My last break up came suddenly; the relationship with my then-boyfriend wasn’t perfect (and in retrospect it had more problems than I acknowledged at the time) but things seemed to be going fairly well. After 7 months, for no clear reason that he could explain, he broke up with me and we never spoke again. I was heartbroken; it wasn’t the worst heart break I had ever experienced but it was painful. Break ups are hard and most of us have experienced at least one. Whether you initiated the end of the relationship or it came unexpectedly, break ups always involve some form of loss and pain. For better or worse, I have experienced a number of break ups and I have counseled people through the end of relationships that only lasted a month to people who are getting divorced after being married for more than a decade. In this post I share four healthy ways to get over a break up.
Mourn the Loss
The end of every relationship, even if you wanted it to happen, involves a loss. In addition to the loss of the relationship with your partner, there may be the loss of other connections associated with that relationship (mutual friends and relationships with your ex-partner’s family members), there could be the loss of a home if you have to move, and the loss of shared activities. One loss that we often fail to acknowledge is the loss of the hopes and dreams associated with the relationship. If we thought we would get married and have kids with our ex-partner we may feel like our dreams for the future will not come to fruition. Whatever losses you experience, I encourage you to allow yourself to feel the pain associated with the loss and fully acknowledge your disappointment that things did not turn out as you hoped. Doing this allows you to process and release the emotions instead of suppressing or bottling them, which results in them boiling over or seeping out in the future.
How to: Share your thoughts and emotions about the things you are losing in the breakup with friends and family or through writing.
Acknowledge Your Complex Combination of Thoughts & Feelings
Break ups are often accompanied by a complex combination of emotions. We have all experienced the anger that we feel when a partner has betrayed our trust or abandoned us. I’m guessing that you are also familiar with the sting of shame that hits us when we blame ourselves for a relationship not working out. There is also the sadness and physical pain that comes with feeling heartbroken. Sometimes we feel pulled to focus on our anger related to the situation because it can be energizing and feel better than sadness. Even though it’s hard, it is important to allow room for all of the emotions you may be experiencing following a break up.
How to: Notice if you tend to feel more comfortable with and express one emotion (e.g. anger) and see if you can identify other emotions that you may be having. Sit with and express these emotions in a constructive way. This could include crying and being gentle with yourself, seeking comfort from a loved one, or writing a letter to your ex-partner that you won’t send.
Give Yourself Time
One strategy that people use when trying to get over a break up is to get back into dating very quickly. While this may temporarily mask some pain, it ultimately does not allow you to process your experience and emotions in a healthy way. I encourage you to give yourself time to heal after a break up. Try not to rush yourself to feel better and get back to dating before you’re ready.
How to: Take a break from dating for a while (I would recommend at least 1 month) after a relationship ends. Be gentle with yourself related to having days were you feel sad and upset.
Let it Go
One of the hardest things about a break up is letting go of the emotional attachment we had to our partner. Sometimes people continue this attachment through maintaining a friendship and continuing to see and communicate, even engage sexually, with an ex-partner. Doing this can provide some comfort and relief but the gains are temporary and ultimately, continuing to engage with your ex-partner will prolong your healing process. I encourage you to make a clean break when you’ve decided the relationship is over. You can always re-establish a friendship later and if you believe that the relationship is ultimately “meant to be” a few months of separation shouldn’t change that. The other way that people resist letting relationships go is by ruminating or continuously thinking about the ex-partner and relationship. Getting caught up in thoughts about how good the relationship was as well as thoughts about what you or your partner did that ended the relationship maintains the emotional attachment.
How to: Commit to not communicating your ex-partner for at least one month (if you have a child with your ex, limit communication to parenting concerns). Give yourself limits on how much time you spend thinking and talking about your ex-partner and the relationship. Initially it is okay to spend a lot of time doing this and the amount of time should reduce as you get further away from the break up.
Look out for a post next week on how to date well. If you like what you’re reading please subscribe!