Maybe he was a cheater or porn addict. Maybe she never could get over that other boyfriend or worse, was still seeing him. Whatever the reason – ending a relationship where you have become close and attached to each other – is going to hurt. This is the pain part – the one that makes the joys of life more rewarding and meaningful when they come. So to support your survivorship thru a difficult time, here are some suggested, tried and true rules for surviving a recent break-up.
Post Break-up Rule #1. Box up their stuff, tape the box closed and give the box to a friend – for a while. On the pain continuum, wandering around your home seeing his or her gifts, letters, pictures and stuff everywhere is about the same as bamboo shoved under the fingernails. You are better off putting the relationship reminders away for a while. Make sure you can get these things back…at some point he or she may want some of it returned or you may want some of it later. For now, put the pain provokers away.
After Break-up Rule #2. Stay off the phone with him (or her). This includes email, texts, face-time, Skype – you get the picture. If the relationship is recently over then unless you share children or need to exchange property there is no reason to talk further right now. A friendship might develop at some point later, but for now, being in contact will only produce confusion not clarity.
Long discussions about “why we broke up” and “what we could have done differently” are best taken to friends and therapists than to THEM. Logistical things like returning stuff, paying bills and the like, you can handle with very brief emails or texts. Take a good month or two and cut off communication so you can heal – trust me on this one.
After Break-up Rule #3. Find healthy indulgences. If you can afford it, go shopping and take in as many movies, farmer’s markets and ball games as you can stand. Just don’t hang out where you used to spend time together. Go someplace new. When home, take bubble baths with candles until your skin prunes or consider getting some non-sexual massages – healthy touch is good for you! Move your body – to the gym, yoga or at least walk. Exercise improves mood.
And speaking of distractions, there are a couple to be avoided, like heavy drinking and drugging, starting the hunt for your next lover or having a lot of anonymous sex. Sure, let friends take you out for a round or two of trash the ex over cocktails, but abusing substances to feel better will eventually leave you feeling worse. And while it can feel hopeful to have someone flirt with you in the grocery line or laundromat, spending lonely evenings searching for your next love now is bound to leave you lonelier than when you started. And – searching for a potential mate while you are still stinging from the end of the last relationship is one of the surest ways to hook up with the next wrong person.
After Break-up Rule #4. Tell your loving, non-shaming family and friends that you are hurting. Talk about your break-up as often as you want with as many people as you can get to listen. Do some therapy sessions; this is an ideal time for you to grow. While reminiscing with your ex about the past is a definite NOT, talking endlessly on the phone with friends and family about “what she did” and “what I said or didn’t say” is the right thing to do. That’s what good friends are for and while they may roll their eyes by your 37th or 38th phone call, they will likely look to you for the same assistance at some point. You might ask them what they really thought about the relationship now that it is ended. You will likely get some answers that you wouldn’t have heard when you were together.
Rule #5. Get perspective by getting out of the house. Breaking up means evolving a new you, the you without a partner. A great way to find you is to escape from home for a day or even more if you can make that happen. Get some distance from your day-to-day life. Go to the mountains, the beach, a retreat or someplace special. Spend some time in nature. Go out there looking for concrete signs that life transcends the moment. See if you can find some meaningful symbols to put in your pocket as the shells, rocks and flowers you find will all have a story to tell you.
Note the changing seasons, the tides, and the light at dawn or sunset. These concrete and eternal things may not make you feel better right this second, but they will remind you that your life will indeed go on beyond these painful moments. Let yourself grieve, let yourself explore, let yourself connect and before you know it – you just might find yours.
Follow Robert on Twitter @RobWeissMSW
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Last reviewed: 25 Apr 2011