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21 July 2017Last updated
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Winning the breakup

Experts say the end of a relationship is the perfect time for taking a step back and assessing what you want from life. Andrea Anastasiou speaks to two women who have done just that…

By Andrea Anastasiou
5 Apr 2016 | 04:33 pm
  • Source:Getty Images

Women are stereotyped to be a mess post-break-up; the tears, the endless ice cream binges, the phone calls to friends, the self-imposed house arrest (think Monica from Friends after her break-up with Richard). However, what happens when a woman decides to use her break-up as an opportunity to turn her life around for the better? What happens when a woman chooses to turn her tears into gold?

There’s something incredibly empowering about transforming a break-up into a life-changing and fulfilling experience; in fact, according to the experts, the end of a relationship is the perfect time for positive change. According to Annie Crookes, psychologist and head of psychology at Heriot-Watt University Dubai, the ending of a relationship is a natural point for taking a step back and assessing where you are and what you want from your life. “Re-evaluation and change are pretty much forced on you when someone leaves. 
And for those of us who fear change and resist goal-setting and self-analysis, it’s the unfortunate push we need,” she explains.

Dr Crookes says that women who turn break-ups into positives do it for their own survival, as indulging in negative thoughts doesn’t serve any purpose other than to keep us inactive and effort free. “Our minds are full of little demons – negative thoughts that are all too happy to help you wallow in the feelings of loneliness and rejection that come from a heartbreak. But loneliness and rejection are not good for us – wallowing means that you are stagnating and eventually this can have a real consequence on other aspects of your life,” she explains.

Question time

Laurel Wiers, dating expert and licensed marriage therapist from Therapydiva.com, coaches women through their break-ups. She says that she helps women to see that their break-up can be a golden opportunity for change by asking them to make a list of reasons as to why it’s better that the relationship ended.

“A woman needs to ask herself: what wasn’t working well in the past relationship? What can she now hope for in a partner that she didn’t have previously? How was she not being her ‘best self’ in the relationship? Are there things she is aware of that she now needs to work on to be a better partner in the future?” explains Wiers.

Women who succeed in turning their break-ups into the best thing that happened to them have a few things in common, according to Wiers. They implement clear-cut goals for themselves, they’re determined to move on, and they don’t start dating straight away post-break-up. Wiers says that the latter is important, as you should take the time to grieve the loss of the relationship by yourself. “It’s a time to recalibrate. Don’t allow the goal of your life to be searching for the next partner. Your goals should now be dictated by the clear focus that surfaces during this time alone, when you can assess healthy and unhealthy patterns in yourself and past relationships. You should work to bring the best version of yourself to the next relationship,” she explains.

A chance to grow

Women who have turned their break-ups into a positive life event also make sure that they fill their lives up with friends, hobbies, volunteering and work – they don’t sit at home sulking. “I have seen women get a degree, master a hobby, and get in the best shape of their life after a break-up. The women who seem to thrive when a relationship ends allow themselves to be the priority and take the time and energy necessary to meet the goals they set,” says Wiers.

We spoke to two women who, by challenging themselves and not wallowing in grief, transformed their difficult break-ups into positive turning points.

Focusing inwards

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Following a sudden break-up from her fiancé, Emma Procter, 40, co-founder and owner of Blowfish Media, focused on self-development and filling her life with new opportunities. Within six months, the Dubai-based Brit had her own business, better health, and a new man to boot…

My ex-fiancé and I broke up in September 2013. We had been together for three years and engaged for a few months. He worked for an airline based in Dubai. Following one of his trips, I was expecting to see him, but he didn’t get in touch for 24 hours. I eventually got a hold of him on the phone and he said he had decided he needed to be single. It was the biggest shock of my life.

I felt like a truck had hit me. People say they’re grief-stricken in these kinds of situations and it’s true; it’s very much like experiencing a sudden death. I felt sick to my stomach, bewildered, shocked, confused, deeply hurt and incredibly betrayed.

I am naturally a positive person, though, so it didn’t take long for me to realise that misery is a choice – I decided that if something so extremely awful had happened, it was going to take me being extremely wonderful to myself to fix it.

I took a look at the other areas of my life – a well-paid job, amazing friends, a wonderful family, good health and two lovely dogs – and thought: it doesn’t have to take me long to get back on my feet.

The most important change I made was in my mind. I did my very best to slowly wish him well and think only about the positive things I had received from the relationship. This was not easy, but also not as hard as it sounds. Once I’d got into a place of – if not quite forgiveness – but at least acceptance and non-anger, everything turned for the better.

I needed a distraction, so I booked a trip to climb Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, despite having never climbed a mountain before. The excitement and terror of training for it left me with little room to dwell on my messy love life.

I also generally did things I enjoyed – I painted my flat in bright colours, I bought lovely new bits of furniture, I got very fit, I had regular spa treatments/massages, I cooked delicious healthy meals, I went out with friends a lot and didn’t spend much time discussing what had happened – also very helpful.

I took a meditation course at LifeWorks in Dubai, which I highly recommend, but there are plenty of guided meditations on YouTube, too. It’s almost miraculous how meditation can work when you suddenly feel panicky or heartbroken. You don’t need to be afraid of strong emotion, you just need to realise it’s telling you something – guiding you to do something to feel better.

My life has soared since the break-up and I have realised it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I focused much more on myself, started my own business, really got into fitness and wellness, travelled and had fun. And my reward after just six months – despite having absolutely no intention of getting into another relationship – was falling in love with a gorgeous, wonderful guy. Someone who ticks every box I had, and even some I didn’t know about.

I feel sure the smartest thing I did was look internally for the answers rather than externally.

If you’re going through a break-up, I recommend you think of yourself as a very precious object that you have been put in charge of.

Nurture yourself, spoil yourself, take things slowly when you need to – and remember that distraction can be your biggest ally.

Relying on myself

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Claire Ferris-Lay, 32 from the UK, moved to Dubai ten years ago with her partner. After eight years together, they married, but two years later they parted ways. Now, 18 months on, Claire is finding she is stronger and braver than ever before

Break-ups are horrible. Emotionally draining. And darn right miserable. But – and as clichéd as this sounds – they are also about re-discovering yourself, working out what it is that you want and trying your hardest to make it happen.

I wouldn’t say I have changed dramatically since I came out of a long-term relationship. I didn’t get a new haircut and do the Eat, Pray, Love thing (not that there is anything wrong with that, of course), but I have changed emotionally. I am more self-aware, I have life goals, and I feel I am more in control of what I want.

When you are in a comfortable relationship, it’s easy to accept the status quo. But change forces you to re-assess so many different areas of your life – from the simple things, such as what to cook for dinner, to where you see yourself living and working in the next five years.

I’ve had to get practical. Life is different when you have two incomes coming in. As a former DINK, I knew I could get to the end of the month without resorting to beans on toast for dinner. As a single girl, I not only think more carefully about what I’m buying, but I also think about my long-term finances too.

I’ve become braver – to wear my favourite bright red lipstick during office hours, to voice my opinions, to talk more openly about my feelings and to ask for help when I need it.

I’ve also become better at committing myself to things that I want to do. I’ve had so many grand plans over the years that have never seen the light of day. This time around, when I committed to becoming healthier and exercising more, I signed up to take part in the Desert Warrior Challenge. I had never run 10km in my life, but I knew that if I signed up, I would not only commit to training but I would also finish it. I loved the sense of achievement so much that I have since taken part in the Spartan Race.

One of the biggest changes is my appreciation of my friends and family. Nothing makes you appreciate these people more than when you’re feeling lonely – because that happens – and they regularly WhatsApp and call you, or kick their husband out of bed so you can sleep over.

Living on my own has also encouraged me to take up invitations I might previously have declined. As a result, my network – both personal and professional – has grown.

None of these things may appear that dramatic but they are all small things that I truly believe are my silver linings.

By Andrea Anastasiou

By Andrea Anastasiou