07 May 2012

Breakup Boundaries

Endings of the romantic variety are tough. Getting over them can be even tougher. Everybody and their brother has advice on how to heal a broken heart (heck, I even wrote a book about it). But, of all the advice that seems to be repeated, we rarely talk about the importance of setting boundaries. Yes, we know that boundaries are vital for healthy relationships, but they are also necessary to help you get over a breakup.

Your Ex
You broke up. It’s over. So why are you still in touch with your ex? Is he/she contacting you? Are you contacting him/her? I can give you a list of reasons why this is not going to help you get over it, but one sure way to know you need to stop and set a boundary is by noticing how you feel after you end that call, read that email or text, or secretly stalk your ex on social media.

If you feel sort of like what pet-owners put in a plastic bag, you definitely need to set a boundary, specifically a “Let’s not communicate for the foreseeable” kind of boundary. I strongly suggest removing your ex from your social media. Un-friend, un-follow, de-link, de-pin, etc. I know that sounds hard and cold, but let’s face facts: You are no longer friends. You don’t need to follow your ex (or be followed by your ex). You no longer are linked. Don’t bother sticking a pin in it; simply accept that you're done. It’s sad and hard and awful, but it’s also true. And, if your ex (or you) does not adhere this boundary, it should tell you all you need to know: Honorable people respect boundaries; trespassers don’t.

Your Friends
Your friends adore you and want to see you happy...except for those whose misery loves company and are always prepared for a pity party. Right after your breakup, when you are still red and raw, your friends are your emotional EMTs. They are a wonderful support, helping you through an awful time with the appropriate combination of sugar, carbs, cocktails, romcoms, tearjerkers and shoot-em-ups. A few weeks after, though, they may be pouring salt in your wounds without even realizing it.

There are some friends who will treat you like a bird with a broken wing, walking up to you with a head-tilt and a pout, asking you how you are, poor thing. Or those who, with a glint in their eyes, want you to know everything your ex has been up to. Feel free to let your amazing friends know that you deeply appreciate their care and concern but, unless you bring it up, the subject of your ex is off limits. Explain that you are working on moving on, and that you would love their support in this endeavor. Don’t be surprised if you hear a sigh of relief from a few of them. After all, how many viewings of The Notebook are they expected to take?

Your Family
This is one area where boundaries are blurred and crossed on a regular basis. Still, your boundaries need to at least be mentioned even if they can’t be firmly set.

When a family member delivers a well-meaning zing like, “I really liked [name of your ex here]. I’m just so sorry it didn’t work out for you,” or “I know I never told you this, but I never liked [your ex]. You can do so much better,” you need to be able to tell your loved one that their silent support would be appreciated. Let them know that, believe it or not, you are focusing on you and your future, not your ex and the past. If they persist, attempt to change the subject. If that fails, maybe pretend that you have to leave town for work or an overdue vacation (what a great time to treat yourself to a trip, no?), and won’t be in touch for a little while in order to give yourself some space. That might sound a little drastic (and, yes, dishonest), but the idea is to do what you need to do get over this sooner rather than later.

Yes, you. You need to set some boundaries for yourself—mentally, emotionally and physically.

First boundary: Don’t go there. Avoid places where you more or less know you will see your ex, or venues that stir memories. This is the perfect time to check out that new Asian fusion vegan joint your ex had no interest in. Next boundary: Don’t dwell on it. Yes, it hurts, but it’s only going to keep hurting if the only thing you focus on is the pain. Reliving every thing your ex did and said is the opposite of healing. It’s what I call “picking the scab”. I agree, that’s a little unsavory, but so that kind of mental self-abuse. It’s over. Let it go. It didn’t work and that’s okay.

Additional suggested boundary: Don’t listen to that song or watch that film. You know the ones I’m talking about. That’s the emotional equivalent of crawling over barbed wire to tap dance on landmines. You’re just asking for hurt. Sad songs? Please. You need an anthem! There are many to choose from, but a personal favorite—if you’re in need of suggestion—is Karen O. belting out “The Immigrant Song”. Who cannot take on the world (let alone get over a breakup) with that on a loop, right?  As for movies you should be watching: American Psycho and Fight Club. See if anyone in those films is at all familiar to you (I also consider those to be Rosetta Stones for single women...not to mention they are just great films).

Boundaries don’t have to be booby-trapped brick fortresses that keep you isolated during the upheaval that is a breakup. Consider them little lines in the sand you know better than to cross. Let them serve as markers to help you focus on what’s actually important: Your happiness. Boundaries can put you on the fast-track to healing your heart because they keep looking forward. And you, my friend, have a lot to look forward to.

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