How to Recover From a Breakup

How to Recover From a Breakup
Photo: Antonio Guillem, Shutterstock

Breakups are tough. You were planning a life with someone, but something went wrong, and now it might feel like you’ll never be happy again. But your life isn’t over. The world isn’t ending. Of course, you might not feel any optimism or realism for a while — and it’s fine to really feel these lows. Here’s some expert advice on what relationship recovery looks like.

What to expect during and after a breakup

Some breakups are totally clean breaks. You and your partner agree together that the relationship should end or one of you breaks it off and leaves no room for argument. You might go your separate ways, unfollow each other on social media, stop communicating fully, and never hear from them again.

Other times, breakups are kind of protracted. Plenty of relationships are on-again and off-again, consisting of little breakups that make it hard to identify when the big one has actually happened. Those little breakups can also feel monumentally sad, even if you suspect they’re not permanent.

Breakups might not be a severance, either. You might still have to see your ex out and about or you may still be in contact, whether as friends, co-parents, or two individuals who are having a hard time adjusting to life without each other.

None of these scenarios is fun. Each can be fraught in its own special way. You can expect to feel stressed, sad, moody, disappointed, angry — the list of negative emotions goes on and on here. You might wake up one day furious with them or furious with yourself, transition to sadness and despair, or even have moments of feeling free and joyful, only to crash into misery again. All of that is normal.

“Breakups will take someone through a grieving period, which often involves the similar emotional stages as if someone has died,” relationship coach Renee Slansky said. “Feelings like shock or denial, sadness, anger, bargaining, depression, rebuilding, and then hope. Every person responds to breakups differently depending on their level of attachment, [emotional intelligence], and their past and present situation.”

Janette Zeto, a relationship and mindset coach who is working on a course about breakups, added that “there’s almost a series of transitions someones goes through.” Prepare for self-doubt, worrying about whether dissolving the relationship is the right thing to do, questioning your past behaviour in the relationship, and overthinking. After that, she said, you can face the truth and process your emotions, whether that involves feeling consumed or looking for outlets like partying.

How you can recover from the breakup

Your recovery from a breakup is dependent on a lot of factors. If you just called off an engagement, ended a marriage, or left a long-term relationship, your path to feeling happy again might look different than if you dipped out of a few-months fling. Then again, if those few months were really special, it might hit you just as hard as something that could be defined as more long-term.

You might be someone who relies heavily on friends. Conversely, you could be more of a loner at this time, choosing nights in with nothing but your feelings and your Netflix subscription. Again, there is no wrong way to do this, but you should try to find a little joy.

Slansky said the first thing you should do after a breakup is “allow yourself to grieve and feel each of those emotions” because “suppression leads to depression, so emotional expression is important.” You just need to set boundaries so you don’t become “consumed” by negativity. She suggested setting a timeframe for crying each day, then shaking yourself off and moving forward.

One option is using this breakup as a launching pad for a better part of your life. You might be too down to pop up in the gym and do a bunch of reps, but maybe you can do some at-home workouts. If you’re determined to binge on television, consider a documentary instead of the beloved show you’ve seen eight times. Try reading a book or sending an email to a prospective contact for your career. Doing something to strengthen your body, mind, or future can help you feel positive and pull you out of your funk and into a brighter existence. Set yourself up for success, to the extent that you can.

“Focus on yourself,” said Christina Cipriani, a certified relationship coach. “It’s hard for us to focus on ourselves because we’ve been so intertwined with somebody else for so long, so this is a perfect opportunity to do the things that make you happy and the perfect opportunity for you to pick up old hobbies and get in tune with yourself and do what makes you happy.”

Don’t blame yourself for this, either. Relationships are the responsibility of both parties involved and sometimes they just don’t work out. There is nothing good that will come from you getting down on yourself. Zeto cautioned against using a breakup as a way to question whether you were dumped because you’re not “not good enough “ or “not important enough.” That is not the problem. You are not the problem. You are worthy of love and respect, and you can find it elsewhere when you’re ready.

Finally, remember that everyone feels lonely sometimes. Kate Maclean, a dating expert with Plenty of Fish, pointed out that a recent survey from her company found that two-thirds of singles are already dealing with anxiety and loneliness because of the pandemic, so a breakup is sure to exacerbate that. You’re not alone in being upset about being, well, alone.

“The ending of a relationship can result in feelings of sadness and guilt, but can also provide a sense of relief,” Maclean said “Instead of pushing away these feelings, know that they are very common and you’re not alone.” There’s a silver lining for you.

How you can love again

Be wary of jumping into a rebound relationship. Slansky said you should have three months or one season between relationships, which can give you time to heal. Zeto added that “it’s important to give yourself time and space to heal before you get into another relationship.” Zeto said that has less to do with a definitive timeline and more to do with how you’re feeling. She suggested imagining what would happen if you texted your ex a simple “hey.”

“Would we be ok with them not answering back to our text?” she asked. “I think that’s a good indicator whether or not there’s still ego in the past relationship.” If you feel like you’d be fine if you were ignored by your ex, you can start to explore new possibilities, though she said that could take a few months.

Another relationship can be tricky at first, but don’t feel discouraged. Cipriani said, “Go with how you’re feeling but I don’t think that rushing into a rebound situation is going to fix how you’re feeling. It’s going to put a nice little Band-Aid on it for the time being and that’s going to make you feel good, getting that attention, but once that little rebound relationship is over, you’re going to still have the issues there that you tried to hide from the beginning.”

Maclean suggested leaning on a supportive community of friends, journaling, practicing self-care, and trying new things as you work to heal. It’s important you get right with yourself before endeavouring to find someone new.

“Everyone’s breakup experience is different. For some, it may be easier to bounce back after a few weeks while for others, it may take a year or more. That’s all ok,” she said. “The most important thing to consider is what you may need at this moment. For those that may need a bit more time before diving into the dating pool, a group date or something a bit more casual (like coffee or even a hike) is a great starting point.”

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