Getting back out there after a breakup — worse even, a divorce — isn’t easy. Trying to manage your recovery from the separation is hard enough, let alone dealing with everything that comes with meeting new potential partners. Add to that looking for new connections online, and your thoughts and feelings can become even more complex.
Suffice to say, when trying to multitask so many things at once, you can expect to experience a range of complex emotions, says Nicholas Brander-Peetz, a psychologist at digital mental health platform Lysn.
“Divorce has been ranked as the second most stressful life event, after the death of a loved one,” says Brander-Peetz. “Breakups from a long or intense relationship without marriage can be extremely stressful as well. Grief comes in many forms, and when a person goes through a breakup, they may experience emotions similar to the death of a loved one — shock, anger, denial, depression, fear, acceptance more.”
Then, there’s the world of online dating, which might not have been around the last time you were single. Online dating can lead to frustration, being overwhelmed and simultaneous feelings of harsh rejection and addictive validation, explains Brander-Peetz.
So, how do you navigate it all? Ahead, Brander-Peetz shares six tips.
Practice Awareness and Acceptance
On the recovery from breakup front, the first step in the process is to encourage gentle self-awareness and acceptance of our feelings and thoughts, Brander-Peetz says. “Easier said than done, but ignoring or rejecting our internal experiences can prevent us from moving on, as counter-intuitive as it sounds,” he says.
Remembering your strengths is also important to moving forward, particularly as, post-breakup, your confidence may be shattered.
“It’s important to reflect on the positive things you did to foster the attraction, comfort and love in the first place, especially if you were not the one who initiated the separation,” says Brander-Peetz.
Another important post-breakup work? Taking ownership.
“All relationships reflect a system which both parties are responsible for,” says Brander-Peetz. “It’s easy to blame the other person, much harder to take ownership. Unless you understand how your own beliefs and behaviours contributed to the failure of the relationship, your next relationship may suffer a similar fate.”
Go Easy on Yourself
Next, throughout both the breakup healing and the dating process, you’ll want to be kind to yourself. The longer and more involved the relationship, the worse pain felt when it ends, explains Brander-Peetz.
“Healing involves working through all the associated emotions — resentment, worry, apathy and so on — therefore trying to force yourself to move on in a matter of days, weeks or months is unlikely to help,” he says.
“Putting pressure on yourself to feel better by a certain date can result in unnecessary self-criticism, so instead give yourself permission to take all the time you need.”
Don’t Rush Dating
When you are ready to start dating again, you’ll want to take it slow and, if possible, abstain from sex.
“This will allow yourself the time and mental space to reflect on the ‘why’ underlying your desires, to focus on your deeper values, and to develop a stronger identity without relying on fleeting pleasure or validation from others,” says Brander-Peetz.
“If a date ghosts you because you didn’t hook up quickly enough, did you really lose out? Or did you dodge a bullet?”
Be Willing to Put in the Work
When dating, be willing to not only keep going on dates, but also to put in the work on the actual dates themselves. Finding love again is possible, but it takes time and genuine effort, says Brander-Peetz.
“Expecting the other person to put in all the work to impress you isn’t a sustainable strategy,” he says. “Be mindful of what you offer, not just what you want. Leave the interview questions for recruiters, focus on sharing good vibes, and let the getting-to-know-you process happen on its own course. This takes all the pressure off.”
Build Your Life Outside of Dating
With online dating does come a lot of fickleness. It’s important, therefore, to have outside interests that you can turn to if a date flakes.
“Surround yourself with people that make you feel respected, and place your focus on others,” says Brander-Peetz. “Make your wellbeing a priority through good sleep routines, a healthy diet, regular exercise, and so on. This will help you self-regulate your emotions in the face of common dating annoyances or even flat-out rejection.”
Consider Working With a Psychologist
Finally, consider professional support, which can help you reflect on your experiences and intentions in the dating world. They can provide you with an unbiased view and practical tips to manage the rebounding, catfishing, ghosting, trolling, love-bombing and whatever else you may face.
“You may find that diving into your thoughts and feelings, alone or with your trusted friends and family, can feel uncomfortable,” says Brander-Peetz. “As these feelings arise, you may cease exploration to avoid the pain, or you may get ‘stuck’ wallowing in resentment or self-criticism.”
“To guide the process of self-reflection and managing your emotions, it can help to talk it through with a mental health professional. Having the support of a qualified therapist can provide an unbiased perspective and a comfortable space in which you can share your thoughts freely.”