The Dos and Don’ts of Breaking Up

If crying in the shower and eating icecream aren't helping you navigate the feels when you're breaking up, what could you do instead? The Sugar Doctor and Kia Handley discuss how to minimise drama and maximise healing in a breakup.

[Full Transcript Below]


[Original recording on ABC website here]

You can listen to the show live on Monday mornings from 9:30 am on ABC Newcastle at 1233AM or stream live here.

Kia Handley is: Not a car! Presenter ABC Newcastle. Loves vintage, Eurovision & great stories.

You can also find the incredibly talented Kia Handley on ABC  Newcastle Mornings here, Twitter @kiahandley  Facebook kiahandleyjourno and on her podcasts: This Retro Life & Let's Talk-  Rural Mental Health, PLUS even more amazing gems here.

Episode Transcript:

Kia Handley:

Breakups, they suck, there isn't enough ice cream, there isn't enough of this chick [Celine Dion music] Who hasn't belted this one out while they cry under the shower?  [laughing] after a breakup, [music]

Sometimes there's not even people that you can turn to for some emotional support after a breakup. So if crying under the shower, singing Celine Dion isn't a healthy way to process a breakup, what is?

Tara Thomas is our Relationship Coach from The Sugar Doctor, she's here like she's here on every Monday morning, she hasn't broken up with us yet, good morning

Tara Thomas: Good morning Kia

Kia Handley: Is singing Celine Dion okay, for a breakup?

Tara Thomas: I don't think it's ever okay but that's a very personal opinion [laughing]
I sometimes get the sense that maybe…

Kia Handley: You and Nancy are ganging up on me…

Tara Thomas: But sometimes I get the sense that even you're still with your partner, sometimes you like fabricate a breakup so you can play your playlist, is that some-

Kia Handley: Oh I just change it from breakup playlist to like eighties bangers… and you're okay or power ballads, double, like, power ballads that you could just sing to your hearts content and then there's almost feeling like a boost up even though the lyrics are sad.

Tara Thomas: Yes!

Is Grieving After Breaking Up Normal?

Kia Handley: Anyway it's not about me [laughing]

Are we allowed a little bit of time to grieve after a relationship?

Tara Thomas: Yeah, a  hundred percent.

You know the process of breaking up is really similar to the process of grieving the loss of someone who has died or who is otherwise not a part of your life anymore and taking that time is super important for your recovery process.

Kia Handley: Why is it similar, or what is it about a breakup that we see similar to losing someone?

Tara Thomas: I think quite often it's the sadness for some people, and on the flip side of that for some people it's like the drawn out, you know, it's not a fast breakup it can be really messy and it can be really complicated and really traumatic.

But to come back to your question what's the same, it's really the loss of someone who has been a really big figure in your life so your lives have been intertwined, you've spent all of your time together, you've had plans for the future together and then all of a sudden.

Kia Handley: It's done.

Tara Thomas: Plot twist. Yeah, changed direction, and it's unexpected.

Silhouettes of two people standing back to back in front of a sunset.
Image from Canva

How Long Does Break Up Grief Last?

Kia Handley: What does this grieving period look like, or is it really different depending on who you are?

Tara Thomas: I think it is different depending on who you are, I would allow somewhere between three and six months.

And sometimes longer, sometimes for people it can take up to twelve months.

[Edit: This depends on your history, your nervous system response, the type of relationship you had, the length of your relationship, the circumstances of breaking up, whether you have continued contact.... that is to say, there is no 'normal' or 'appropriate' time frame for this grief. It may also feel like it has finished, and then be brought back in moments triggered by memories, or milestones, and that may happen forever!

I suggest that the 'grief' period is more about the intensity of the pain, and if you are experiencing that intensity after 12 months it is a good idea to find a therapist to help you work through that pain. Not because you are doing it wrong, but because you deserve to feel better & be happy again ❤︎]

Some of the factors that the research shows make that breaking up grief a shorter period, or make that a more productive period, are things like;

  • tracking your mood and your emotions
  • tracking  your sleep

So, getting a sense in that way of how things are changing for you, so you might think, oh you know, "I'm feeling terrible today, but actually two weeks ago I wasn't sleeping well, I wasn't eating properly".  You know so you can see that you are moving through that breaking up grief.

And also to be a little bit analytical and structured about the way that you're going through that process. So maybe more observational about, you know, "What's new now? And how am I going to be a different person? And what are actually my goals, separate from our couple's goals that are no longer on the table?"


What Can We Learn From Breaking Up?

Kia Handley:  I had a question about how much we should learn from breaking up, is there always something to learn from a breakup?

Tara Thomas: Yeah, I think so, I think so, even if it's just, you know, it's time to start again.

But, the most important time to learn, so, it's important to go through a period, firstly, allow yourself to grieve, and then that rest and reflection, sort of drawing wisdom from why this relationship has broken up.

So you might like to think about things like, what worked really well, what attracted me to that partner. And what didn't work, like, what was the deal breaker what led to us breaking up, and then the most important question, Kia, "is this a pattern in my life?".

Kia Handley: Yeah. Has this happened before-

Tara Thomas: Has this happened before-

Kia Handley: Am I really the problem [laughing]

Tara Thomas: Yeah,  what is that you're doing, because if it's happening over and over again, then it's you, you know,

Whether you don't have a good sense of what a good fit is for you, whether there are red flags that you're not noticing, or whether it's the way that you relate to someone that's creating the problem, in some sense there's something that you're doing that's recreating that pattern.

Kia Handley: The reflection is important.


On The ABC Newcastle Mornings Text Line...

Kia Handley: Robert says, "Once it's over, it's over, don't look back, if you wish to remember the good times, great, forget about the negativities"

Is that an important thing, moving on, moving forward?

Tara Thomas: I think so, yeah.

Kia Handley: Remembering, marking, there's a time in your life where it was important to you then but it doesn't have to be everything into the future-

Tara Thomas: I think so and I think what a lot of people do is they sort of muddy the waters... so instead of just saying, okay, chapter closed, that was valuable for me in that time, and there were good things and we were together, we've had a good relationship (or not, whatever, but you know) but there were good things there.

In that period of a breakup, particularly if it's a messy, traumatic breakup, often people forget the good things. They're just, you know, their name is mud and that person is dead to you. And I don't think that's necessarily a healthy way to deal with breaking up.

[Read More: How to Recognise a Toxic Drama Cycle]

Two articulated wooden drawing model dolls with their backs to each other holding love hearts.
Image from Canva

Is There a Difference Between a Good and a Bad Breakup?

Kia Handley: You've said bad breakup, I feel like there's a difference between good and a bad breakup and how we handle things. If stuff is getting bitter, are we able to bring it back in, to reel it in a little bit, maybe save some of those emotions, for both parties who are breaking up?

Tara Thomas: Yeah, the answer is yes and no [laughing] ... as always I'm sitting on the fence.

Kia Handley: [laughing]

Tara Thomas: The answer is yes, you can change it for you, you don't need to get sucked in to the drama.

If there is drama or if there's conflict, if there's whole bunch of stuff going on, you don't need to be part of it. And my advice to you is better stop trying to get one over each other, and stop trying to fact check, and point score, and be 'right'.

Kia Handley: There's no winner or loser.

Tara Thomas: There's absolutely no winner or loser actually most of the time, when you get in that dynamics, you both lose [laughing]

Kia Handley: You lose and you lose [laughing]

Tara Thomas: Everybody loses, so you know, trying to be right, just ends up being a story that you tell later so that everyone validates your decision really, yes they were a terrible person and you've made the right choice.

Where taking, it's not the higher ground, I don't think, but taking a position of kindness and of generosity and saying, you know what, I don't want to be like that, I'm not going to break up like that. I've loved you once, I'm going to treat you as respectfully now in this really complicated time as I've always had, regardless of how you behaved.

So quite often I think that's the problem, people will allow someone else to trigger them, they did this and so therefore, I am now righteously allowed to respond.

Kia Handley: Respond, yeah to be as bitter.

Tara Thomas: Unkind, yeah.

What Role Does Your Support Network Play?

Kia Handley: Twelve minutes to ten, here on ABC Newcastle my guest Tara Thomas, we're talking relationships today we're focused on breaking up so I'm asking your best breakup advice, 1300-33-12-33.

Kathy's text says "Spend time with a close friend or family, you need to talk and have plenty of support."

How important is that group, that solid group of people around you?

Tara Thomas: Hugely important, having that support and staying connected to people when quite often your partner was your primary source of connection and intimacy, and fun, your lives were built together, so making sure that you have that team around you to support you is crucial to your recovery.

And I would also say have some discretion with those people as well. So, what a lot of people do is sort of they drag all their family and their friends into the war [laughing] and you know, I've had clients who'd bring it into the work place, who would send email updates to everyone and their extended family about where things are up to, and it just becomes-

Kia Handley: Nasty-

Tara Thomas: Nasty-

[Read More: Toxic Exes and Breaking Up]

Kia Handley: Yeah.

Tara Thomas: So, I would ask you to have support and to also choose one or two people who are discreet which means that they're not sharing the details of your breakup with everyone. So that you have those support people to get- to bounce things off, without it needing to be a huge drama.

What Happens if We Share Our Friends?

Kia Handley: I feel like that's a piece of advice that can sound easy, you know, find a couple of people to support you, but if you've been in a long term relationship, often you share friends-

Tara Thomas: Right.

Kia Handley: So I know that a lot of my friends joke about who would they pick in a divorce if it ever happened....

but then I look around and go, well what if you weren't there because you did pick him? As awful as it sounds, if you pick him as your team captain, then who would I go to, because we cultivated this group of great friends together and all of a sudden we're splitting that.

Tara Thomas: Yeah, and that does happen, you know, people feel uncomfortable, or awkward or they get drawn into the drama and they do pick sides in that way.

And that can be a part of the grieving as well, you know, you not only lose your partner but you lose all of your friends at the same time and you have to look elsewhere, so, you know, it's something to keep in mind I suppose while you're in a relationship is that it's nice to cultivate separate relationships as well from those that you share.

A person sitting on the gutter while two others stand beside each other next to a wall with their arms crossed.
Friends Take Sides

Is There a Right Amount of Time Before You Move On?

Kia Handley: Yeah. I find that there can be a lot of stigma around breaking up as well if you do move on in a "too soon" or you're going out and flirting, you know, like there is this idea of what a breakup should look like.

Tara Thomas: And saying the appropriate period of grieving you know same people will do the same judgments, you know it's your life man [laughing] I just think

Kia Handley: You do you!

Tara Thomas: You do you, I just think that's ridiculous, who on earth that are you to make a judgment call about when someone is or is not ready to move on.

How Do You Navigate Doing It All Yourself Now?

Kia Handley: Yeah, let's just talk around emotions here obviously which is the first thing that's triggered when you're breaking up... but then, when you work out you have to live by yourself you probably have to do things that you haven't have to do for a long time.

How you navigate that part of your life when you realize that you are now responsible for everything in your life?

Tara Thomas: Yeah, well you know, you can do one of two things, you can completely freak out and fall apart, or you can take it as a learning opportunity.

So this is kind of I guess the next stage of the breakup;

  1. So you have the separation
  2. and then you sort of finalize the logistical details , whether it's the house or the childcare or whatever it is that you need to finalize in order to close that chapter completely.
  3. And then there is that reflection, you know, what is it that I need to learn from this and what education do I need? And that cannot just be directly related to your relationship that might be, hey, do you know what, I've suddenly realized I have zero financial literacy, that my partner took care of everything.

Thats something that maybe that would be good to address, you know, so that you don't find yourself again in the situation when you don't know how to do this thing. So some of the other things we've talked about, maintaining social connections, maybe you feel like suddenly you're isolated, and you realize your partner was the one who took care of all your social interactions.

Can Breaking Up Be an Opportunity to Improve Your Relationship?

Kia Handley: Pete says on a breakup advice:

"Work it out if you can, make regular contact over a cuppa, walk along the beach or go to your favorite place (not bed!) somewhere you both love. Talk about the great times you've shared with them, tell them you miss 'us', and if it's a trust thing, then you have taken a big chunk of their heart so slowly and- so start slowly and rebuild this.

You can say I love you so many times but you need to show your progress and mean it.

As I've recently separated from my Missus I'm showing her that I want us to work it out, don't overthink about this, just go with the flow and relax and listen to the other side of the situation."

Can maybe a potential breakup be a good way to actually focus on a relationship, and make it healthier than it's ever been before?

Tara Thomas: Really often, and a lot of people that I see, have come to that point of like, we either separate or we either focus in or they're already living separately, infidelity can be a big trigger for something like that so their spending time apart, and, in that realizing, you know what, like, this really is-

Kia Handley: We do love each other-

Tara Thomas: We do love each other, just that we haven't had the tools yet to be able to work through whatever our issues are, but it makes you realize that you want to. So that's a really nice place to be as well.

Kia Handley: But, it's hard-

Tara Thomas: I think that it's- you know I think it's really easy to say, oh you must leave them, or you need to do this, or you need, it's just, you know, is it right for you, is it right for you and for the other person and if it is, just don't listen to everyone else [laughing]

Kia Handley: Melissa says: "Chocolate, lollies, fairy bread, plain chips and pink lemonade, and depending on why it happened, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get on with it."

Tara Thomas: I like a good cry too, I like to watch a really soppy movie and just cry.

Kia Handley: [laughing] Bring out The Notebook, yeah-

Image shows a line of people looking at their phones and walking into a doorway made from a large phone. On the other side they are like blank human templates.

Social Media and Breaking Up

Tara Thomas: Also another thing that I just want to raise in this day and age, it's really good to mute or somehow otherwise block that person on social media. You know sometimes just seeing someone's social feed, and all the fun that they're having without you-

[Read More: Social Media and Relationships]

Kia Handley: "Hey your ex has just being here"

Tara Thomas: Yeah, whatever it is, it's- just allow yourself a period of time when you don't think about them and you don't see them, regardless if you want to be friends.

You know I think just having that period where you sort of individuate again, you find yourself as an individual person, you find out what you like again, you spend time with your friends and you're not constantly watching them. I mean I know I've completely blocked people from my social profiles because I'm not very good at that. I'll have a cry and I'll want to check and yeah-

Kia Handley: Yeah, no, avoid, stay strong- no drunk texting- Tara this is not a breakup, I just, um, we have to go, so, I'll see you next week-

Tara Thomas: [laughing]

Kia Handley: Thanks, Tara Thomas there our Relationship Coach from The Sugar Doctor, talking breakups

For full transparency you should know: This transcript has been lightly edited for flow & sense, and to optimise the SEO on my website. That means that I have substituted some words or phrases so that the article is more likely to appear in a google search. In this article "breaking up" has been optimised. I only do that in a context where the meaning will remain the same, for example instead of " you can see that you are moving through that grief.." I have said " you can see that you are moving through that breaking up grief.."

This is a decision which I've made because SEO is one of the key factors in determining whether people do, or do not, read my blogs & articles, visit my website, and work with me.