When a relationship breaks down, it's common for the person who's been 'left behind' to experience anger, shame, confusion and grief, without any release. It might take several months for reality to sink in and during this time you may find yourself alternating between emotions and even fantasizing about reconciliation. It's natural to want to know 'what went wrong'. Many people blame themselves for a relationship failing and their self-esteem may plunge. However, focusing on the relationship itself is more constructive, for example:

  • What was it like when we first met?
  • Why were we attracted us to each other?
  • What made our relationship work?
  • How have we changed?
  • What has affected our relationship?
  • Why haven't we been able to overcome our differences?

You may find the answers upsetting, but the process will help you let go and move on. During this time you'll experience good days and bad days. Be kind to yourself and accept all offers of help and support from friends and family. Catching up with old interests or developing new ones will help you cope with the vicious circle of loneliness, depression, low self-esteem and isolation.

However, if you've reached the point of depression, you may not have the energy or confidence to go out. Counseling can help in this situation, with the latest research suggesting that short-term approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), are the most effective. It will help you break old habits and learn new behavior patterns and perspectives that let you enjoy life more.

Grief is a natural response to a relationship break-up and even though it may seem to take some time to get over that first stage most people do so without help.

Occasionally people do find it difficult to let go of bitterness or anger and that may be a sign that outside help, such as counseling, would be useful. After a break-up the message is:

  • Be kind to yourself, healing takes time; accept the ups-and-downs as a natural part of the process

  • Look forward — even though you feel bad for a time it will pass

  • Get involved — resist the temptation to withdraw and isolate yourself. Build your circle of friends and your interests

  • Avoid drinking too much and if you smoke, do so as little as possible (both are depressants)

  • Look out for the good moments — even the darkest day has glimpses of relief or humor

  • Adopt a balanced lifestyle with regular exercise, adequate sleep and a healthy diet

  • If in doubt, or if your mood stubbornly insists on staying low, don't delay, seek help.