Breakups happen. They hurt. But they can be great growth and sustained happiness to come from them. We explore clear ways to shift your mindset and your actions so that you can get through breakups successfully.
Breakups are tough, but you can get through them
Breakups tend to be really painful
There are few things in life more painful than a bad breakup. They can put us in a state of raw emotional vulnerability that makes it difficult to focus on anything else, sending us into downward spiral that collapses our social and emotional lives due to the heartache.
Feeling that pain does not mean there's something wrong with you. Per the American Psychology Association, a period of depression often accompanies a fresh breakup, and it's not uncommon to feel loneliness, distress, and even a loss of self or sense of who you are as a person while you move on from a close intimate relationship. (1)
You can prevent long, painful breakups with a mindset shift
I'd like to think that most breakups happen for the best for both people, but let's face it - they are often contentious. Things are said. Feelings are hurt. There are often regrets.
And while breakups aren’t always amicable, the truth is that we all have the opportunity to learn and grow from them.
As it goes, with the right mindset, we may be able to prevent really bad breakups from ever happening, and part ways with our friendship intact.
Society traditionally tells us that the time it takes to get over a breakup is the total amount of time you spent in the relationship divided by two. This is supposedly how long how long your recovery period ‘‘should’’ last. Thus, for a 3-year relationship, you would take 1.5 years to get over it. I disagree with this for two reasons.
I don’t believe that relationships are things you “get over.” People evolve and grow inside relationships, so the idea that you can just “go back to your old self” after a relationship seems backward to me.
If the goal is not to revert to a previous state, but instead to move forward with one’s life, there’s a good chance you can begin this process right away!
A strategy to navigate breakups like a pro
I’ve been through several breakups in my life, most of which have been overwhelmingly positive (in the sense that we parted ways in bittersweet tears, but remained steadfast friends thereafter). I’m using this post to explore the rationale and method I have successfully used to get over my breakups. I fully welcome your comments and insights.
Recognizing you need a clean slate
Breakups cause immense cognitive dissonance. In your mind, you had planned out months, years, or even decades of time together. You may have even envisioned marriage and a happy life with beautiful children. When these long-term-relationship assumptions suddenly come crashing down thanks to the breakup, your mind is sent spinning.
All those connections you had established in your brain, all the future plans, the intended memories — they all must be forcibly rewritten. You now have to make sense of your entire reality, given this new set of conditions.
This process can take anywhere from days to years, depending on the person. Yes, you are fully entitled (and encouraged) to mope for a few days and to indulge in some feel-good, self-affirming guilty pleasures. But this post is about moving forward, so let’s get to my method! (If you need further help, look up cognitive behavioral therapy for some really useful strategies for approaching the recovery process.)
A five step method for a deeply positive breakup experience
This method is just 4 steps, though the amount of time needed for each step will vary from person to person:
1. Solitude — Go off alone and contemplate deeply, acknowledging your every feeling, desire, and memory regarding the relationship; in doing so, allow yourself a really good, long cry.
Don’t hide anything from yourself.
If you felt like this person was the one and only for you and there could never be any other, acknowledge this feeling, and own it.
Look through your shared possessions, your past love letters, your texts, and cherish all of it.
Your goal here is to picture your life as a timeline, and bundle this relationship as a journey along your life’s timeline that will subsequently serve as a positive learning experience for you for the rest of your life.
2. Reality Check - Once you’ve owned up to all of your feelings, desires, etc., it’s time for a reality check.
You exist in a world of 7+ billion people, and any of them could turn out to be your next perfectly matched lover. Probability is on your side, especially given your ability to effect positive change in your own life.
Your former lover is but one of many lovers you may have in your lifetime. Love is not a feeling that can run out. The beauty of life is that you can experience love time and time again, and you can get better at loving over time.
You will certainly get better at managing your relationships over time, now that you’re explicitly learning from each previous one.
This entire step is meant to imbue you with the confidence you need to pick up the pieces and move forward. Give yourself a pat on the back. You survived one more relationship, and for a time, it added genuine happiness to your life.
3. Connection - It is important during a breakup to remember the people in your life who care about you and are there to help support you. Family, friends, coaches, mentors - even new acquaintances - can be great sources of inspiration if you are willing to say hi and make a connection.
Even if you haven't been close with someone in a long time, everyone knows that breakups are hard and a common time for people to reconnect.
When it comes to your partner, often best to keep distance during and even after a breakup. However, I would recommend being careful about burning bridges altogether. If someone - whether your former partner or others involved in the breakup situation - is clearly dragging you down, it is likely time to blaze your own trail without them.
However, it’s a great move to surround yourself with positive, supportive people, so try not to alienate someone unnecessarily throughout this process (whether your friends or former partner!). By expressing and owning your emotions with people who care, you will get emotional support that will help build you up.
4. Burying the Hatchet - Even if you have decided not to talk to your former partner anymore, it will help you to put any bad feelings behind you. Negativity will only burden you, while forgiveness will set you free.
If you hold onto feelings of resentment, you are likely to bring that anger and bitterness, as well as a lack of attention and confidence, into your future relationships.
Whatever was said or revealed about you through the breakup, own it. Loving and accepting yourself is a no brainer. No matter the voice in your head says about you, your future is bright. You have the opportunity to grow and to love and to experience wonderful things.
Saying yes to yourself and to being the bigger person will help you feel much better. And by having the capacity to forgive them, and forgiving yourself, you will find immediate reductions in your depression, increases to your self esteem and psychological well being, and your immune system will even get stronger! (2)
5. Planning the future - Now that you’re at peace with yourself and confident about moving forward, it’s time to plan your new future. This will ensure that you don’t get mired in old feelings, past bad habits, and complacency.
Think of all those original plans you had with your former significant other. Your planned walks on the beach next to your future beach house, your wedding, your kids. Now, imagine five or ten other ideal significant others (out of 7 billion people, this shouldn’t be too hard), and acknowledge that any of them could enter your future plans and make them every bit as wonderful as you had always dreamed. Now it’s only a matter of moving on and meeting them.
You’ve got a few options here. Maybe you want to take a year or two to stay single and focus on yourself. Build up your own confidence, career, etc. and wait for these romances to come to you. Alternatively, if you are the type who cherishes being in relationships, then take a few days to take stock of what you have to offer in a relationship.
You know from your last relationships what you need to work on, so do it. Your friends can also provide invaluable advice for getting better at relationships. If your previous relationship just ended, chances are your friends will be more than willing to reach out and support you.
A final note
This process has helped me through several breakups. I challenge you to try it out for yourself. Know how your mind and body work, and challenge yourself to do better. Don’t indulge in self-hatred or myopia. Realize the potential that this world has to offer; realize the potential you have to offer; rejoice in both.