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Surviving a Breakup in the Lifestyle And How to Support Your Partner Through a Breakup

“When we break up, our brains lose their regular supply of these neurotransmitters, and we go into neurological withdrawal. This is how broken hearts break brains. Subjectively, the deficit in these chemicals can make us feel anxious, depressed, and isolated.” ~ Dr. Mike Dow, Psy.D., Ph.D.


Surviving a Breakup in the Lifestyle

Breakups SUCK! But they are, unfortunately, an inevitable part of dating, especially when you are in the lifestyle. AND just because you are in the lifestyle or an alternative

style relationship doesn't mean that you aren't going to feel the pain and distress as if you were a lovesick teenager. Surviving a breakup in the up in the lifestyle can be soul-crushing to experience as well as to watch happen to someone you love. These feelings are real, the pain and disappointment are real, and you deserve the space, support, and time to grieve the relationship you recently lost. People are not automatically equipped to deal with heartbreak and most of us have never been taught healthy coping skills to help heal from heartbreak

The Science Behind Heartbreak

Dr. Mike Dow, Psy.D., Ph.D., provided that when we experience romantic love, our brain releases a surge of feel-good chemicals, including a boost in oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. Oxytocin is the neurotransmitter responsible for helping individuals bond with others, dopamine is associated with pleasure and reward, and serotonin helps us feel happy. When you experience a breakup, your brain goes through withdrawal from these chemicals, and this is when people tend to increase their drinking or participate in risky sexual behavior as a means of releasing a heavy dose of happy, pleasure feelings; however, this does not help in the long run. The pain is still there once you sober up or go home alone after a hookup.

When we lose a bond with a special someone, quickly and/or unexpectedly, our brains need time to undo the bond that had been created, nurtured, and appreciated for the duration of the relationship. We do this by avoiding contact with your ex, don't stalk their social media, and don't have "one last hookup". By doing these things you are prolonging the hurt you are experiencing and not allowing your brain to properly break the neurological bond that was formed between you and the other person. Every person is different, and each individual will have to take their own time to heal the bond your brain is craving. That is why it is so important that you fully heal before moving on to the next relationship.

Supporting Your Partner Through Heartbreak

If you are supporting your partner through a breakup, remember your partner's pain is your pain as well. Regardless of why the breakup occurred, your heartbroken partner needs to know that you still love and appreciate them. Ask them what they need, give them extra snuggles, let them cry on your shoulder, buy ice cream, and sit in the closet with them to eat it, the list of possibilities is endless, and each person is different. COMMUNICATION is vital when supporting your partner through a breakup. Never assume or judge, allow them to feel their feelings and love them through it.

I am not too naïve to believe that the breakup could have been caused by one of the parties, either your partner or their partner, crossing a boundary that you were not comfortable with, ultimately leading to the demise of the relationship, leaving you resentful or hurt as well. This unfortunate situation leaves three broken hearts, but you knew the risks and rewards when you opened the relationship. Having said that, it doesn't make it hurt any less and I absolutely get that.

If you have decided to stay with your partner and work through this pain you both are experiencing, I encourage you to take the space you need to heal while supporting your partner as much as you can. Again, communication is key when these types of things occur. Talk to your partner, tell them your needs, ask what they need, support each other, and take time to reconnect on a deep level before moving on to other play partners. If done correctly, your relationship will recover, and you will be stronger than ever.

Healing From Heartbreak

Healing from Heartbreak graphic. Don't fight your feelings. Openly discuss your feelings. Journal your thoughts and feelings. Prioritize self-care. Get back into a routice. Give yourself grace. Grieve the loss.
Graphic Healing from Hearbreak

Surviving a breakup in the lifestyle hurts and after a break up we often go through a range of emotions, from anger and sadness to guilt and rejection. These feelings are normal and part of the process of healing. You have to allow yourself the ability to feel these feelings. Overall, feeling the uncomfortable emotions and feelings now can facilitate healing quicker and prevent you from dwelling on what you could have done or should have done differently.

Don't be afraid to talk to your partner and tell them what you need during your grief, and stay away from alcohol! Alcohol is a depressant; you are already depressed, so this won't bode well for your healing.

If your partner is also healing from heartbreak, you might want to try journaling about your feelings. Getting the thoughts out of your head and down on paper is healing. We don't want to ruminate on things we could have done differently in the relationship. We need to heal and move forward.

Self-care. That is a whole sentence. It would help if you took the time to heal and take care of yourself. You have another relationship to either heal or focus on, depending on the reason for the breakup. Take a long shower or hot bath, get out of bed and move to the couch, go for a walk, or try to ease into your regular exercise routine, but don't wallow in your pain. The pain is temporary, you will heal, you will move on, and you will find another partner when you are ready. Getting back into your routine is self-care and giving yourself grace if you wake up and decide that you don't want to run 5 miles but instead go for a walk. You are still taking care of yourself by getting up and moving.

Stages of Grief. Shock and denial. Pain and guilt. Anger and bargaining. Depression. The upward turn. Reconstruction and working through. Acceptance and hope.
Stages of Grief Graphic

Grief is tricky, and you can experience the stages of grief all at once or at varying times. And when you think you have reached the acceptance stage, you are slapped in the face by depression. Grieving is very personal, and there is not ONE specific way to grieve the loss of the relationship.

Shock is a common response to loss, especially if it is unexpected. You may not allow yourself to believe it on a small level as a way to avoid the pain. Some physical reactions can occur during this stage, such as feeling dizzy or nauseous; some expressed that they have felt an out-of-body experience during the shock and denial stage of grief. Denial often accompanies shock because you don't want to believe the relationship is over. Denial comes from a lack of understanding and can take a bit longer to move through as you process the stages of grief.

When the shock and denial were off, we faced unbelievable pain. You must experience the pain and not try to hide it by drinking or partaking in risky sexual behavior. If you crossed a set boundary in your primary relationship with your play partner, you will experience guilt on a large scale because the realization sets in that there was something you could have done differently, upheld the boundary, and all of this pain could have been avoided. Life feels very overwhelming and scary during this stage, but you will move through it.

Shear frustration leads to anger, causing you to lash out towards others, placing unwarranted blame for the relationship's demise, quickly giving way to bargaining. We find ourselves trying to turn the situation around by bargaining to save the relationship if possible and quickly becoming angry when we don't get our way. This vicious cycle will pass; however, there could be damaging consequences after the grief process, such as emotionally damaging your primary relationship.

Depression. Another word that is a full sentence all by itself. During this stage, we find ourselves more accepting of the situation; although unable to fully cope with it. Depression is often accompanied by loneliness and the need to be alone all at the same time. You may start reflecting on the lost relationship and thinking about the good, the bad, and the ugly. You are opening yourself up to acceptance when you start reflecting.

The upward turn presents when one begins to adjust to life without the former lover. Your life becomes a bit calmer, and your thoughts are more organized than they recently were. You feel a sense of motivation to lean into your primary relationship and begin to see the light at the end of the hole you have been hiding in for the past few weeks, months, days, however long you stayed buried in your safe hole. The upward turn is a building block for healing and acceptance.

Reconstruction and working through the loss allow you to become more functional, and possibly your mind might become clearer; however, that doesn't mean the feelings of depression, guilt, or any other emotion you have felt are completely gone, but you can look towards the future. Looking forward instead of backward leads us to the final stage, acceptance.

Acceptance is the stage where you can accept and fully comprehend your loss. You will never be over the relationship, but hopefully, you grew because of having that person in your life. You begin to feel again you can openly talk about the relationship without falling into a puddle of tears and think about the happy moments you experienced with them before the heartbreak.

The Road to Healing Graphic with what you expected with an arrow straight up compared ot what you got with a disorganzied arrow.
The Road to Healing Graphic

The stages of grief can occur within seconds, minutes, days, months, or years of a traumatic experience such as a breakup. Once you feel you are in the acceptance stage, grief can reappear out of the darkness and leave you feeling lost, hurt, and confused all over again. There is no straight line to healing when you are grieving, it is absolutely a process that has no deadline. "Like any emotional amputation, continuing in life means learning to live without that part of yourself, and finding ways to compensate for its loss," says Dr. Suzanne Lachmann.

Dramatically yours,

Dr. Stephanie


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