Real Love

You Don’t Have to Be Healed to Be a Good Partner

5 minute read
Battle is a certified clinical sexologist and sex and dating coach, educator, and speaker. She is the author of This is Supposed to Be Fun: How to Find Joy in Hooking Up, Settling Down, and Everything in Between

In the wake of a breakup, especially a particularly emotional one, many people wonder how long they should wait to start dating. They may ask themselves if they’re ready to start the process of falling in love again or if it will be too painful. They may feel guilt for having new attractions or wonder what their friends or family will think if they move on in what may seem like a short amount of time post-breakup. But what they may be missing is that sometimes being in a relationship can aid the healing process.

Reality TV has given us glimpses into the messy and nuanced ways that people can move on after breakups. This includes one of the most notorious breakups in reality TV history: Scandoval. In the first episode of the Vanderpump Rules Season 11 reunion, for instance, Ariana Madix discussed her decision to start dating someone in the wake of being cheated on by former partner and cast-mate, Tom Sandoval. “I think it’s gonna be a very long time before I’m gonna be able to be fully processed through all those things,” Madix said. “I don’t wanna put my life on hold for, you know, someday that I may or may not consider myself ‘fully healed.’” This response to the criticism that she and her new boyfriend, Daniel Wai, moved quickly shows that she understands the amount of healing that has yet to come. It’s also clear that as a public figure who works with her ex, it would be difficult to expect herself to be able to process everything as new conflicts continue to arise. Her new relationship is a much-needed anchor.

There’s a social stigma against starting to date too soon after a breakup. The rule of thumb is that it takes half of the duration of the relationship to be fully over the other person. But recent online discussions of this theory reveal how varied the process of healing from a breakup can be. A one-size-fits-all approach can’t possibly work when the nuances of relationships and their impacts differ so widely. Time can't—and shouldn’t—be the only way to measure a process as amorphous as healing a broken heart.

The truth is that people don’t heal or grow in isolation. And you can be a good partner while continuing the process of understanding the impact of your breakup.

The degree to which you need to heal from a breakup isn’t always dependent on the length of the relationship, but rather the emotional intensity and circumstances. Some people grow apart or learn they don’t love each other, and other breakups result from broken trust, cheating, vicious fights, abuse, or neglect. No matter how long the relationship lasts, the effects on the individuals can vary tremendously—and so, too, can the healing process.

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There can be a lot to sort through emotionally in the wake of a breakup. Some find that therapy is helpful for processing the emotions that arise. Discourse about mental and emotional health has increased dramatically over the last decade or so, and along with it, the expectation of being in therapy when breakups arise. While therapy has been destigmatized, we’re also in a time of striving to be the best versions of ourselves and avoiding causing harm with our emotional baggage. My recent experience working with clients trying to get back into dating is that they worry about not having done enough self-work to be worthy of partnership, even though they’ve taken on a tremendous amount of personal responsibility to commit to weekly therapy sessions, meditating, and reading up on the best ways to take care of their mental health. Still, they are concerned that any lingering feelings they have from past relationships will taint something new.

Prioritizing mental health, especially during times in our lives when we’ve been negatively impacted, is great. But constantly looking for and trying to heal weaknesses within us can be a barrier to starting new relationships. In fact, in some cases, the quest for self-improvement may just be avoidance. Breakups are one of the worst parts of relationships, so it’s understandable if someone is fearful of jumping back into dating. The desire to be fully healed can put undue stress on someone and keep them perpetually striving for a level of wellness that they believe will make them a more ideal partner. Expectations can become so high that they can’t acknowledge how much their efforts have already helped them heal.

Breakup grief is real, and it’s not a great idea to seek out partners when we’re in deep grief. But there are layers that get healed, bit by bit, and with the assistance of our community, that can fortify us just enough to go back out and experience partnership again. People can be good partners even when they are going through a process of healing. If we all wait for that magical moment when we feel we’ve completely left our past behind us, we’ll miss out on how relationships can actually shape how we heal. New connections can give us a different perspective on love and who we want to be in relationships moving forward.

When we put too much attention on attaining the status of “healed” or waiting a specified amount of time to move on from a past relationship, we may miss out on opportunities to apply what we’ve learned about ourselves and test out new relationship skills we learned in therapy. Taking healthy risks as we move on from breakups can help us see and experience relationships differently. There is no one moment when we will be perfectly ready to take the plunge again, and no amount of time when we will arrive at our best self. And that doesn’t mean that we are less worthy of loving, supportive partnerships.

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