A Therapist Discusses Four Ways To Heal And Move On After A Devastating Breakup
Feeling lost at sea after a breakup? Here’s how you can return safely to shore.
By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | March 8, 2023
Many people come to therapy nursing complicated feelings of grief, frustration, self-blame, and loneliness after enduring the end of a romantic relationship. They often say things like:
- "I loved him so much. How am I going to survive without him by my side?"
- "I miss waking up and snoozing off to his texts. I wish I could change myself in ways that would have saved our relationship."
- "I hope we can still meet and figure out a way to keep each other in our lives. Even if it's occasional or just as friends."
No matter the duration and nature of your relationship, breakups are one of the hardest things to come to terms with. Whether you were the one to initiate the process or it was your partner pushing for separation, the end of a relationship can cause immense psychological pain. If you've just experienced a breakup, know that it is normal to feel lost at sea. Your future may seem dark and lonely. But you won't feel this way forever.
Here, I'll talk about four ways to expedite your self-healing journey after losing a part of you.
#1. Allow yourself to feel
It's only natural to want to immediately feel better after a breakup. But a big part of the healing process entails processing your feelings and grieving your loss – both of which are of utmost importance as they pave a path for you to eventually move on.
Regardless of whether your relationship was seemingly perfect or fraught with issues, a breakup is likely to leave you searching for answers. It is thus important to acknowledge the gravity and the costs of the loss in some way.
Instead of suppressing or ignoring your emotions – or trying to prematurely convince yourself this was a blessing in disguise – allow yourself to be vulnerable and give yourself time and space to cry. According to an article published in Frontiers in Psychology, crying is a means of self-soothing, returning our body to a state of equilibrium when we feel out of sorts. It doesn't matter if you cry it out in an open space or you dig your face deep into your pillow in the privacy of your own room, don't be afraid to let all of your emotions out. Repeat as needed.
#2. Leave all reminders of your ex in the dust
Gather the courage to purge your house or apartment of all reminders of your ex. To get over your ex, you may need to cut them off for some time so you have the space to heal. Here are two steps to take in the aftermath of a breakup:
- Box up any physical reminder. Having your ex's picture on the nightstand or any of their belongings laying around the house can make it difficult to move on and heal from a breakup. It is your decision whether you want to toss out these items for good or put them in the corner of your attic. Either way, you're making progress.
- Get rid of social media reminders. Simply ridding yourself of physical reminders isn't enough – you need to purge them from your digital life as well. Perhaps this means taking a break from social media and returning when you are in a better place.
Research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships confirms that keeping virtual possessions can be a significant impediment to post-breakup adjustment. Fewer memories of your past connection reduces feelings of nostalgia which makes it easier for you to move on.
#3. Accept that you two were not the right fit for each other
It is not uncommon to dwell in the hope that you will somehow reunite with your ex or get together as friends if nothing more. However, the chances of that happening aren't that high. Even when it does happen, it can lead to more emotional damage.
Cut yourself some slack and stop over-analyzing where you went wrong and what you could have done or improved to save the relationship.
It's best to accept that you two were just not the right fit for each other and that nothing you could have done would have saved the relationship. Let go and prepare yourself to move on.
Again, remember not to rush through the healing process. Healing after a breakup takes time and looks different for different people.
Your happiness will return. Research conducted on divorced couples in Britain suggests that most of the emotional healing happens within the first year of the split.
#4. Be cognizant of your ex's negatives
Sometimes, we exhibit a tendency to drown ourselves in all of the things that made our relationship with our ex last for so long. Instead of remembering them as they truly were, we see only the good qualities – the things that we are really going to miss.
This form of 'rosy retrospection' can be damaging, especially when these thoughts prevent us from getting started on our self-healing journey.
Instead, you need to create a balanced and objective (not idealized) view of your relationship. Working with a therapist can help you fact-check your romanticized notions.
You need to remind yourself why you weren't a good fit and why you broke up. If it helps, take some time and write down everything that bothered you about your ex. Include every big and little thing to get a clearer perspective on things. Revisit these write-ups when you need to be reminded why the two of you are better off on your own.