There are few moments in life as painful as when you hear the words “It’s over”. All at once life comes crashing down around you and it can feel like there’s no steady ground to hold you up. In the weeks that follow you get swept up in a sea of emotion swinging from sadness to anger, heartache to bitterness, confusion to disbelief and yearning back to anger. It’s as though you’ve been set adrift in a stormy sea with no idea how to get back to dry land. You try calling them incessantly, not calling them at all, begging, screaming, crying yourself to sleep… We try all sorts of things to move on but what actually works?
There is no quick fix to mending a broken heart, but there are some things you can do to help you to navigate these turbulent times.
Here are our top tips:
1. Remove reminders. Our emotions naturally come and go in about 90 seconds unless we do something to amplify them. Listening to songs that remind you of your ex, looking at old pictures of you together or checking (and re-checking) their Facebook page is like picking a scab. These reminders trigger painful memories and emotions and get in the way of the healing process. So do yourself a favour, put reminders of your ex away in a box somewhere and consider spending some time off social media.
2. Cut contact. It seems almost cruel that at such a difficult time, we can’t lean on the person we usually seek support from. It’s tempting to keep contact going with your ex as it can help to keep the reality of the breakup at bay. But research indicates that people who maintain contact with their ex-partners have more trouble recovering from the breakup. If cutting ties altogether feels unbearable, consider not speaking to them for a few weeks or commit to limiting your contact with them to once a week.
3. Connect. Sometimes when we go through a breakup we feel like curling up in a ball and hiding away from the world. And sometimes this is exactly what we need to do… but remember to come out from hiding. Research shows that the amount of social support we access predicts how well we cope after a breakup. So call on your nearest and dearest, or reconnect with friends who you may have drifted from along the way. Breakups are hard but they are infinitely easier to bear when we have a shoulder to cry on or someone to watch the reruns of sex and city with. Reach out.
4. Rebuild. One thing that people often say after a breakup is “I don’t know who I am anymore”. This is really common as we tend to give up little pieces of ourselves to make space for a relationship in our lives. When a relationship ends we are often left with feelings of emptiness or a sense that something’s missing. To start to rebuild your sense of self outside of the relationship it can help to make a list of things that you used to do, love to do or would like to do. Things that make you feel like yourself again. Examples could be painting, playing tennis or learning a language. Once you have your list, simply get started!
5. Plan something. When we go through a breakup it can be easy to get stuck replaying the relationship over in our minds and ruminating on past regrets. To help refocus your mind on the future it can help to plan something to look forward to. This could be a trip away with friends, a little project you’ve wanted to start or a weekly get together like a book club, regular soccer game or a pizza night.
6. Write it down. Sometimes it’s hard to sleep with so many thoughts and emotions bubbling away inside us. Whilst it can help to talk it out with a close friend, sometimes you need to do some of the ‘processing’ on your own. After all, there are things that we think and say that we don’t necessarily want to share with others. Putting pen to paper and writing expressively about your breakup can help you to start making sense of what’s happened. Expressive writing has been shown to help us to process difficult events and accept the reality of our situations. It can take a lot of confusion and pain out of the breakup when we are able to step back and think “Ah I get it now, I understand why it didn’t last”.
7. Be kind and patient. We often go searching for the reasons why the relationship ended and all too often we end up blaming ourselves. We pick at ourselves for things we should have said or done differently. This creates an additional layer of pain at an already difficult time. It is worth considering how we can be patient and kind towards ourselves. This doesn’t come naturally to many of us so it can help to imagine what you would do or say to a dear friend who had recently gone through a breakup. Perhaps you’d comfort them, cook for them, reassure and encourage them. Treating ourselves like this is an act of self-compassion. Research shows that people who are kinder to themselves after a breakup tend to show signs of accelerated recovery. So the next time you are caught in a barrage of self-criticism, perhaps try whispering to yourself “This is a really difficult moment for you, what is it that you need?” You may be surprised by the answer…
In fact, we know that this last one is so effective, we’re even writing a book about it. So stay tuned!
We hope that these suggestions are helpful for you in navigating your relationship breakup. If you have other ideas that you’d like to share or feedback on what works for you please leave comments – we’d love to hear from you.