How To Get Over A Breakup And Really Move On From ‘That One Person’
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re somewhere in between the “listening to Kacey Musgraves album on repeat” phase and the “social media stalking of the new S.O.” phase of a getting over a breakup. You’re already acknowledging the fact that you need to move past the relationship, so that’s step one (acceptance is key).
Moving on post-breakup isn’t just hard because of that acceptance bit. It’s also notoriously tough because reminders of your past relationship seem to be everywhere, says Terri Orbuch, PhD, a professor at Oakland University in Michigan and author of Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship. “If you were living together or you worked out at the same gym—all of those things remind you of the past,” she says.
It can be even more difficult to move on after a relationship ends in your twenties or thirties than in your teen years.
And if you thinking getting over a breakup gets easier with age, that’s not always the case: It can be even more difficult to move on after a relationship ends in your twenties or thirties than, say, in your teen years (sorry). “For one thing, the pool of good potential partners shrinks as people pair off (and stay paired off) in their twenties and thirties,” says Jane Reardon, LMFT, founder of the app Rx Breakup.
Then there’s the fact that the stakes are higher: “Developmentally, most people aren’t ready for long-term commitment until their mid- to-late twenties, at which point there’s much more riding on having a successful relationship,” she says. So it’s natural that a breakup at this stage is going to hit harder—the ‘ship was much more serious to begin with.
If the breakup legit feels insurmountable, like on a physical level, you’re not wrong. There are very real, very physical effects of heartbreak—research shows, for example, that simply looking at a photo of an ex who recently dumped you is enough to activate areas of the brain associated with actual pain. And other reports have shown that “broken heart syndrome” is a quite real physiological phenomenon that feels a lot like a heart attack. Ugh.
Fortunately, there is good news: You can and will get over this (and any future) breakup, especially if you make the following moves. I called in the pros to coach you through it.
1. Rediscover old interests.
What did you love doing as a teenager? What passions got pushed aside when you made room for your former mate? Reigniting those interests—or whatGary Lewandowski, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Monmouth University who delivered the TED Talk, “Breakups Don’t Have to Leave You Broken” calls “rediscovery of the self”—is a powerful way to move on since it allows you to reestablish your own identity outside of the one that’s caught up in your partner.
In fact, his research has shown that pursuing dormant interests is a more effective coping mechanism than trying new things, since there’s no guarantee you’ll actually enjoy those new activities or incorporate them into your identity.
2. Eliminate triggers.
Since regular reminders of your ex can deepen your wounds, the obvious solution is to avoid or eliminate them. That means getting rid of furniture, jewelry, clothing, or photos that remind you of your former flame (check out NeverLikedItAnyway.com to sell old gifts), as well as changing your routines. “If you went to Starbucks together, go to a different one,” Orbuch advises. “If you took the 8 a.m. train, take the 7:45 a.m.”
3. Let off steam.
If you’re feeling very Carrie Underwood “Before He Cheats” about the situation at the moment, go with that. Try rage yoga, a rage room (literally all the rage), or even a kickboxing class. But make sure you get it all out at the beginning stages of the healing process, Reardon says, because you’ll feel better in the end.
“Anger management can be super cathartic, but the sooner you can move through the emotional aspects of the breakup [as in, feeling sad, angry, hurt, devastated] and move on to making sense of what happened and why, the quicker you’ll recover,” says Reardon.
4. Cut ties.
While you may feel like talking or meeting up with your partner may help with closure, keeping in touch tends to ultimately prolong the heartache, Lewandowski says. Think about it like a job: “It would be really hard to be good at your new job if you’re still worrying about what’s going on at your old job,” he points out. “You want to be as successful in that next relationship as possible, and you wouldn’t want your new partner to still be obsessed with their previous relationship either, so you shouldn’t be that person.”
And this should go without saying, but…absolutely no, NO breakup sex!
Cutting digital ties is important, too. How important? One study found that people who Facebook stalk their exes are more distressed, harbor more negative feelings, feel a greater sense of longing, and stunt their personal growth more than those who cut social media ties, too.
“By keeping tabs on them electronically, you’re maintaining those connections in a way that’s not healthy for your recovery,” Lewandowski says. “Your best bet is to go cold turkey.” (Yes, that includes Instagram and Snapchat, too.)
6. Do a social media detox.
In addition to stopping with the social media stalking of your ex, taking a break from social altogether can also speed the process. “It makes it infinitely easier to get over a breakup when you have no contact for a few months. That includes social media, so see if you can take a 30-day online hiatus,” Reardon says.
It’s not just about unfollowing your ex. “I always notice a big setback after someone sees a mutual friend’s post with the ex in the picture, having a great time, of course,” she adds. (Isn’t that always the case?!) Do yourself a favor and delete Insta from your phone for a week, even, so there’s no chance they’ll pop up in a random Story. You’ll also feel better by spending more time doing than scrolling.
You’re not alone! These celebs went through maaajor breakups (in the limelight, at that!):
7. Stop asking friends to check up on your ex.
While you’re doing your social media detox, don’t have your friends cyber-stalk your ex (or your ex’s new fling), either. “It’s best to lay low and heal. Ask your friends not tell you stories about the ex,” says Reardon. “It’s information you may want but don’t need to hear.”
8. Get off your ex’s Netflix account.
This seems to be a ~digital age~ trend, and it should go without saying, but stop sharing Netflix (Amazon Prime, Hulu, etc.) accounts with your ex after you break up. Research states that staying in contact in any way with a former flame can be damaging to your current relationships, especially if you’ve already moved on to a new person.
Plus, you don’t need to know what they’re watching while Netflixing and chilling with their rebound (and they don’t need to know what you’re watching to get over them, either).
Here’s what to watch on your own Netflix account:
9. Do a refresh of your space.
You may have already ditched all evidence of the relationship in the form of your framed photos together and gifts from your ex, and that can actually be healthy. “If the breakup was the ex’s idea, and you have no children, then throw all those pictures and mementos in a bag and put it out of sight,” Reardon says.
Take this as an opportunity to give your room or home a little makeover, and add some new accent pieces that will help you make new memories. “Giving your space a little refresh is great self-care—fill in the spaces with something fun or inspiring to see,” Reardon adds. After all, that’s where you’ll be most days during the healing process, so you might as well add only items that spark joy to the place.
10. Make a list of the red flags in the relationship.
One of Reardon’s favorite tips from Rx Breakup is the red-flag list: Jot down everything that was an issue in the relationship that you chose to ignore, she says. And scientifically, this may work. A 2018 studyfound that thinking negative thoughts about your ex, rather than ruminating on why you loved the person, may temporarily put you in a crappy mood, but can help you get over them faster in the long run.
“This can be a total game-changer. Anytime you’re feeling sad or mushy, or like you did something wrong or feeling anything at all, pull out that list of red flags and add to it. It snaps you right back into reality: This may be a super-hard time, but you’re actually better off and probably dodged a giant bullet,” Reardon says. It’ll take you one step closer to realizing what you deserve in a relationship and how you can have a better one the next time around. “Use the breakup as a major opportunity for personal growth and better self-awareness, so you never have to feel this way again,” Reardon adds.
11. Seek therapy to talk things through.
If you’re feeling particularly stuck in a period of sadness after the breakup, therapy might help, especially if the way in which the relationship ended is a similar pattern (for example, the partner cheated on you before the breakup).
According to Reardon, there are a few important things you should work on with a therapist to move toward healing. Start by looking at the patterns of the relationships in your life, between family, friends, and other intimate relationships. “A crucial bit of information to look at is how the experience with this partner mirrors other relationships, including the one you have or had with a parent,” says Reardon. Once you analyze those and the patterns of your own responses within your relationships, you can move forward toward bettering your relationships.
“It’s said that it takes a traumatic event to affect meaningful change, and a really devastating breakup can be great motivation to disrupt old patterns, resolve old traumas, and honestly look at how you relate to a significant other,” Reardon says.
12. Change your “blame statements.”
What story do you tell yourself about why the relationship ended? Orbuch says most people either blame their former partners (“He couldn’t commit.” “She didn’t treat me well.”) or themselves (“I should have never gotten involved.” “I’m not cool enough.”). But to effectively cope, you need to rewrite your story in “we terms.” (“We weren’t right for each other.” “We were too young.”) “Any of those statements allow you to let go and reduce emotional baggage thought-wise,” Orbuch says.
13. Turn what you don’t have into what you can do.
Similarly, it’s helpful to change your internal dialogue from one about all the things you’ve lost in the breakup to all the things you’ve gained, experts say. Instead of thinking, I’m so lonely. I’ll never find another partner. What’s going to happen over the holidays? Think about the things you now get to do—whether that’s hanging out more with your friends, making a career move that takes you to another city, or simply appreciating less relationship stress in your daily life.
Lewandowski recommends writing these thoughts down: Research shows that while journaling about the negatives is more helpful than not writing at all, forcing yourself to focus on the positives of your new singlehood is especially effective when it comes to moving on, he says.
14. Write letters to your ex—but don’t send them.
Speaking of writing, Orbuch advises writing a letter or letters to your ex—but don’t stamp it or click send. (Seriously. Don’t.) Write down how you feel, how the breakup is affecting you, and anything else you’d hypothetically like to tell that person.
Do it weekly, if you want, so you can record how your emotions are shifting as time goes on and you start to get over the breakup. “It has nothing to do with getting the partner back or telling the partner what’s happening,” Orbuch says. “It’s a way of you getting closure and you letting go of a lot of the emotional baggage connected to the past.”
15. Enlist your fan club.
Immediately after a breakup, social support is crucial, says Orbuch, who suggests reaching out to a best friend, parent, therapist, or anyone else who can reinforce your positive qualities, remind you why the relationship didn’t work out, and otherwise be a loving sounding board for your woes.
Unlike unhealthy coping mechanisms (drinking a lot of alcohol, sleeping all day), “purging that anger and loneliness and frustration in a constructive way is so important,” Orbuch says.
One super-healthy coping mechanism? Cleaning up your diet and exercise—and getting that revenge body you always wanted…
It’s tempting to throw a pity party when you’re mourning the loss of a romantic relationship. And while you’re allowed to feel sad for a stretch, Orbuch recommends getting involved in something like volunteer work to get your head out of your own problems and into something that helps others. Indeed, research has linked volunteering with less depression, more life satisfaction, and enhanced well-being.
My personal suggestion? Volunteer at an animal shelter. You can’t not feel better with a happy ball of fur in your arms. Ex-boyfriend, who?
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