I’m often asked, “How long does it take to recover from a breakup?” The truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Everyone’s healing journey is unique. Breakups can be incredibly challenging, regardless of age. However, for women over 40 who have been in long-term relationships since they were young, there are some specific challenges to navigate.
So, whether you’re going through a breakup yourself or supporting a friend who is, this article aims to provide you with some heartfelt insights and practical strategies for navigating the path to healing.
Understanding the Struggles
When a relationship ends, it can feel like your world has been turned upside down. During this turbulent time, it’s helpful to understand what’s happening as the realization of the situation sinks in. There are some common issues that most women will go through, and understanding that these things come up for the vast majority of us at this difficult time can be helpful.
You may struggle with feelings of abandonment, have deep sadness and grief, and wonder who you are now that this long-term relationship has come to an end. So, let’s break these down:
Many women tell me they fear abandonment, and this fear comes from many things. Past experiences play a significant role in this fear; this could be from losing a parent as a child either through death or divorce. It could also come from a time where your parents were not available to you. If you are a generation X or baby boomer, you might be familiar with these comments: “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry for,” and “Don’t be a crybaby,” or “You are a big kid now.” Sadly, some of these things impacted us as adults and manifested in romantic relationships as a deep fear of abandonment. Additionally, getting into a relationship when you were a young teen can deeply influence how we view love and relationships. Traumatic experiences during childhood can also contribute to a fear of abandonment as a coping mechanism.
Now, let’s turn our attention to grief which is a natural response to the ending of a relationship; that deep sadness is love with no place to go. The ache for someone you may have spent decades with is understandable. Depending on why and how the relationship ended also will impact the level of grief that you feel. The feelings you have will be significantly more complex if the relationship ended due to infidelity or an affair. In this situation, the emotional landscape is layered with a host of conflicting feelings.
Alongside the normal sorrow of the relationship ending, there is an intense sense of betrayal, anger, and mistrust. On the other hand, if the relationship ended unexpectedly, especially if you had no idea your partner was unhappy and you thought you were both on the same page, the feelings of grief are intensified as you are feeling bewildered and have lots of unresolved questions. The suddenness of the breakup can leave you feeling shocked and in disbelief as you feel like the rug has been pulled out from under you. Often questioning the reality of what is happening. In this situation, the grief encompasses the loss of the relationship but also the loss of the future you believed you would have together.
Finally, let’s delve into self-worth and identity. The ending of a relationship after 40 can really hit our sense of worth and trigger fears of whether we are lovable. It can feel like our value as a woman has been shattered into a million pieces. We can spend hours each day revisiting the days and sometimes months leading to the breakup, searching for answers about why we were not enough and how the love our partner had slipped away without detection. So many women at this time have significant fears about the future, as they are no longer young.
These three issues, a fear of abandonment, the complex landscape of grief, and the impact on self-worth and identity are some of the most challenging aspects of navigating a breakup, especially after the age of 40. While the road ahead may feel daunting, it’s important to remember that healing is possible but it will take time, and you will have to process all of the feelings to get to the other side.
I’m often asked, “How long will it take until the pain subsides?” I’m sorry, but I can’t provide a precise answer. If you loved them for a long time and didn’t want this relationship to end, it’s essential to understand that it will take a significant amount of time before you start feeling like your old self again. The first three months can be incredibly challenging, and you can expect issues with sleep, appetite, low mood, and a roller coaster of feelings. This is normal, albeit uncomfortable, but it’s an integral part of your healing process. It’s crucial to have a plan in place for navigating this initial phase of grief. We’ll discuss more about that later.
As you approach the 6-month mark the saying ‘time heals all wounds’ may feel like a cruel joke to you, but it’s true, as you approach the 6-month mark, you should begin to feel less distressed. You’ll wake up without the ending of the relationship being your first thought for the day, although it may still come up when triggered by reminders like anniversaries and holidays and of course some days will be better than others at this stage.
So, what can you do during this period of time. How can you manage this as best you can along with being open to and willing to feel it all and know that this is a normal part of the grieving and letting go process.
During this time, there will undoubtedly be a lot of soul searching, and this can be helpful if you use some simple tools.
- Journaling can feel invaluable, providing a space to write out everything you’re feeling. It’s also a great place to reflect and observe how your feelings are changing over time. It offers you a space to express your emotions, whether it’s the release of anger or the acknowledgment of lingering feelings of love that have nowhere to go.
- Mindfulness involves being in the present moment without judgment. Right now, you might not feel much like that, but it can genuinely help give your brain and heart a little break from the emotional roller coaster you are on. Mindfulness doesn’t have to involve silently staring at your navel; you can practice it during everyday activities. Whether it’s a mindful shower, paying attention to the water and soap, or mindful walking, where you notice the sights and sounds around you, using all your senses to be fully present. These activities can provide you with a brief respite from the emotional turmoil, which is essential during this time.
- Connecting with others for support is vital. Friends and family can be a great help, but it’s important to understand that relying on them for 3 to 6 months of support may become overwhelming. Having a few people, you can connect with can reduce the fatigue they may experience when supporting you over an extended period.
- A therapist or coach can provide significant support, and you are more than welcome to join my free Heartbreak to Healing online workshop where I support women who are going through this tough time (details at the end of the post).
A word of warning: When we are struggling with an emotional onslaught, we may drink a little more or use drugs (even prescription or over-the-counter medication) to try to lessen the pain. Please be mindful that, though in the moment you may get some relief, it can have longer-term issues for your health and wellbeing. Everything in moderation, and if you need support, reach out.
If you still feel that things have not improved after six months, consider visiting your doctor to explore what options are available to assist you.
During this initial time, it’s helpful to have as few expectations of yourself as possible and focus on self-care and processing what is happening.
Letting go and moving on after a breakup is a journey that requires patience, self-compassion, and a willingness to take the time needed to feel all of the feelings. The pain you are feeling is real, and it’s going to take some time for you to begin to let go of the hurt. You will find it a little more tolerable if you can acknowledge the fear of abandonment, allow yourself all the time you need to grieve, spend time building your self-worth, and more importantly, be patient and kind to yourself as you move through this process.
Healing is a deeply personal journey, there is no fast track to move through the grief. It will take as long as it takes. I want you to remember something…. You have survived every single thing that life has thrown at you so far; I trust you will survive this too! Take it one teeny tiny step at a time and please know that you are not alone.
If you’ve found this blog helpful but need additional support, join my upcoming free online workshop, “Heartbreak to Healing.” Access these valuable resources by CLICKING HERE
I am Debbi Carberry, a relationship expert with over two decades of experience in helping women love themselves and cultivate healthy, fulfilling relationships. As a mother of four grown children and a survivor of two major relationship breakups, I understand the challenges you may face. Remember, you’re not alone in this journey. There is support and guidance available to help you navigate the complexities of relationships.
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