August 18, 2021 — 18:06 PM
When we’re in love, we have the best intentions for what’s to come, but life happens. Telling someone goodbye is a difficult but necessary part of the human experience.
Take it from me—I recently broke up with a boyfriend of seven years, and while I’m finally in a good place, I’m admittedly still rebuilding and healing. After all, it upended everything I thought I knew at the time: a shared life that seemingly stretched out infinitely in its familiarity, a bustling home together in my favorite city in the world, the person I was and what I thought I wanted. It takes a lot to find meaning in the lessons from the relationship even when it doesn’t last forever.
“If you loved this person deeply, you may always love them, but their role in your life has changed,” licensed therapist LeNaya Smith Crawford, LMFT, tells mbg. “You can absolutely love them from afar [but] the most important thing is to give yourself grace, honor your emotions day by day and give yourself the space to process for as long as you need.”
If you’re looking to get over someone after a breakup of any length and emotional capacity, welcome. You’re in the right place. The tips below will help guide you into letting go with peace:
1. Go no-contact with your ex.
“Ending a relationship is challenging. I encourage anyone who has just experienced a breakup to take time away from their ex and get into the activities and things that are good for their mental health,” says Smith Crawford.
Yes, that means removing them from social media, getting rid of any physical reminders, and blocking them if necessary. You don’t want to deal with potential mixed signals, get caught up in their journey by comparing your healing to theirs, or find yourself trying to pretend to be over your ex online.
Cutting them out of your life can feel harsh because you’re so used to their presence, but the no-contact rule has proved to be the fastest and most effective way to put the attention back on yourself and focus on needed inner work.
As dating coach Monica Parikh writes at mbg, “The vast majority of people use love as a drug. They get ‘high’ from an external source—another person’s presence and approval. The withdrawal from that feeling that comes with heartbreak after a relationship ends (and the fear that they may not know how to be happy on their own) can be terrifying. But by using the no-contact rule, you will also regain strength, self-esteem, confidence, and empowerment. You also differentiate ‘wanting’ a partner from ‘needing’ one.”
2. Tend to your intentions and the narrative about your breakup thoughtfully.
Radisha Brown, Ed.D., LCSW, a licensed therapist who specializes in helping people heal from toxic relationships, notes it’s important not to get stuck with unhealthy thoughts and unrealistic expectations about yourself while you’re sifting through everything. Your thoughts create your reality and affect the way you relate to the world, which will drive how you ultimately feel. As you’re processing and being intentional with your healing, be mindful of what you’re thinking about and the beliefs you’re telling yourself.
“It is common to replay conversations, interactions, or events with your ex. We may recreate the story with our ex as the hero and ourselves as the villain. Remember that perfect people only live in our imagination, and relationships require two individuals working toward the same goal,” Brown says.
3. Find your self-worth again outside of a relationship.
Great relationships start with great sleep.*
It’s devastating to release the goals you dreamed about doing together, but there is a bright side. One of the silver linings of a breakup is you get to reclaim your personhood completely and create a life full of things that you love and are inspired by. You don’t have to negotiate or water down any of the things you want in your present and future. You can reimagine the things you truly want for yourself without any compromise.
Smith Crawford recommends starting a daily meditation practice to help you visualize a beautiful future without your S.O. “It is important to remember that you are a whole and powerful being, and you do not need a relationship to validate that. Oftentimes, we get so caught up in a relationship that we lose sight of the things that make us, the individual, feel good.”
4. Load up on a lot of self-care.
“Take time for yourself. When you spend a considerable amount of time with someone and that person leaves, that is a big change, and change is often uncomfortable,” Smith Crawford says.
In addition to learning to love yourself again, it is especially important that you make extra space for your mental health. Journal your unfiltered thoughts, pick up an old/new hobby, and be sure to scaffold some structure in your days so you have things to look forward to and it’s not an endless abyss of introspection.
“Find joy in doing things without a significant other, catching up with close friends, meditation, or therapy. Do what you need to nourish your soul as you process the breakup and start the journey of getting over them,” Smith Crawford says.
5. It takes a community to heal from a breakup.
Breakups can be traumatizing, and it takes a village to help you put the pieces back together and find the light at the end of the tunnel. “Build a support system of trusted family, friends, or professionals that will provide emotional support,” Brown advises. Your people can serve as pillars as they effectively hold space for you, share their own stories, and affirm what you’re going through.
Smith Crawford concurs about the value and importance of having a trusted crew to rely on and ask for help. “It’s crucial after a breakup. Having the support and love of family and friends will help offset the negative emotions that may arise after a breakup. It’s helpful to have someone to process your thoughts and feelings in a loving and supportive way.”
6. Grieve the loss and give yourself permission to feel everything.
It’s normal to cycle through various emotional changes as you reckon with your grief, so don’t shame yourself for the topsy-turvy feelings.
“Your emotions will range from happy to angry. Every emotion you feel is one step closer to healing from the breakup. You must allow yourself to feel in order to heal,” explains Brown.
Let yourself feel it all—unmoored, dejected, numb, free, abandoned, rejected, uncertain, obsessed, confused, relieved, devastated, betrayed, angry, desperate, etc. It’s a chemical sign that you’re purging it out of your system. Sit with your discomfort. Right now, you may only be thinking about what went wrong in the breakup and how you could’ve fixed it. But then, you’ll think about what went right and why it had to happen. Soon, your emotions will equalize. Eventually, you’ll land on acceptance and be ready for it.
7. But don’t be consumed by the heartbreak for too long.
While you’re in the thick of it, you may find yourself feeling at peace with the breakup one day, then ricochet to wanting to get them back at all costs. Remember, there is no time limit for how long it should take to get over someone. It’s dependent on each person, their role in the breakup, and the level of work they’ve done on themselves. There isn’t really a specific equation, like you’ve been together for X time so it should take X months to get over it. So if it’s been a certain time period and you’re still going through it, don’t judge yourself. That’s totally OK! The emotional whiplash will be exhausting, but rest assured, it’s a part of the healing.
But there is a caveat.
“You should take the time to sit, feel, express, and process all the emotions that come up for you. I believe we should take all the time we need to process grief. But expressing your emotions is different from wallowing. You do not want to become consumed with the feelings of the breakup so much that it affects the way you show up in your life. Feel your feelings; do not get consumed by them,” Smith Crawford stresses. “If your processing starts to get in the way of your normal functioning after an extended period of time, I would highly recommend seeking help from a therapist.”
(Here’s more on how to stop thinking about someone.)
8. Take responsibility for your role in your breakup.
“Get real after a breakup. Be honest with yourself about why the relationship didn’t work,” Brown says. “Don’t blame yourself for the relationship ending, but take responsibility for your healing.”
It’s a fine balance to strike: It’s good to be self-aware and acknowledge any failings in the dynamic to do better for yourself and your next relationship. At the same time, doing that too much can put you in a Sisyphean-like self-destructive loop and leave you connected to the relationship and subsequently your ex.
The key is giving yourself grace by forgiving your mistakes, Brown says. During this time, offer compassion to yourself and let go of blaming and any resentment to sever that tie. No one is perfect, and you’re allowed to make mistakes in love as long as you can grow from it and course-correct moving forward.
9. Look for lessons in the aftermath for profound takeaways.
It’s easy to get caught up in the trap of looking at your ex-partner through a black-and-white lens by either villainizing them or putting them on a pedestal and romanticizing them. In some ways, it can be low-hanging fruit to view the situation with that kind of limiting perspective. It’s much more meaningful to aim higher and contemplate about what they brought into your life instead. By seeing things with a sense of realism, you can begin to see the relationship for what it was instead of by a projection. While your ex wasn’t your forever partner, at the end of the day they were a teacher for you to learn from and examine yourself through.
“Romantic relationships are mirrors of the relationship you have with yourself,” Brown asserts. “If you find yourself repeating the same relationship mistakes, you may need to heal negative beliefs about yourself. Otherwise, you will continue to find partners that will confirm those unhealthy beliefs about yourself. [For example] if you believe you are not important, then you will find partners that will treat you accordingly. Healthy relationships require healthy individuals.”
10. Find little pockets of gratitude to settle into.
There’s nothing you could have done differently because what happened, happened. Smith Crawford notes, “People end relationships for many different reasons, and there is no right or wrong reason to end a relationship. The decision is personal.”
You may have lost an important part of your life, but through that loss, you are gaining something back: you and the person you want to be after the experience.
Post-breakup, you aren’t the same person anymore, and you have been changed irrevocably as an individual. Now it all depends on the positivity you can apply to the situation. Staying with your negative emotions will keep you spinning your wheels in the same place, holding you back from moving forward.
“Gratitude changes your attitude,” Brown affirms. “Expressing gratitude shifts your focus and energy by reducing stress. Find something each morning that you are grateful for and write it down.”
11. Be in your body and reconnect to nature.
Love hurts. Research shows your body is going through literal physical pain as you mourn the loss of your partner, affecting you somatically, which only deepens your sadness. Exercise releases natural endorphins that can help you physically feel better and drop into your body, so you’re not in your head as much ruminating about your ex-S.O. You may want to blob out in bed and watch sad movies for days on end, but a literal change in your environment can help shift your thoughts and get you out of any rumination spirals.
“Go outside—fresh air and sunlight give you a dose of vitamin D, which helps to improve your mood. Spending time outside helps reduce symptoms of anxiousness and depressive feelings,” Brown suggests.
12. Accept the natural flow of grief.
You may want to disconnect from the healing and ignore what’s coming up. You may do this by using whatever preferred means you have at your disposal to put a Band-Aid on your pain and quickly put it behind you. Even though it’s painful, lean into it instead. It’s more honest and constructive to go through the suckiness of intentionally feeling it all without any distractions. The only way out is through.
Don’t feel embarrassed or beat yourself up for experiencing what you need to go through. Look at your feelings as something value-neutral versus feeling ashamed for what you should be or shouldn’t be feeling. Know it’s a part of the natural back-and-forth that you’ll emote before it transmutes into acceptance.
No matter how painful it may feel right now, it’s essential to go through the pain of letting go of your ex so you can close the chapter and move on to the next page with a sense of completion. Even though you aren’t together anymore, you can honor the relationship by genuinely wishing them the best on their individual path and by embarking on your own.a