Therapist Jeremy Ortman outlines five ways to ease the pain of a breakup.
When a relationship ends you not only lose your partner, you also lose the dream of an envisioned future together. Coping with these simultaneous losses can leave you feeling disoriented and alone. Getting to the other side is a process that takes time and patience to work through.
In my work as a therapist, I often see people going through breakups whose identities get upended when a relationship ends. Partners serve as a reflection of oneself, and when you lose that, it can be easy to question who you are and what your value is. You may also wonder whether you will ever experience love again. Even if the relationship was unhealthy, venturing into the unknown is frightening. It is common for people to feel frustrated, adrift, and depressed.
I strongly encourage my clients to allow themselves the space to grieve as they begin to re-establish a life that isn’t defined by their relationship. Here are some ways to mitigate the pain and help you get back on your feet.
1. Feed Yourself
Love is nourishing. When a relationship ends, we have to figure out how to feel fed again — both physically and emotionally.
While it is tempting to seek solace by polishing off a pint (or two) of Häaggen Dazs, the sugar high is quickly followed by a stomachache full of regret. Instead, consider nourishing yourself with healthy comfort foods. Better yet, invite supportive friends over to help cook a favorite meal from your childhood. You’ll have a shoulder to cry on and someone to help with the dishes.
Feeding yourself also extends beyond food. Breakups open a door to reconnect to parts of yourself that were neglected during your relationship. Perhaps your ex hated horror movies or Nicki Minaj or Antiques Roadshow. Now is the time to rediscover your old self again and remember what fulfills you following your brave decision to break up. Beyond guilty pleasures, set aside time to focus on your senses and connect to nature as you indulge in soul-nourishing activities.
2. Break and Rebuild Routines
Readjusting to single life isn’t easy, and it can be especially challenging if you’re regularly triggered by activities that you used to do with your ex. Establishing a new routine can provide a comforting sense of structure and normalcy. Now is the time to take that pottery class you’ve been curious about or train for that 10K you always aspired to run. Volunteering or doing acts of service can also help you get outside yourself and gain a sense of purpose. Building a new routine can also be as simple as changing up the music you listen to on the way to work or exploring a part of town you’ve been meaning to check out.
Rebuilding routines — and creating new ones — helps you to readjust to a life lived without your ex after the breakup. Instead of staring down an empty space in your day, create and fill new spaces.
3. Rely On Your Close Friends
There is no need to go through a breakup alone. Share your feelings with loved ones who support, value, and energize you. It’s important that you feel free to be honest about what you’re going through, without worrying about being judged, criticized, or told what to do. Connect face-to-face with trusted friends and family members when possible. An emoji doesn’t quite feel as good as an IRL hug from someone who deeply knows and cares for you.
When long-term relationships end, one of the trickiest parts of recovering is navigating shared friend groups — especially within the tight-knit LGBT community. When spending time with mutual friends of your ex, be clear about boundaries. This can be as simple as asking friends to give you a heads up if your ex is going to be at a party, or letting your bestie know you prefer not to be kept up to date with the minute by minute report of what your ex is posting about on social media.
It’s also important to rely on friends to help you navigate a balance between connecting to painful feelings and distracting yourself. Your close friends in the community can be a resource to ensure you find ways to get out of bed and back in the real world. Be careful, though, not to lean too heavily on one person. Now’s the time to connect to a wide support system, which might include friends, family, and your therapist.
4. Rip Off The Bandaid
One of biggest challenges I see with exes is maintaining close communication, as if the break up never happened. While it’s difficult to cut off contact with an important person in your life — not to mention avoid stalking their social media profiles — prolonged contact can be self-defeating.
A moratorium period is ideal, if you can swing it. Most of my clients know in their hearts that breaking up requires establishing distance but it can be so hard to sit on your hands. To avoid an impulsive reaction you’ll later regret, try delaying the communication 24 hours and then decide if it is the best move to make. Ask yourself is this a short-term fix? If so, instead of texting your ex in that moment, try reaching out to one of your buddies instead.
Withdrawal from your ex can feel relentless. If you find yourself giving in, there is no use in beating yourself up. You may need to go through a process of breaking up and reconciling more than once before you’re fully ready to let go.
5. Let Yourself Grieve after a Breakup
Allow yourself to find the balance between engaging with your grief and taking a breather, by distracting yourself from the intensity of it all. If you completely avoid thinking about the breakup, it will catch up to you. But if you dive into it headfirst, you will end up hitting your head. These ups and downs are normal and necessary for your healing as you adjust to a new reality. What’s right for you may change day-to-day or hour-to-hour.
You may be fearful that it will be too painful to say goodbye to this meaningful part of your life. As you grieve the loss of what might have been, though, you sow the seeds for a new future of what might lie ahead. While all of us are likely to experience a breakup, each of us handles the accompanying pain in different ways. Therapy can provide a platform on which to work through the pain and loss of a breakup. If it’s something you’re interested in pursuing, be sure to find an affirming, knowledgeable provider.
Interested in learning more? Make an appointment with Jeremy Ortman today.