It can feel like our world has come to an end. At one point we thought our partners were ideal for us, and all of a sudden, they’re out of our lives. Gone. Kaput.
A romantic break up can be commonly considered as one of the most traumatic experiences in our lives. To me, a break up is a rite of passage because it is such a transformative experience. When we go through it, we come out on the other side a changed person – better or worse.
The uncoupling process is serious business and it’s important to treat it with care. After a split with a romantic partner, we need to focus on healing and moving forward. Here are some practical ways to do that.
1. Acknowledge the Emotion
It’s easy to numb and deny our suffering as a result of a breakup. We often turn to some form of escape mechanism such as withdrawal, denial, drugs and alcohol, or working too much. But these are temporary relief and dangerous if unchecked.
At some point the emotions that we are feeling as a result of the split need to be identified, acknowledged, and expressed to start the healing process. Some prompts could be:
- What is the primary emotion or feeling that is coming up for me?
- Am I hurt?
- Am I angry?
- Am I sad?
- Am I in grief?
When using mindfulness during a break up, we are better able to pin point the emotions that arise for us and administer the care that’s required. When the emotions are identified, give yourself permission to feel it. Emotions are energy that need to be expended. On the contrary, if we deny them or bury them, we are stunting the healing process.
2. Lean on a Friend
The transition from being with someone, especially when we’ve been with them for a long time, to being single can sometimes feel like it’s an insurmountable challenge. And that is because we had identified with our ex and the relationship as being part of who we are.
When a break up occurs, the emotions are intense because of the loss, and we no longer recognize ourselves because our identity had been enmeshed with our ex.
This is the time we need to lean on our support system. Find a friend who can stand by you as you navigate the emotional roller coaster of the breakup. When we spend time with people who care about us, and whom we can feel vulnerable with, we don’t feel so alone – a natural feeling after a split.
Maybe you watch bad movies and eat ice cream with your best friend. Perhaps your mother’s hug is the recipe. Or maybe a girls’ night out will do the trick.
Having someone walk along with you on a difficult journey will help to ease the pain and alleviate feelings of loneliness.
For some of us it’s hard to practice self-care. There is a common perception that self-care is selfish. During times of adversity, self-care is not at all thought of as a method of healing. But it’s ever more important to take care of our mental, emotional and physical well-being during this period.
What’s key is to ask ourselves what we need right now to receive comfort and care? For those who are especially wounded, it’s tempting to retreat from the world. This may not be a bad idea if that is what’s calling you to do, and if it’s for the short term. However, if it’s long term, self-isolating may be more damaging.
Find stillness or write in your journal, and ask what you need, and sage advice will surface such as:
- Social connection
- Self-compassion practice
- Read a book
- Go to a spa
- Start a creative project
- Watch a movie
- Forest bathe, be in nature
Self-care doesn’t necessarily mean warm and fuzzy activities. If what you need is to beat up a punching bag or destroy your legs on the bike, then feel free. Your body may hate you for a while, but your mind will ultimately thank you. What’s important is to listen to higher self in terms of what you need, and then give yourself permission to do so.
4. Spoil Yourself a Little
That said, it’s also OK to spoil yourself. But don’t go overboard. You don’t want to replace him with an urge to shop and splurge because that’s a whole other kettle of fish to deal with. But when you’re faced with this kind of pain and heartache, it doesn’t hurt to go out and do something that you’ve always put on the back burner.
Maybe you’ve been wanting a mani-pedi or some new shoes, or maybe that new game for the PS4 was just released and you’ve been looking for an excuse to buy it. Get it, buy some chocolate and nibble on the candy while you play. Do something that boosts your feeling of self-worth and remind yourself that even short someone you love, you’re still worth every second of your time.
5. Set Boundaries
You might be sure now that he or she wasn’t the one for you. Maybe post-breakup, you can see red flags that you never noticed before. And if they’re the type who keeps coming back, the last thing you want to do is wind up in an on-again-off-again relationship.
If you’re the dumpee, it’s tempting to fantasize about getting back together with your ex. Or if it was mutual decision or even if you were the dumper, you might still have confusion, uncertainty and doubts about the ending. Sure, sometimes couples get back together and become stronger for what they’ve been through, but that often isn’t the case and you need to set boundaries with your ex.
Take this time to heal. Let it be a journey of self-discovery, which means it’s best to get away from your ex and try to limit contact for a while. This is ultimately healthier for both of you, particularly if you want to try to salvage the friendship portion of the relationship.
6. Go on Vacation
One of the ways to set boundaries is to travel. Take a vacation completely by yourself or go with a friend. Travel gives you that opportunity to distract yourself with new, exotic surroundings and culture. The best part is you’ll meet so many people – locals and fellow travellers.
After my relationship ended, I travelled to Central America for a few months. I signed up for a homestay program to learn Spanish, and travelled to surrounding regions. It was one of the best decisions as it brought me not only healing, but I made a lot of friends, learned a new language and enjoyed immersing in different cultures.
Whether it’s a solo backpacking trip, a week-long cruise, or just a train ride to the other side of the state and back, you’d be surprised to find out what a different environment can do for your mental wellness.
7. Purge / Rearrange Your Space
Change it up, move stuff around, change the look of your home. Sometimes, the mental and physical strain of rearranging furniture can not only wear you out and use up excess energy, it can also help burn off anger and resentment.
Additionally, it can provide you a fun, clean new space and a new look in your environment. You can also use the time to throw away any unwanted reminders of what’s-his/her-name that you really don’t need anymore.
Getting rid of things that no longer serve us does the mind good. Often, I use purging as a primary step when creating something new or entering into a new phase in my life.
8. Write Hate Mail (But Don’t Send It)
Write a big, long, nasty, hate-filled email to your ex detailing all of the horrible, spiteful things you want to say or do to them. All of the resentment you feel about everything they put you through and how you hate their stupid, dumb, ugly, petty face, etc. In other words, let the ego express itself.
Then, print the email and burn it, and heave a long, contented sigh of relief as you do. With this, a good chunk of your anger or any intense emotion has been released and you might find you’re already feeling a little better.
9. Listen to Sad Music
One thing you can try when you’re feeling this heartbreaking pain is to listen to sad music. This may seem counterintuitive, but listening to sad music helps your brain normalize the pain and grief you’re going through. And it does this by allowing you to acknowledge how you’re feeling, internalize it, and eventually, get over it.
The sad music reminds us that other people are sad too – it’s a collective human experience. What we’re going through, although difficult, is nothing we need to be ashamed of and we’re not alone in this heartache.
10. Make Social Connections
Some people start dating again right away, others don’t. We all heal at our own pace. But whether you jump back into the game or not, you should still get out and meet new people.
Even if you go out not intending to date, meeting new faces can sometimes surprise you with a feeling of feel-good social hormones, and who knows you might even surprise yourself with one of those new faces. Go out to date or go out to mingle, just stay friendly and keep an open mind with whatever happens.
The Bottom Line
Breakups suck and unfortunately, they’re a part of life. Very few couples stay together forever like the fairy tales would have you believe. But they don’t need to be world ending and regardless of how much it hurts, there is an inner wisdom and strength that we can access to help us navigate this adversity.