Breakups are often difficult, and most of us dread them. Navigating through a breakup can be challenging in a number of ways, especially when it is particularly long, drawn-out, or otherwise rough. We might feel as if the pain will never diminish, but in time, it generally does.
No matter how agonizing they may be, breakups are still a natural part of the dating experience, and most of us who date have experienced at least one breakup. We might carry memories and even healed wounds from past relationships that had a significant impact on us, but in most cases, we—as resilient human beings—tend to go through a breakup, heal (in time), and then go on. Eventually, we may develop a new, more powerful relationship(s).
When handled well, breakups can help us grow and develop as individuals. We can take what we learned from our last dating experience—an aspect of our nature, a new boundary or limit we’ve realized is essential, or something else—and apply it to future relationships.
Of course, during or immediately following a breakup, we are generally more likely to be weathering a storm of our own emotions rather than considering opportunities for learning and growth. The following five steps may be helpful in the process of coming to terms with the end of a relationship:
1. Take a break.
After ending a relationship, especially a significant one, you might feel as if your emotional equilibrium has been disrupted, and dating a new person may seem like a good way to soothe this upset. However, you may not yet have fully processed all of your feelings for your last partner, even if you accepted, or even welcomed, the end of the relationship, and this can have a negative impact on your experience as you begin to date again.
Realize you may be at a deficit and consider giving yourself some time to heal before looking for a new love. It’s important to both your mental and emotional health to fully grieve your old relationship and heal from that experience before moving forward.
2. Sort it out.
Let’s face it. After you have spent some time single, you are likely to wax nostalgic over the relationship that just ended. You may view aspects of the relationship, or your ex-partner, through rose-colored glasses, seeing only the peaceful or happy moments, forgetting the turmoil eventually leading you to break up. This is a time when you need to be proactive and brutally honest with yourself.
Take a moment to remind yourself—speaking openly and frankly—about the problems in the relationship and why they made it necessary to move on. You could also (or in addition) begin keeping a journal where you can process your feelings and openly access your experience.
3. Take care of yourself.
In the early stages, you may feel unmotivated to even get out of bed, let alone take care of your daily routine. Though it’s certainly reasonable to take a few days to sleep in, avoid the outside world, and “wallow,” it can be easy to fall into a prolonged state of misery. To avoid this, and to keep from feeling down on yourself, commit to making self-care your first priority. Challenge yourself to get up in the morning. Take your time getting ready, and make your morning routine an indulgent one.
Breakups take an emotional toll, but the effects can also be felt physically. Make time for physical activity, if you are able to be active. Even if you don’t feel up to more than a long, leisurely walk, simple movement can improve your mood and have a positive impact on your body and mind.
4. Date yourself.
It might take some time before you feel ready to venture out as a newly single person (though you might also feel ready to do so right away), but the period following a breakup can be a great time to explore your surroundings on your own. The newspaper, advertisements or fliers in locally owned businesses, Facebook’s “Events” section, and apps such as Meetup are all great ways to find local events and excursions.
Participating in hobbies and activities you already know you enjoy and are comfortable with might be what feels right for you at the moment, but consider challenging yourself to try something new. You might discover your interests have changed or develop new areas of interest you weren’t even aware of. Try planning ahead, perhaps by marking an event or two each month on your calendar, so you have something to look forward to. Following through with these adventures you’ve scheduled with yourself can help you see how it is possible to create your own joy.
5. Find support.
Some breakups are easy, even amicable, and end with no hard feelings and little pain. The time may have been right; all involved may have been ready to move on. But other breakups can be downright miserable, and sometimes the feelings that arise can be almost too much to bear. When this is the case, reaching out to friends and family can be vital to the healing process.
Friends and family, when allowed to share our pain, can wrap us in love and make the healing journey more manageable. Let your loved ones be there for you. Allow them to protect you, offer support, reminisce, get angry on your behalf, and make you laugh.
Don’t be afraid to seek out professional help for overwhelming pain, grief, or other emotions. Many therapists and counselors specialize in relationship issues, including breakups, and can offer assistance in the recovery process and beyond, as you begin to move forward.
Breakups can be devastating. Practicing self-care, developing strategies to manage emotional overwhelm, and seeking support as needed can help us, in their aftermath, to develop both a clearer vision of the self and a newfound ability to face the world with wisdom and peace.
© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by John Sovec, LMFT, therapist in Pasadena, California