In the midst and the aftermath of a breakup, more than just your relationship status is bound to change. If you lived with your ex, the end of the partnership could shake up your day-to-day routine, your calendar, social life, and the ways you relate to your friends (especially those you shared with your ex). Finding support after a breakup is essential to weather this storm—but identifying the people who can really ground you is often easier said than done.
That’s because a breakup or divorce tends to leave friendships in limbo, as people feel the need to “choose sides” or project their own feelings onto the situation. Managing all these feelings is the subject of the latest episode of The Well+Good Podcast, during which divorce coach Kate Anthony, host of The Divorce Survival Guide Podcast, and Amy Chan, founder of Renew Breakup Bootcamp, discuss all things friendship after a breakup.
Listen to the full episode here:
To Chan, finding support after a breakup starts with doing a mental scan of the people in your sphere and assessing their level of safety. “If you feel like you have to walk on eggshells [around them], they’re what’s called ‘low safety,’” says Chan. “You can't be yourself. They're judgmental. They have mood swings and sometimes are critical or even emotionally abusive.” With these types of people, “your nervous system is in a survival state,” she says, referencing the cortisol-induced stress response. In this way, they’re working against your healing.
“Being around 'high-safety' people creates the necessary neural pathways for trust and connection.” —Amy Chan, founder of Renew Breakup Bootcamp
By contrast, “high-safety people” allow you to be your full self and to feel accepted in their presence, says Chan, “which helps rewire your brain and create the necessary neural pathways for trust and connection.” As a result, they’re the ones who can really function as your support system post-breakup—which is why Chan suggests increasing the time you spend with these high-safety people, while also minimizing your exposure to low-safety folks.
Making that shift might require setting some new boundaries and clearly communicating those boundaries. “If you find that a certain friend is not showing up for you in the way that you need them to, you get to take a pause from that friendship, and say, ‘This is not what I need right now,’ or ‘I love you, but I’m going to need to take a break here,’” says Anthony.
In other cases, the boundary might be a little more flexible—where you’re not cutting them out entirely for a period of time, but instead just setting some ground rules about how you’d like them to act or speak around you post-breakup. Maybe you just need an open ear to vent or someone to hug, and you don’t want any advice. Or maybe you really would prefer for them not to share with you what they saw your ex doing on social media the other day, says Chan. “You can give people an opportunity [to adapt their friendship with you] by saying, ‘Hey, I’m learning this new thing about myself, and this is what’s okay, and this is what’s not okay,’” she says. “That way, you’re giving them the choice: Do they want to be in your life with this new dynamic and the limits you’re setting, or are they out?”
And if some of them are out, that’s totally fine. “Research shows that we actually switch about 50 percent of our close friends, on average, every seven years,” says Chan. And the way that a certain friend responds to your split from an ex is as fair a reason as any to let them go.
The important thing is to prioritize the high-safety connections in your life as a real means of finding support after a breakup. And again, identifying those people comes down to a gut safety check. “How do you feel after an interaction with them?” Chan suggests you ask yourself, checking in with your body. “Are you exhausted, are you neutral, or are you energized?” The answers that bubble up will lead you away from the people who will slow your healing and toward the people who will speed it along.
To learn more about how to manage friendships left in the lurch by a breakup, and how to grow a healthy support network in its wake, listen to the full podcast episode here.
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