How to Build and Rebuild Social Connections After a Divorce or Breakup
Acting as a unit is an expression of mutual care. You do things together with the one you love - you like similar things, go to the same places, and share the same group of friends.
In some cases, this cohesion or codependency complicates separation because a person's social network affects their romantic outcomes.
But what happens when that unity becomes disconnected due to a separation or divorce. And it gets even harder if there are issues of domestic violence, child custody disputes, and conflict over child support or alimony.
Piecing together your social life after a divorce or breakup comes with challenges but it can be done if you are disciplined about the process.
If you want to develop reliable social connections, here are some good starting points.
It's not only okay but beneficial to rely on others for support while you grieve the end of your relationship.
Reaching out to current or former friends for support could feel comfortable at best and daunting at worst.
If the latter describes how you feel, consider the following approaches:
- Check in with yourself first and identify what support you need.
- Use a script with specific examples to ask for support.
- Suggest enjoyable activities, such as going to the beach.
- Decide how much to share with others before speaking.
- Offer to reciprocate their support in the future.
Asking for someone to be there for you requires vulnerability but can yield results that uplift your spirit and make your days a little less gloomy.
Ensure the People Around You Are Aware of Your Situation
Many Latinxs follow the adage "la ropa sucia se lava en casa," which essentially means don't air your dirty laundry in public.
It is a cultural norm to keep family, relationships, and mental health matters private. Deviation from this expectation may make a person feel uncomfortable and even guilty.
Most individuals, regardless of identity, feel apprehensive about sharing vulnerable information about themselves due to possible judgment, rejection, or invalidation.
These are all valid fears. But, what if the support you need to achieve peace is on the other side of these fears?
We can only receive help for struggles that friends, family members, coworkers, and others know to exist.
By sharing your circumstances with someone you trust, you create the possibility for support, understanding, and connection.
If you prefer to speak to someone completely removed from your network and relationship, a family law attorney, if there are legal issues involved, or a therapist for mental health healing could provide professional advice.
Assess Your Social Groups
Author Habeeb Akande once said, "Fake friends are like shadows: always near you at your brightest moments, but nowhere to be seen at your darkest hour."
Challenging situations like a breakup often expose friends who are not so friendly.
True friends are empathetic, encouraging, and dependable. They are not dishonest, critical, untrustworthy, or envious.
If you're not sure if someone has your best interest at heart, pay attention to how you feel after spending time with them.
You should not feel insulted, misunderstood, ignored, or emotionally drained.
If you do, consider putting yourself first, taking space from this person, and turning to other sources of support.
Gravitate towards someone that brings you joy and has the willingness to lend a nonjudgmental and compassionate ear.
This person could be a friend you met at school or someone you meet in a support group.
Avoid a Social Arms Race
Turning people against your former partner is a losing game.
Every minute you invest in disparaging your ex is one less minute you put towards healing.
It is also a minute of information you shared that you can never take back.
It is unfair to place mutual friends in the middle of your breakup because it forces them to choose between two people they value.
Mutual friends are not your spies to keep tabs on your ex or your accomplices to make your ex's life miserable.
The only person that might end up looking bad is you. Nobody wants to be around negative energy or hear one of their friends vilified.
Depending on the nature and truth of what you say about your ex, he or she may have the right to a defamation suit.
Save yourself the drama by venting to friends without a connection to your ex, a therapist that legally cannot repeat your feelings towards your ex, or a journal that cannot speak at all.
Plan Specific Activities
If you're not into needles and yarn, consider yoga, gardening with a friend, cooking with a relative, or drawing.
What activity you do is less important than how effectively the activity helps you reduce negative feelings associated with your breakup.
Pick some go-to activities and finalize a self-care plan when you are not actively experiencing a crisis.
A self-care plan with specific activities provides a roadmap during chaotic moments.
Planning is a preventive measure that helps someone feel more in control, better respond to stress and return to equilibrium sooner.
An effective self-care plan includes activities or strategies for work, community, emotional health, and physical fitness.
Ideally, you would share this plan with someone you trust. This trusted person could help you stay accountable and problem-solve if anything unexpected comes up.
Understand Your Limits
There is no perfect way to get through a breakup. Some days you may rely on healthy coping skills and your support system.
Other days you might struggle with getting out of bed and indulge in vices.
Although activities are helpful, it is also essential to routinely self-assess and not overextend yourself.
Signs that you are exhausting your emotional bandwidth include: difficulty concentrating, irritability, experiencing less enjoyment around your loved ones, and agreeing to do favors you prefer not to do.
These are warning signs that you are under stress, at risk for emotional burnout, and need to adjust how you interact with others.
The following tips could help you set boundaries with everyone from coworkers to best friends:
- Check in with yourself daily to identify what you can take on for that day.
- Communicate your needs firmly, directly, and regularly.
- Do not over-explain your boundaries.
- Prioritize your needs over someone else's convenience.
- Enforce consequences when someone knowingly violates your boundaries.
Try Not To Lash Out
In Waiting to Exhale, Angela Bassett's character burns down her soon-to-be ex's clothes and car during an act of vengeance.
Her reaction is an example of what not to do after a breakup.
Unfortunately, fights and even murders result from breakups in real life. In 2019, Alicia Marie Johnson was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend Joshua Forrester after breaking up with him.
Forrester claimed he "woke up and something took over" because he "could not let her go."
Anger, anxiety, and sadness are normal after a divorce or breakup. Homicidal or suicidal ideation, rage, and obsessive thoughts are not.
Seek professional support if you are not confident that you can regulate your emotions and prevent an outburst.
A psychologist could help you recognize triggers and process unresolved trauma.
Lashing out will only worsen your situation because extreme emotions could result in severe consequences.
For instance, a resentful mother that makes false allegations of child abuse against her ex-husband may psychologically harm her child and lose custody.
The further you dig yourself into a hole, the more money and resources you will need to dig yourself out.
Do yourself and your loved ones a favor by doing everything possible to prevent lashing out against your ex.
Vanessa Bryant tragically lost her daughter Gianna and husband Kobe in a helicopter crash last year.
Bryant has expressed pushing through immense grief to continue raising her daughters, managing Kobe's estate, and filing multiple lawsuits.
Bryant has relied on a solid support system, her faith, and compartmentalization.
Compartmentalization is a defense mechanism where an individual suppresses their thoughts and emotions to get through life.
For instance, you and your ex may take photos together and spend time together with the kids to continue life as the kids know it.
Compartmentalization may also help a woman suppress the urge to smack her ex during mediation so that the divorcing spouses can settle.
After the mediation, she may put aside her anger and immerse herself in self-care until she meets with a friend or therapist.
Surviving a breakup is never easy. Give yourself permission to grieve, heal, and move forward.