In Relationships

Relationships are complicated. Some relationships pass through our lives in a memorable, but gentle way. Others, clutch at our hearts for dear life and don’t let go. While still others inflict grave damage to our self-esteem and mental health.

Deciding when to end a relationship is a critical matter, but learning how to recover from a breakup is of equal importance.

Breakups Are Difficult

Breakups are difficult. If your relationship was memorable, passionate, life changing or long-term, then the pain and struggle of letting go is unavoidable. Negative emotions are part of the recovery process.

Once you breakup, however, you may begin the process of transformation and embark on the path to finding or reclaiming yourself.

The healing process necessarily entails a multitude of thoughts-sometimes conflicting in nature-as well as experiences that may be new to you. You may find yourself processing your emotions, adapting to your space and learning who you are as an independent person without your romantic partner. It is an exploration of who you are and who you aspire to be.

How do you cope when you don’t know where to start?

Part of you might feel like you don’t want to move on. Your insides may be in complete shambles and disarray and you may struggle with that other part of you calling you back to what you had in order to rid yourself of the pain. However, it is essential during these moments of self-doubt to remember that you left for a reason.

So, how do you begin to put the pieces back together? Read on to learn how to get over a breakup.

a woman speaking with a family therapist

How to Get Over a Breakup

Knowledge is power. We want to empower you by putting you more closely in touch with what you are experiencing during a breakup as well as provide you with some useful tools to help facilitate your recovery.

This very complicated topic is one we often support clients with within our practice. To have a healthy and happy life and in order to develop future relationships, we need to have a positive outlook of ourselves and our world.

This can be hard (nearly impossible) when we are mourning and in need of care.

Normalize & Understand Your Feelings

Understanding and normalizing your feelings/thoughts can be reassuring and that sense of reassurance can be of immense comfort at critical times during your breakup.

There are certain “universal” stages associated with experiencing a break up. Here, we dig into each stage and discuss the cycle of ‘deciding to break up’ and how to find the peace to let go.

a couple going through a bad breakup, listening to a breakup playlist

The Cycle of “Deciding to Break Up”

Reflection

During this phase you begin to take note of the ups and downs in your relationship with your partner and an inventory starts to form of the dominant tone in your relationship.

“Are we going through something?” you might ask yourself. “Or is this normal?” “Am I happy?” These big questions flood our minds from time to time if our relationship is going through moments of stress. This is normal. However, if you find that you are facing these questions on a regular basis, this may be a sign that you need to take stock of how things are going between you and your partner in order to determine if you are truly a right fit.

Denial

This stage is unavoidable. This is the stage where we refuse to believe that things are coming to an end. We all want to believe that we just need to try harder. Sometimes we “gaslight” ourselves into believing that we are over-thinking issues. You might ruminate about all the great things that happened and the “fun times” in an unconscious effort to avoid the real issues and struggles that are hanging in the back of your mind.

Coming to Terms

Once exhaustion sets in and the breakup is beginning to feel more like a reality, then it is time to get real with yourself. Here are some great exercises for a release of your feelings.

  • Make a list of the challenges/struggles you and your partner have been enduring and consider whether you can live with them and/or whether they are fixable
  • Name how you feel and decide if a conversation with your partner is essential for you to move forward.
  • Get a friend’s/expert’s perspective on how they see you in the relationship.
  • Make a list of the values that you cherish most in a relationship and see if those exist in your relationship. Discuss these with your partner and see if you can make adjustments, if need be, to honour what you both hold dear.

Reaction to the breakup

Once you have a breakup conversation, or alternatively, a number of conversations leading up to the “final moment”, you might experience a feeling of numbness. This feeling might last for a few hours or a few days. During this time, we are bracing ourselves for the pain that comes with the realization that our relationship has run its course.

Grief and Mourning

As with the loss of anything in life, sadness and sorrow are normal feelings to experience. Depending on how the break up conversation(s) played out, you might cry, be angry, be in denial or depressed, need physical/emotional support or both.

This phase is the messiest and it may last a few weeks or even years, depending on the depth and length of the relationship. During this phase, give yourself full grace to feel crummy and sad. The more you allow yourself to endure all the feelings and the greater the amount of time you spend exercising self-care, the faster you will be able to move on.

Stages of Grief

Knowing the stages of grief will help you navigate this difficult time. It is essential to recognize that what you are feeling is a normal part of life when suffering loss. Giving your experience words should help reduce those feelings of dread and fear that typically arise when our sense of control appears to be slipping. Naming your feelings and allowing yourself to experience their full scope is a way to reassert yourself during a time where you may feel your weakest.

It can be very helpful to work with a therapist during these moments. They can offer support, an objective opinion as well as practical tools to help you heal.

Forward Motion

Day by day and in time, you will transition into the stage of acceptance. This is when you begin accepting the change, the loss, and the newness of life on your own.

During this phase you will start to think of the relationship less and start thinking of things that interest you more. Your personal interests will become more important to you and/or new relationships will emerge.

Saying that, you may witness a moment or moments of relapse, where you find yourself going back to thinking of your ex. Perhaps you caught your ex out in the world or on-line. These moments are part of the process. Try not to shame yourself. You haven’t failed. Keep working through these periods as you will find that those relapses lessen and eventually peter out.

Read on for additional useful tips to help you let go.

How do you know if you haven’t let go? Are you doing the following?

  • You constantly think about your ex and wonder if they think about you.
  • You talk about them all the time.
  • You mentally play back your time together and what could have been.
  • You have strong feelings when you see them, like anger, sadness, or jealousy.
  • You look them up or follow them on social media.
  • You blame them for how you are feeling and your life.

What can you do if you are having a hard time letting go of your ex? Try this.

man speaking with a licensed clinical social worker about self love

Tips to Help You Get Over a Breakup

Disconnect from The Person

Take some time to disconnect from your ex. It might be a good time to let them know that while you are coming to terms with the breakup, you are going to need some separation from the situation even if this means distancing yourself from them in a physical sense. This doesn’t mean that you can’t be friends one day, but removing yourself from your partner’s company is often imperative to heal.

The less you see your former partner post breakup, the easier it will be for you to think of other things.

You might have to remove them from your social feed and your cell phone contacts. It is also helpful to let any mutual friends know about the breakup and that you are choosing not to spend time around your ex while you are healing. This helps your friends support you during this time.

Acknowledge the Fantasy and Move On

A common occurrence when working through a breakup is the act of romanticizing the relationship. This means that we only remember the good moments and forget the bad ones. Romanticizing the good stuff makes it much harder to move on. We idealize the relationship as more than it actually was. We remember only how good it felt to have someone care for us, share our bed, our meals, our homes and our lives. We remember all the great times we had together. These memories are not wholly fabricated, but it is important to acknowledge that while there were wonderful moments, there were challenges as well that made the relationship unworkable.

These are some affirmations that you can use when you start to fantasize about your past relationship:

  • We had a great time together and now I am moving forward in my life.
  • I loved my former partner and I am learning to make room in my life for someone new.
  • I am not scared of letting go of (name of former partner) as I will experience love again.

Here are a few additional tips to help you take off those rose-coloured glasses:

  • Make a list of the things you didn’t like about your ex.
  • Get a friend to remind you of the things you used to complain to them about your ex.
  • Journal about your fears of letting go of your ex.

Often we are afraid that we are unlovable and that we won’t find anyone else to love us or to love. We fear that there are no good matches out there and that we aren’t capable of having a healthy relationship. Whatever it is you think or feel, write about it and remind yourself that everyone thinks and feels these things after a breakup. The act of papering your thoughts is cathartic, but it doesn’t mean that any of those outcomes are actually true.

It is Okay to Still Hold Strong Feelings for Your Ex

Know that you may hold strong feelings for your former partner even if, at the same time, you know that you do not wish to be with them. You might have had plans to get married or start a family or share kids together. Relationships are complex and they can hold meaning in ways that might have been unplanned. It’s impossible to control your feelings.

Giving yourself allowances for how you feel will help you overcome the guilt of “not doing it right.”

Turn to Yourself

Reconnecting to yourself is a great way to grow from a breakup. It is a good time to reflect on the change and the growth that you are going through.

Learn from your experiences:

Work with a therapist or life coach to unpack some of your deeper feelings about what you are going through and begin to apprehend your unhealthy relationship patterns so that you don’t repeat them again in the future.

Spend some time journaling and expressing your thoughts and feelings on paper. It is a healthy and practical way of getting your feelings out instead of letting them swim in your head

Don’t personalize the loss. It can be easy to blame yourself for arguments or misunderstandings, but the reality is that breakups are part of being in relationships. You are not broken because you are going through a breakup.

Hit the gym or get outside. A lot of the sad and angry energy that you might be harbouring is fuel for the gym. Getting physical during a time of turmoil let’s you turn something negative into something positive.

Indulge yourself.  This is a great time to do some special things for yourself. Go out for dinner or to a show or take that trip that you have always wanted to take. Have some fun.

Don’t fall into unhealthy coping habits. Finding comfort is important when we are experiencing loss, are in pain and feeling lonely. It can seem like a good idea to stay up watching movies or indulging in rich foods or consuming alcohol. However, these short-term comforts can create long-term problems.

Let go of the hope that you will get back together

Finding closure is impossible if you are constantly living in the past or fantasizing about your former partner. So please do not wait for phone calls or follow your former partner on social media. These actions will only make you feel worse in the end. If you fall into these habits, don’t shame yourself, simply acknowledge it and try to move on.

Coming to terms with the past sure isn’t easy

Finding closure can be different for all people. Some of us never quite know how to find it. Perhaps the most important part of closure involves knowing that you can accept the past just as it was and also move into the future just as it is.

Breakups are one of life’s most difficult obstacles. They often give rise to tumultuous emotions that we do not always know how to deal with. It is important to remember that we can heal and that the brokenness we feel is not permanent. Although painful, breakups can teach us much about ourselves and how to live in the future. 

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