Romance is fun. Getting to know a new person is exciting and hopeful. Although relationships can be challenging, for the most part, dating and committing to exclusively spend time and share your life with one person brings us a lot of pleasure and happiness. But the reality of life is that you and your current partner will either be together forever… or you’ll break up. There is no third option. One study, cited in The Rosie Project, reports that the average woman will have her heart broken two times before she finds “The One”.
So you fell for someone and suddenly find yourself heartbroken - and maybe even completely blindsided - with hopes and dreams of a future together dashed. Now what do you do with this new reality?
After walking through a couple of breakups in the last few years, and one quite recently, here’s some of what I’m learning:
1) Turn Off the ‘Self-Critic’
Whether you are the one who breaks up with someone or the one who is broken up with, it’s so natural to wonder what went wrong. But oftentimes we put too much negative focus on ourselves. What did I do wrong? Is there a way I can fix it? We can easily blame ourselves for things that we may or may not have done. We spend too much time entertaining “what ifs” when there is no way to go back and change things. We may feel discouraged, believing we’ll never find love again. We might think we are unworthy of love. We might easily default to anxiety and insecurity about our newly single status, our looks, personality, interests... whatever we feel may have been ‘critiqued’ by our former partner during the breakup process.
Although all of this is normal, just because we think something or feel a certain way doesn’t mean it’s true. Now is the best time to choose not to believe all the negative self-talk and to allow others to encourage you. Without the extra love of that person, you have a greater need to be kind to yourself as you grieve. (If you have a problem in this area, learning to value yourself is a wonderful thing to grow in during this season – see tip #3).
How can you turn off that critical person within you? Be aware of what you are telling yourself. Write any constant personal critiques down or share some of the things you are believing about yourself (due to the break up) with a trusted friend or mentor, someone who can confirm your value and care for you as you grieve the relationship. Trusted people outside of the relationship can help you figure out if you are at fault for anything and can lovingly support you in that, while also helping you identify where you are being too hard on yourself.
2) Go ‘Cold Turkey’
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Time heals all wounds”. Nobody likes to hear that phrase, because in the moment it doesn’t feel true. There is some level of truth to it though; with time and distance it won’t hurt as much. As hard as that is to believe, there is hope of this. And the easiest way I’ve found to speed up this process is to treat the person like a drug addiction and go ‘cold turkey’ from them. It may sound weird but you’ve likely invested a lot of time for the past number of months thinking about this person. That doesn’t just shut off when you break up. Whether you were the one to break it off or they were, you will be reminded of them often, especially for the first few months. If you’ve built a lot of memories with the person you probably won’t need more reminders of their presence and it will be a lot harder to move on if you communicate with your ex, creep them on social media or show up where you know they will be.
I’m not saying that you have to cut your ex out of your life forever, maybe it’s just for a time. Some people may decide not to do this tip and depending on your situation, it may not be an issue for you. But I suggest this one because I know how helpful it has been for me. Be kind to yourself. As much as you miss the person and want to know what they are doing, oftentimes you will not feel better after looking at their page. Instead you may spiral back into dwelling on the relationship, your pain and how you miss them. Everyone puts their best foot forward on social media. Of course you will see photos of your ex looking happy, doing fun things and living their life without you. Naturally, the self-critic begins to suggest that they don’t miss you and are happy without you.
You will move on faster and clear that person out of your immediate priority list sooner if you take the time to ‘quit’ them. Just because you miss someone, doesn’t mean they’re good for you or should be in your life. Use this extra time and mental energy to focus on yourself… tip #3.
3) Focus on Yourself
Focus on what’s in front of you, the moment and season of life you find yourself in. Unfortunately, it may not be a season you wanted to find yourself in, it’s painful and potentially confusing. But there is hope. Remember how many others have experienced break ups and how the average woman goes through at least two before finding a lifelong partner? You can also make it through! You are strong. And why not come out even better because of it? If you have to experience heartbreak, then try to focus on the positives and your future.
Challenge yourself in this time to take steps to become the type of person you want to be, to continue to hold yourself to your values as you walk through the difficulties that come with a breakup. Take care of yourself, exercise, eat well, get adequate sleep, speak kindly to yourself and do things that are life-giving. I’ve found it beneficial to do something active that serves others. My mind may not have been able to emotionally help others but doing an activity (like washing cars for single moms) was a great way to feel like I was helping others and it took the focus off of myself. Maybe a local food bank needs help serving the homeless or the animal shelter needs a volunteer (I hear pets can be an emotional comfort too!)
Learn who you are by taking yourself on a date. When you’re in a relationship you tend to focus on who you are as a couple and invest so much time in each other that you may have forgotten what it’s like to focus on yourself or other aspects of your life. Use this time to enjoy your own company, do things you like to do, discover new passions and interests. (Bonus: now you don't have to be forced to participate in activities your ex loved that you didn't enjoy!)
Work towards becoming the kind of person you wish to attract and surround yourself with. It's important to take the time you need to process and be comfortable with who you are as a single. Rushing into a new relationship right away may be tempting but it doesn’t allow you to experience all that you can learn to improve the quality of your future relationship(s). Your next relationship will benefit from taking time to heal, process and grow through this experience, believe me!
4) Analyze the Relationship from the Outside; Don’t Dwell on It
There is much to be learned about ourselves while we reanalyze, recreate and achieve new goals and dreams for our lives post-break up. But we can also learn a lot from our former partner and the relationship, no matter how long or short the relationship was. We can learn more about what we need and want in a future partner and may recognize patterns, behaviours or emotional triggers that came up throughout the relationship.
Maybe you don’t have hope for a future relationship right now or maybe you are still hoping your ex will come back to you. That's okay. This step doesn’t need to happen right away. It’s important to give yourself time to deal with the grief you are experiencing. It can be helpful though to not dwell on the relationship (and/or your ex), ruminating on it over and over again for a long time without intentions of healing or growing. Wallowing will not change anything and doesn’t help us to move forward. Instead, a tip is to try to view the relationship and the breakup as if you are an outsider or a fly on the wall. When you are ready to look at the relationship for analytical purposes, remove yourself and the personal feelings as best you can when you think about the relationship.
Again, the point of this is to avoid dwelling for months and months on the relationship and the breakup without moving forward. There is a time to process and grieve the very real feelings accompanied with the relationship and break up. Don’t ignore those! But, if you have taken time to grieve, and been kind to yourself in that process by allowing yourself that time to sit in the grief, then you may be ready to move on and it’s good to look at what you learned so you can avoid certain character traits or patterns in future relationships. You may find it helpful to journal and seek counseling or wise advice as you do this.
If you’re aware of the self-critic, this process will be less painful and more beneficial for you. Some things you may want to journal or think about include: what you learned about yourself, where you were challenged and how you grew as a person during the relationship or due to the breakup, any changes you may have to your list of qualities and things you’re looking for in a future mate, etc.
5) Have Grace for Yourself
It’s hard to choose the healthy options and behaviours. It’s natural for “the heart to want what the heart wants”. It’s not easy to choose to focus on yourself, to stop dwelling on negative thoughts and wondering if your ex thinks about you. It’s hard to avoid the temptation to check up on them or ask your mutual friends how your ex is doing. But anything of value tends to come with challenge and hard work. It will take effort and intentionality to move forward. But it won’t be easy.
Nobody wants to sit in pain. We want to be out of the pain as quickly as humanly possible. These tips may help you to move forward faster but there is also value in learning to navigate pain and hard times in healthy ways. Because life will unfortunately always have grief, loss and pain it's good to learn how to cope with it.
Give yourself grace in the process. Learn to sit in the grief and allow yourself time to process. You won’t be perfect in doing all these tips. Some days it may seem like two steps forward and some it may feel like one step back but keep bringing your focus back to the goals, learn to love yourself and look for the positives in the process. You are strong. You will make it through!
Of course this is not an exhaustive list of tips and ways to make it through a break up. If you've been through a break up before, what are some of your tips? Comment and share below.