you are in ICU and need lots of TLC or in today’s terminology, self-care. If you have friends and family who can visit you and check your temperature (listen), great. If not, how can you take care of yourself?

  1. First, acknowledge the loss. Cry. Shake. Rant. It’s not just the relationship you’ve lost, it’s your identity, your go-to person, mutual friends, quality of life, your routine, financial stability. Losing a relationship is a kind of death. Denial, Anger, Negotiation, Depression, Acceptance. Sound familiar? They are the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross stages of grief.
  2. Second, when you are ready, and even if you’re not, start building a new life for yourself. That does not mean getting on or OKCupid. Get out of the house. Exercise. Walk around the block. Meet a friend for coffee. Practice gratitude. Take a breath. Therapy can help.
  3. Discover who you are now that you’re not you and ____. This is the exciting part of the process. Scary at first because you might not even recognize your face in the mirror. As half of a couple, you might have made compromises, been influenced by what she/he wants or needs, and put YOU on hold.
  4. Now is the time to try something you’ve been putting off because it didn’t fit with the we that was. Take a class or just a new route home from work. Read poetry. Stop at the beach and watch the sunset. Let your imagination soar. You get the idea. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to do this.

With patience and work (yes this will take effort), the worst thing that ever happened to you just could turn out to be the beginning of the best of you. According to Gary Lewandowski, a psychologist at Monmouth University, who is quoted in this January 15, 2015 NPR article, “Coping with breakups can help people realize how resilient they are…”

If you have children, be sure to consider their feelings in everything you do. Children do much better when parents don’t argue in front of them.

*Julie and Jim are fictional characters in a fictional relationship. Their roles could be reversed. People like Julie and Jim could be in your life or in the news. They are everywhere.

**When you think about it, you’re now part of the main stream. More than 50% of adults living in the US are unmarried. Now if we can just find a way for everyone to meet each other…

Gary Lewandowski’s Ted Talk Break-Ups Don’t Have to Leave You Broken.