Handle your relationship baggage like a pro

After a break-up, it is important to give yourself time to mourn your loss as you prepare to move on. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • The society we are living in does not expect a man to cry from a break-up and hence we are just left alone to deal.

  • If you are able to talk about your past relationship with ease, you are also able to forgive yourself and former partner for mistakes made in the relationship.

  • One positive sign of moving on is ability to talk fondly of the ex.

Break-ups can breed bitterness that can result in a vicious cycle of toxic relationships. SONI KANAKE talks to men and women who share their experiences with breaking up, picking up the pieces and moving on with their head high.


Njuru Mwangi, in his late 20s, is so afraid of break-ups that he has to think twice before asking a woman out on a date. "I was barely 20 when I broke up with my first girlfriend. I was so devastated and decided that I would never date again, never get married and would just live my life," confesses Mwangi, an IT consultant and founder of www.sufuria.com, a recipe sharing site. "I do not want to be in a 'situationship' and invest my feelings in the 'wrong place'. I am not the best person with dealing with break-ups because I really do not know who to share the pain with and it really tears me apart," says Mwangi.

Do men cry for days after break-ups or do you pick yourself up and keep moving? "I may not cry literally but I have had sleepless nights wondering why it had to happen and what could have been done to salvage the relationship. Unlike women who will probably go to their girlfriends and cry all night, we men end up suffering in silence. The society we are living in does not expect a man to cry from a break-up and hence we are just left alone to deal," notes Mwangi. Little wonder that you will find some men drowning their sorrows in alcohol, he says.

Njuru Mwangi. PHOTO | COURTESY

So, how should one deal with a break-up? "Avoid thinking about the break-up. As much as it is practically impossible to not think about it, don’t let it take a toll on you. Go play a sport. Meet new people. Go to the gym. But do not quickly get into another relationship before you heal lest you end up in the cycle of break-ups," advises Mwangi. For one to heal, he says you should delete all her photos on your social media pages. "Do not badmouth her and do not discuss her with online strangers," says Mwangi. "Don't play victim. I actually pray and ask God for guidance on how to go about it," he says. "Different things work for different people. I once shaved my afro after a break-up and people asked me if I'd broken up with her.”

However, before thinking of a new relationship, Mwangi tends to be very cautious. "I haven’t dated for a while and the reason is basically because I am afraid of a heart break.”

Jackline Mwaniki, 30, a teacher, thinks that the healing process is the same regardless of the gender. "However, there is a certain stoicism in men. They can conceal their feelings. The society expects a man to be strong so he has no choice but to show he is over it and is moving on," says Jackline.

Jackline advocates for crying after a break-up. "See, a break-up is like death. In fact, it is death; death of a relationship, death of hope and dreams for the future. One is allowed to mourn. Cry yourself silly, roll on the floor and let your nose run too. Break a few things if you feel like. Mourn for the 'death'. It doesn't make the situation any better but it's good for the heart," she says.

Jackline confesses that crying has worked for her after a break-up. "I cried a river. I cried my tear glands dry." She also recommends seeking sober advice that is uplifting. "Get rid of everything that reminds you of him: Photos, gifts, souvenirs from his trip to Dubai, the clothes he left at your place in case he comes for a sleepover, his Arsenal jersey... everything. The block icon on all social media sites is also of great help. You can't be friends with an ex. Friends don't hurt friends," observes Jackline.

Jackline Mwaniki. PHOTO | COURTESY

"Get something to occupy your mind. It's not the end of the road. Focus on other goals. Get that Master’s degree, start that side hustle you have always wanted to, enrol in a culinary school.... whatever it is you want to achieve. Take care of yourself... don't allow yourself to 'beat'," she advises. "Moving on is accepting that you cannot change the situation even if you tried to and realising life has got to move on," says Jackline.

Jackline thinks one should get into a relationship when you are ready. Ensure you don't carry your trust issues and insecurities to the next relationship." She says one has to forgive for their own sanity and peace of mind.

Lilian Muthiga, a financial advisor in her early 40s, says that men and women move on differently but it depends on the issue behind the break up. "What has worked for me since my last relationship over five years ago was making a conscious decision not to get into another serious relationship until I am ready to settle down," says Lilian. “I learnt how to love myself and take myself out for fun and treats,” she says.

"During healing, crying helps one release the stress and bottled up anger. This, however, should not go on for days unless a memory pops up," advises Lilian. "A woman should keep herself busy by doing things she used to love when single and avoid going to places they loved visiting when together as it will bring back memories and bouts of sadness," she notes.

Lilian Muthiga. PHOTO | COURTESY

One needs to do a deep soul search to rule out if they are the problem in their relationships before getting into another, and that's what dating oneself does. As opposed to rushing into another one then you break up in another year or so, says Lilian. "I am alone but not lonely since I now enjoy my own company and perhaps stuck there," she says. One should also learn to forgive so as to move on, instead of carrying emotional baggage into the next relationship, says Lilian.

MM, who preferred to remain anonymous, says that as a man, society does not expect him to cry but no one should lie to you pain is a gender issue. "As men we internalise, process and possibly find a solution. We feel the pain in the process but individually I've learnt to process my emotions the same way I would process an idea," he says. "We cry a lot, under the cover of darkness. After the cry, we don't dwell on it for long but we become either watchful or careless!" he confesses.

But how has he dealt with relationship loss in the past? "First, I accepted it was over and I was a part contributor to the break-up. Second, is grief; every emotion has to be grieved just like any other loss. Third, I had to acknowledge how I felt, how I caused someone else to feel, how I caused pain to someone else and, therefore, we have to come to terms to this reality we are hurting and caused hurt to someone else. Fourth is forgiveness. Forgive yourself. This is the toughest part of the healing process. And most men don't do it because they have this notion they are always right. I sought forgiveness from all quarters. Freedom enters one's heart when we ask for forgiveness," explains MM. "I went through depression for a while but one morning I decided it was enough and picked myself up and went through the grieving process on my own.”



Dr Margaret Kagwe. PHOTO | COURTESY

A psychologist’s view of break ups, with Dr Margaret Kagwe

How would you define relationship baggage?

Relationship baggage is unresolved negative issues and disappointments that emanate from a relationship, which make it difficult for an individual to fully commit and enjoy the next relationship.


How does one offload relationship baggage?

It is important to acknowledge that you have relationship baggage. Then it is important to unpack the baggage and identify unresolved issues. This may require professional help or safety of a trusted friend. Resolving issues may require that you make amends. Forgiving yourself and others is an example of how a person offloads baggage. Dealing with own assumptions and getting rid of bitterness prepares one for new experiences.


What should you do after a break-up, especially when the emotions are still raw?

After a break-up, it is important to give yourself time to mourn your loss as you prepare to move on. Many people mask their true feelings after a break-up and this prolongs healing and contributes to emotional baggage. If you feel like crying, it is healthy to do so. The most important aspect of a break-up should be the lesson you learn. Rather than act the victim, try to identify your role in the break-up so that you prevent future relationship failure.


What are the tell-tale signs one is carrying baggage?

Inconsistent behaviour, like sudden change of mood.

Constantly talking about negative past experiences and comparing the current partner to the previous one.

Inability to freely talk about their past relationships may be an indication of lack of closure meaning they still hurt deeply when they remember the relationship.


Is moving on easier for either gender?

Moving on is equally painful for both sexes because of emotional investments made in the relationship. Men tend to show less emotions than women because of their nature but that does not mean they do not get hurt. Women are likely to express their feelings and even talk about it, which makes healing quicker.


How does one know they have truly moved on?

If you are able to talk about your past relationship with ease, you are also able to forgive yourself and former partner for mistakes made in the relationship.


Can one talk fondly about their ex yet they have moved on?

Yes. One positive sign of moving on is ability to talk fondly of the ex.


Bitterness, anger and vengeance are the hallmark of most break-ups. How can one deal with these emotions?

These are reactions to loss. Other reactions may include denial and depression before a person finally accepts the loss. One can deal with these emotions by making effort to resolve the emotions with a positive outcome in mind. Accepting that the relationship has failed makes it easier to heal and move on.