As Covid-19 restrictions ease and life becomes a bit more normal, many are emerging from lockdown as newly single. It’s no surprise that trials of a difficult lockdown and the subsequent economic pressures will have resulted in couples realising they no longer want to be together. After all, mental health professionals and lawyers have been predicting the Covid-19 break-up surge for some time, and we now better understand the myriad reasons behind this post-pandemic boom.
In a previous post, we focused on dealing with redundancy as a result of lockdown. This month, we take a look at post-pandemic relationship meltdowns. Just as with redundancy, your own personal brand can help you get through this.
Knowing your values
Being forced to spend a lot of time together, often in close quarters, has meant many people have realised that their personal values are incompatible. You may have been keen to instil family rules around education to keep the children occupied and learning, while your partner failed to support you. Or, working alongside your partner, you’ve realised that their ethics are a little shakier than you imagined. This can result in you seeing them in a different light, and perhaps everything, even those little habits you once loved, becomes annoying. This “values mismatch” can be the death knell for a relationship.
Of course, we don’t have to share all our values, but in most healthy relationships, they do overlap somewhere. Otherwise, a mismatch of values may keep showing up. What’s important here is that you don’t take the blame for how you feel. Values are a vital clue to who you really are — the authentic you — and compromising on too many of your values often leads to feeling like something is misaligned in the relationship.
Remembering how you want to present
Building on values, knowing how you’d like to be seen is important in navigating relationship issues. What qualities of your personal brand are important to you? Fairness? Collaboration? Compassion? Knowing how you want to be perceived can help you chart a dignified course through divorce or a break-up. If you are ever in doubt, and compassion is how you want to be seen, for instance, then asking yourself what is the compassionate choice here, may help get you through.
It will also help lead you to the right people. If fairness is important you, then you will know to seek out a lawyer who above all is working for a fair divorce. Likewise, someone who is willing to fight might look for someone who is more aggressive legally.
Family lawyer Joanna Toloczko of Royds Withy King says, “We all behave badly from time to time, when we are in an emotional state, but this only leads us to feel badly about ourselves and diminish our self-worth. Remaining calm and grounded and true to your core values will help to maintain your self-esteem and to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It will also help you to act in your own best interests and those of your children.”
Turning to your personal image
While we often look to inner branding strategies like values and strengths for getting through difficult times, looking to your outer brand (the outer representation of our personal brand) is also important for a number of reasons. First, our personal style is one of those things that can help us feel better about ourselves. Dressing in a way that enhances our personality or flatters us can help give us a boost at a time when we can feel down and confused.
Break-ups are also a time when our identities might undergo a transformation. Many women report that when they are no longer part of Mr and Mrs X, they take on a whole new identity, or harken back to their younger and maybe more adventurous selves. What does this mean? It means you can have some fun in experimenting with your outer brand, trying out a new style that you normally wouldn’t have worn before. It could be a great time to visit a stylist and get some ideas from an outside source, or just think about how you want the new single you to look.
Many films and books portray break-ups as a time when everything falls apart, but many men and women often say it’s a time that incentivizes them to become healthier, to eat better and start taking exercise. It can be a renaissance in taking care of themselves.
Confronting inner obstacles
Sometimes it’s not us that decides on a break up. When we aren’t in control of change it can seem even more scary and unknown. It’s easy to feel paralysed and get stuck, even if things can never be the same again. Alternatively, we may find ourselves getting hugely anxious about the future.
However, the most effective way to maintain any type of anxiety is through avoidance. In fact, it’s a fantastic way to feed it! So, assuming that’s not your end goal, the best strategy is to “stare down the demon”. There are lots of great resources out there to help with handling fear.
You may also see the inner critic becoming more at home at this time. That unhelpful internal voice can be pretty self-sabotaging…and it’s one of the biggest obstacles to building a strong personal brand and something I often see in my psychology practice, even with otherwise very successful individuals. It can sound like a constant monologue of self-doubt, one that builds up a flawed picture of us and our careers and relationships. It often rates us against others, and because this rating system is flawed and irrational, we almost always come up short. The inner critic can send our personal brand into a real wobble at the best of times, and during break ups it can run riot.
Unhelpful thoughts can undermine our confidence and kill our motivation, and ultimately sabotage our personal brand. One of my favourite tools to I turn to with my clients is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). ACT uses the term “getting hooked” by thoughts or feelings to illustrate the concept that we can often become entangled with unhelpful thoughts, which limits our ability to take effective action and live a rich and meaningful life.
Another really helpful tool is Mindfulness and there are many websites and Apps that can help you lean into this, and learn how to recognise and put aside those self-critical thoughts.
Remembering the flip side
It’s easy to focus on the negatives while discounting the positives, something we refer to as “negative filtering” in cognitive and behavioural therapy. During divorce, negative filtering can become even more pronounced.
Lawyer Joanna Toloczko has these words of encouragement “Try to see the positives – it is rarely the case that either party wishes to leave a relationship which is happy, loving and supportive unless a third party is involved. Very often, people remain in unhappy or unsatisfying relationships because of the very natural human fear of change. Often being forced into situation of change can have positive benefits for you. Whilst the first few months of living without your partner may be difficult for you, it is likely that your future life will be better in the medium to long term. It can be fun to reinvent yourself. You don’t have to go the whole hog a la Madonna, but losing some weight, joining the gym, finding a new hobby, making new friends or reconnecting with old friends can often be enjoyable and empowering”.