How to Get Over a Bad Breakup
Even though you might feel otherwise, you can pick up the pieces and move on with your life
It’s over. For a while, you were stuck in a haze because you couldn’t wrap your head around it, but it’s finally sinking in: Your relationship is done. You remember the early butterflies so vividly, the way you smiled when you heard their voice, and the scent they would leave in your sheets. You remember the late nights on the phone and the stolen kisses in Target. You keep replaying the passionate “I love yous” and you still don’t quite understand how you two are no longer “us,” but it’s real. It happened. And now you have to pick up the pieces and move on with your life. Alone.
For many of us, we can sense when things are going awry. There are more arguments over little things that mean nothing. We spend less intimate time together and make excuses for why we can’t be present for our partners. Most times, we catch ourselves and try to make it work. We bring it up and want to address it head-on, maybe even suggest counseling or mediation; if you’ve been together for several years, you know that relationships ebb and flow, so downtime doesn’t have to signal the end. Other times, though, we know the end is inevitable and when it is finally over, it’s still hard to process.
Other times, relationships can end abruptly and we weren’t prepared for the end. We thought things were going pretty well and we didn’t experience any red flags or other indicators that there was trouble in paradise. Then we get cheated on and it’s unforgivable, or we get hit with the elusive “It’s me, not you,” or worse, they just disappear and completely ghost us with no explanation at all. In these situations, we don’t always have the tools to process the sudden disruption and the pain from this type of breakup can feel even more severe because it catches us completely off-guard.
A good tribe is patient, loving, supportive, and nonjudgmental, and will be critical to your healing and ability to move forward. Don’t trick yourself into believing you’re a burden because true friends won’t see you as such.
However your relationship ended, you have to accept that you and your ex are no longer together and life goes on. I’ve lived through three devastating breakups that traumatized me in lingering ways; I’m still recovering from the impact. First, my marriage ended after learning my ex-husband had cheated on me with several women throughout our entire relationship. Then, I learned that my partner of over three years had a whole relationship with another woman in another city and was cheating on both of us with other women. Finally, I parted from the one I thought was my soulmate after several months of a toxic, volatile descent into emotional trauma and nothing short of madness. Each time, I was convinced things couldn’t possibly get any worse and each time, I had zero confidence that I would ever be able to move on with my life.
I had no choice but to move on, though, not only because I am a mother of a very dependent child, but because I had and have greater things to do in this world that don’t center my intimate partnerships. The older I’ve gotten, the harder it has been to believe, but I promise you will live to see another day. Here are a few things that helped me move on after a relationship ended:
It takes a tribe to heal a heart
I cannot stress the importance of folding yourself into the tight embrace of your friends to help you get through the initial moments. I relied on the camaraderie of group chats, the one-sided phone calls that gave me space to pour out my soul, some carefully curated social media posts that only those I trusted most could access, and one-on-one time with friends who knew I just couldn’t be alone. They didn’t make me feel bad for repeatedly asking “Why me? Why now?” and they didn’t judge me for wishing I could go back to someone who had hurt me so bad. A good tribe is patient, loving, supportive, and nonjudgmental, and will be critical to your healing and ability to move forward. Don’t trick yourself into believing you’re a burden because true friends won’t see you as such. This isn’t the time for isolation, so let your friends be your friends.
Confront harmful behaviors
Immediately after a breakup, you’re dealing with all kinds of conflicting emotions, wayward thoughts, and physiological responses that can throw everything off. After one breakup, I lost 28 pounds in a month because I basically stopped eating. When it happened again after another breakup, I recognized a disturbing pattern — I was semiunconsciously engaging in self-harm via starvation because my fears of never finding someone to love my fat body again dominated my consciousness.
With any harmful behavior, you have to identify it, acknowledge it for what it is, remind yourself that you deserve better, and commit to ending it.
I had to eat. I had to make my way out of bed and off the couch and just eat. Even if it was a slice of bread or a banana. I knew that I would only prolong my suffering by being harmful to my body. I couldn’t replace food with cigarettes or vodka anymore. I couldn’t let the emotional devastation literally kill me. Each day that I made the decision to eat something was a day that I reminded myself of my value and my commitment to myself. The more I ate, the more I felt like I was regaining the control and power I’d lost during the breakup process. With any harmful behavior, you have to identify it, acknowledge it for what it is, remind yourself that you deserve better, and commit to ending it. That journey in itself can be empowering, so focus on it as one way to pull yourself out of the darkness.
Disconnect and unplug
It sounds cliche to say “block them on social media,” but there is some value to disconnecting, especially if your lives were heavily intertwined online; my Twitter account exists because I sought a space to vent where my ex-husband no longer had access. Being involved with someone with no social media presence makes it a bit easier, but that’s rare these days. I’m an impulsive Aries, so I’m quick to rush and block and erase everything, but I always end up going back to check and see what’s going on so I think gradually disconnecting may be a better approach.
After the first week, unfollow them on Instagram. After the second week, stop following their tweets. After the first month, you should no longer be friends on Facebook. And if you know you’re the type to process this publicly and you don’t want them being able to access your posts and thoughts, you’re going to have to block them everywhere. Use the “Close Friends” option on Instagram stories. Curate a small group on Facebook that can see your most intimate posts. Go private on Twitter for a while. While it may be tempting to posture and pretend like you’re living your best life without them, maybe take some time and avoid posting and sharing anything at all for a while.
We have to accept that social media plays a pretty big role in most relationships these days, so it is important to consider the options available and proceed in ways that don’t shock our emotional systems but do eventually move us forward.
Find a motivating distraction
Each time I experienced a devasting breakup, I was starting a new job. I don’t know how that happened every single time, but given how important my career has been to me, I accepted it as a sign that I was going to be alright. Being able to throw myself and my focus into a new position with a new team in a new environment diverted my focus for at least a few hours a day. I’m an ambitious go-getter, so I wasn’t about to allow any of my breakups to get in the way of my money and career advancement.
The process of having to get up every day, shower, prepare my clothes, dress, make breakfast, and travel to my office motivated me to get up, get moving, and get out of the house, away from the looming sadness therein. Work became my escape and my co-workers functioned as people I could have conversations with that were totally unrelated to my relationship, which was refreshing. When I caught my mind drifting off to thoughts about my exes, I’d quickly return to my to-do list and try to check things off. At more difficult moments, I would get up, take a walk to get some fresh air, and shed a few tears as needed. Then, I would return to work. Turn to your neighbor and say “The best revenge is your paper,” in Beyoncé’s name. Amen.
No one expects their relationship happiness to come to an end and we shouldn’t get into relationships thinking pain is inevitable. We deserve healthy, supportive, loving relationships with open communication, respect, and honesty. We should all strive to be good partners while accepting that anyone can fall short, even with the best intentions. We’re human, though, so that means we will experience heartbreak and loss and have to go through the process of recovering from breakups. I just want you to engage in a breakup recovery process that best serves you from here on out.