Monica Vitti in Ti Ho Sposato Per Allegria 1967
Breakups happen every single day of every year. Somewhere in the world, someone is breaking up with someone else. It is one of the most universal, stressful events that almost every human being has to go through at some point in our lives.
Whether you are the one breaking up with your partner or the one who is being broken up with, it is a difficult experience, and the transition to singledom can be very rough. You’ve invested your time, energy, and emotional resources into this relationship. You’ve gotten used to their presence in your life and you’ve integrated them with family, friends, and colleagues. After a breakup, you have to learn to do this very awkward thing of simultaneously trying to get used to life without them but still having to talk about this person (because people in your social circle will ask questions). And, if you’ve hung your hopes on this relationship being “the one,” then you are also dealing with a tremendous amount of grief and loss of what could have been.
Given these challenges, what are some of the healthiest ways you can heal from a breakup? Check out my tips below.
Tip 1: Allow yourself to feel your emotions
Expect that emotions will come, both positive and negative. They may appear at the most inconvenient times, when you are at work, out with friends, or when you feel like you just turned a corner on dealing with the breakup. When they happen, don’t try to push them away, because then they will just come back with a vengeance later. Instead, remind yourself that emotions come and go, like waves in the ocean. Visualize yourself riding the waves and in control instead of being dragged under by the tow. Know that emotions are temporary, and that if you allow them just to be, they won’t hang around as long to pester you.
Tip 2: Cut the reminiscing
It is natural after a breakup to start thinking of all of the great memories you’ve had together, or all of a sudden become focused on the positive qualities of your ex-partner. It is a normal process for human beings to reminisce about the past, and oftentimes, as we play back memories in our head, the picture becomes more and more rosy and you forget all of the reasons why you broke up in the first place! When you notice yourself starting to dreamily recollect the highlight reel of your relationship, direct your thoughts to something else. It is often helpful to interrupt your thoughts by engaging in an activity that requires some mental focus, like reading a short article or doing a work task. Or, get out and socialize with a friend or coworker to get your mind off things. Repeat this tip every time you notice your thoughts wandering to the good old days, and over time you’ll find that you reminisce less and less, and it will become easier to redirect your thinking.
Tip 3: Reframe the breakup as an opportunity
It may be hard to think of breakups as an opportunity, but they are. Whether it is an opportunity for you to rediscover your identity as an individual or whether the breakup gives you a chance to find a more compatible partner who can offer a more fulfilling relationship, there is opportunity in every breakup, no matter how much it hurts as first. Challenge yourself to write down at least three ways in which the breakup is an opportunity for growth, change, or meaningfulness in your life. It’s important to put pen to paper because it makes the ideas more concrete, and you can draw upon this when you start to feel discouraged or down instead of allowing your mind to talk yourself into why this breakup is not an opportunity for positivity after all. After you write these down on a piece of paper or sticky note, put it somewhere so you can reference it when you need (like in your wallet or purse).
Tip 4: Lean on your social circle
We all need connectedness, and research shows that feeling like we belong and knowing that we are part of a community are essential for our mental and physical health. During this vulnerable time, lean hard on your friends, family, and people you trust. Part of what you are missing is the social attachment you had to your partner, and the feelings of loneliness and despair can often be reduced if you spend time with people you care about. Although sometimes you may be tempted to stay at home all by yourself and wallow, force yourself to make social plans and then keep them (a good rule of thumb is two to three times a week, and the get-togethers can be brief, like a coffee date or a walk around the neighborhood). And when you’re out with your friends, give yourself 15-20 minutes to process any thoughts or feelings about the breakup with them if you need to, then move on to other topics or activities.
Tip 5: Find your own closure
We all love closure but most of the times, we are not going to find it from our ex-partner. Try as you might, you will never truly know how they are doing, how they are processing the breakup, or why the breakup happened, because you will only know what they tell you (and sometimes people aren’t great at being honest, especially about breakups). So find your own closure that doesn’t rely on your ex-partner. This is also a healthy way to disengage from leaning on them and reestablishing your reliance on yourself. It is helpful to have a concrete ritual of some sort to mark the ending of the relationship that allows you to say goodbye. For example, you can write a letter to your ex-partner that conveys what you’d like to say to him, take it with you on a hike, read the letter out loud on the mountaintop, then leave the letter there before you return. You can put a collection of your mementos from the relationship in a box and then put it in a storage unit or somewhere outside of your house (like a friend’s closet). Or, you can donate an item that represents your relationship to your local Goodwill. Creating your own goodbye ritual will help you to achieve closure and move on from this chapter in your life as you welcome the next adventure.
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