When a relationship fails, help is at hand

Carolyn Martinez, author of Finding Love, is happily married to Saul. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
Carolyn Martinez, author of Finding Love, is happily married to Saul. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

AT 32, Carolyn Martinez was miserable and alone after the end of a 12-year relationship. More than a decade later and now a happily married mother-of-two, she can still vividly remember the overwhelming emotions that plagued her.

"Before that relationship I was really independent and strong," she says. "After spending 12 years with someone and having the relationship fail, I was surprised at how lonely I was. I didn't handle the break-up as well as I could have.

"Moving on was a long and painful process but afterwards I decided to research and write the book I wish I had been able to read when I found I was single at 32."

Finding Love is the result of interviewing 40 people about what they learned after the end of a relationship.

The book took Martinez three years to write and is aimed at people aged over 30 who are ready for a new relationship. She emphasises that she is not a psychologist and is offering guidance rather than advice.

The names of the people featured in Finding Love have been changed and models have posed for the photographs, but this does not diminish the impact of the deeply personal experiences they share. "Jack" became a widower at 64 when his wife died after a year-long illness. The end of the relationship was beyond their control and he is accepting of this.

"We always liked to view every situation in the most positive light possible," he says. "... I maintain that if you've had a good relationship, you want another one".

"Gemma" describes how an unexpected pregnancy at 19 and pressure to marry her boyfriend contributed to the failure of their marriage. "We sort of lived separate lives because we had very little in common," she explains. On mending a broken heart, she says, "Don't rush it; don't go looking. Do things that make you happy; actively pursue your interests".

Martinez rejected the idea of writing solely about her own experience. "I like interviewing a lot of people around a specific topic," she says. "You get so many different ideas."

It is an approach the New Lambton Heights resident used for her first self-published book, Inspiring IVF Stories, which was published in 2011 and includes 24 women and men from throughout Australia who recount their dramatic highs and lows in candid detail.

Her new book is aimed at the over-30s because there are tougher challenges when trying to find love. "It can be really hard because a lot of people are partnered up or are still struggling after a break-up," she says. "But also there's a loss of identity that happens after the end of a long-term relationship. You've invested a lot in the relationship and the life you have planned. When it ends, you are stripped right back and you feel like you are rebuilding from scratch at times. Your core beliefs are thrown into disarray."

The book includes notes at the end of each "shared story" and they provide succinct but valuable tips on every aspect of moving on from a relationship and being open to starting over. Raquel suggests that "newly singles" should "forgive yourself, and forgive your ex", while Petra believes that "there is some luck in finding the right person, but planning and reflection heightens your chances of capitalising on that 'luck"'.

Martinez has also included some reflection exercises. With so much intense emotion swirling around the end of relationships, she recommends a more clear-headed, objective approach. "To be able to let people go with grace and understand they need to move on is a really good suggestion," she says. "If people can take it less personally and understand that there are people in their lives at different times for a reason, that all sorts of people come and go throughout our lives, then the emotion can be managed better.

"I was very emotional after my break-up and that coloured everything," she remembers. "I wish I'd stepped back earlier and looked at it with more conscious awareness. For a few years I partied, worked hard and played sport and didn't give myself space to process any of it. I was trying to deal with the loneliness, which is a really big issue.

"When you're suddenly single, it's a big adjustment going from having someone by your side to no one being there, and also losing family and friends overnight."

Martinez hopes her book will help people feel less alone. "There's a fine line between being helpful and too prescriptive," she says. "I'm not an expert, but I've been guided by people's experiences. There is life and love after loss if you're prepared to grab them."