By Madison Wise, LPC Associate
I wouldn’t wish the heartbreak of a breakup on my least favorite ex. They can be painful, confusing, disorienting, and disruptive to everyday life. Breakups signal loss to varying degrees, from the loss of companionship and a confidante to the loss of relational and maybe even financial security. Whether it was your decision, your partner’s, or a mutual break, it’s wise to plan for the inevitable changes to your routines and have resources at the ready to support you throughout.
Assemble your support team
First things first: breakups are not something that you need to go through alone. Having people who you can talk to and be with is of prime importance right now. Enlist the help of your friends and family for practical and emotional support in whatever ways you need. Schedule a walk-and-talk with your best friend, go spend a weekend with your parents or siblings – make it a point to both process the breakup with those you trust, and to spend time doing things together that bring you comfort and joy.
Learn about the science of a breakup
There are certain things we can come to expect after a breakup, and preparing yourself for the coming changes can help to ease the tension and grief that comes with big transitions. I’m a big fan of the Stuff You Should Know podcast’s “The Science of Breakups” episode for the way they break down the science of a breakup and what happens inside your brain and body when you’re processing the end of your relationship. They highlight similarities between a breakup and quitting an addictive substance. Be mindful of compulsions to reach out, check their social media, or peruse old pictures of them, as it’s likely to leave you wanting more.
Reduce contact or consider going no-contact (for a while)
While it may be tempting to stay friends with your ex-partner, it can be helpful to take a break from communicating with them while you’re adjusting to your new normal. It’s important that you give yourself space to grieve the loss of your relationship, and checking in with your ex-partner while you’re still processing feelings may lead to confusion and further pain for both of you. This may be extremely difficult at first, but it will get easier as time goes on and you create new habits for yourself. If this isn’t possible for you due to having children together or sharing a friend circle, consider setting boundaries around how you communicate and what about.
Give yourself time to grieve
Set aside some intentional time for yourself to grieve and mourn the loss of a partner. This might look like taking a day off of work to take care of yourself, setting aside a day on the weekend to indulge in a sad movie marathon, creating a sad playlist and making some art about your grief, or anything else that helps you to connect with your emotions in a safe way. When you create containers for yourself to experience your emotions, you give yourself permission to not carry them around with you all day, every day, opening you up to more presence and engagement in the rest of your day-to-day life.
Sharpen your emotional regulation skills
In the aftermath of a breakup, it’s normal to experience a wide range of emotions and heightened stress from the background buzz of your grief. Check in with yourself throughout your day and do what you can to soothe yourself. This can help calm your impulses to ruminate on the breakup or reach out to your ex-partner. When emotions are running hot or you feel your thoughts starting to spiral, hit pause and calm your nervous system. Here are a few ideas to try:
- Move your body. Do some jumping jacks, take a walk, do a handstand—whatever is accessible to you at the moment. Focus on the physical sensations in your body as you do it.
- Call a friend you trust to talk through your emotions and/or shift your focus to something else.
- Lengthen your exhalations. This breathing technique is scientifically proven to help calm your nervous system. I like to practice by breathing in for 4 counts, holding for 4 counts, exhaling for 8 counts, and holding out for 4 counts. Repeat this at least 3 times.
- Distract yourself. Watch your favorite show or scroll through your favorite feel-good social media account. Bonus points if it can make you laugh.
Re-up your focus on yourself
A breakup often means you have more time to yourself, meaning you have more time to invest in yourself. What is important to you? What would you like to explore or learn about? This could be a great time to pick up a new hobby, explore a new field of interest, try out that dance class you’ve been thinking about, or take a solo trip to that cute town you’ve been eyeing for months. Redirect your energy to pleasing and exploring yourself. There’s power and joy in that.
Watch out for unhelpful thoughts or beliefs
It’s normal to doubt ourselves after a breakup and to question what went wrong. However, if you start to notice thoughts about yourself like “I’m unlovable” or “too much” or “not enough,” it’s time to call in some assistance. To a certain extent, it’s both normal and healthy to want to see your part in things and improve upon areas of concern. But when we start to internalize the end of a relationship as “proof” that something is wrong with us, it’s likely that our emotions are telling us a story that simply isn’t true. A breakup is not about your lovability—it’s about your (both you and your partner’s) incompatibility with one another at this point in time.
Now is a great time to learn about and apply the practice of self-compassion. Breakups are hard enough, so there’s no need to double down by being critical of and hard on yourself. Grieving is a universal process, and while your relationship and experience are unique, remember that you are not alone in this. Dr. Kristin Neff at the University of Texas has researched and written extensively on self-compassion and how to apply it—check out this YouTube video and browse her website to learn more.
Talk to a therapist
A breakup can be a great time to seek out a therapist. A therapist can help you to acknowledge and express your feelings, find understanding of your relationship and its end, identify both helpful and harmful relational behaviors, achieve clarity about the end of the relationship, and better define what you want and need in your future partnerships. You deserve help and support—don’t hesitate to reach out for it.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash