Your relationship is over. You may find yourself staring blankly at the remains; scrolling through old pictures, texts, calls, rummaging about for your ex’s things scattered around your home. Your old habits of centering your life around the needs of “the couple” no longer apply and you are left with what feels like an insurmountable emptiness. Where do you go when the old script no longer fits? You have entered into post-breakup recovery and the following are some ideas to help you get through this challenging time.
Time can be an excellent healer of feelings and experiences. But it is not just the passing of time that is the solution. It is what you do with that time. You are now establishing a renewed identity, one focused much more exclusively on your inclinations and desires. Check in with yourself and ask, what makes me happy? Who am I outside of this relationship? What do I value and what did I do to bring myself a sense of joy and peace before I ever met my ex-partner? If you are finding it difficult to reflect on who you were prior to the breakup take a moment to reflect on who you most want to be, what version of yourself will help you feel the most proud?
Identify new sources of support. In the time that you might usually spend talking to your significant other, instead begin identifying people in your social network who can provide you with support. Maybe you know of someone who shared a recent similar experience? Keep in mind that unless you are speaking to a trained professional most people that you will confide in will likely be biased toward your perspective of the relationship. However, building more support resources in general will begin to aid you in the process of establishing a new system, one that no longer directly involves your former partner.
Find what brings you joy. Marie Kondo’s method to cleaning can also apply to your post-relationship self. What do you find brings you happiness? What are the moments throughout the day when you feel most at peace? Through the breakup you have been afforded the opportunity to check in with yourself more sincerely and discover aspects of your life that you deeply value. Try things that you might have felt more inhibited to do in your relationship. For instance, start a hobby or spend time with friends in the evenings when you might have previously carved that time to spend with your former partner. You have potentially more flexibility and time in your life now that your former partner is not in the picture.
Acceptance. The feelings that accompany breakups can mirror those of a significant loss such as death and are often immense and confusing. The model that we used in the past for understanding ‘stages’ of grief is not empirically supported. Instead, imagine your grief like a landscape full of different caverns and crevices of various sizes and shapes, constantly changing and transforming. Grief is not a linear process, so do not be surprised if your feelings ebb and flow in different or similar directions over time.
Walk the line between immersing yourself in negative feelings and avoiding those feelings all together. Often it can feel relieving and an important part of the grieving process to allow yourself to feel the pain of the breakup and to look at images or items that remind you of the person with whom you once shared so much. At the same time, pouring yourself over these memories can be incapacitating causing you to feel stuck. However, avoiding these feelings completely is not the best solution either. Studies show that people who avoid their feelings may feel better in the short term but that the feelings of grief usually always catch up at some point, more intensely, and maybe even when it is less expected. If you are finding that it is difficult to walk the line between feeling overcome by difficult feelings and avoiding them completely, it might be time to reach out to a mental health professional.
Most importantly, you are not alone in your experience. Even though there might always be a place in your memory for you past partner, they will not be able to so strongly impact your general well being as they can when the wound is fresh.
Give yourself kindness, patience, and time to adjust to your life independent from your previous partner. Find new habits, hobbies, and support to help you through this transition. This will not only serve you well as you cope with the breakup independently, it will also prepare you for future relationships because will know yourself much better.