The Ultimate Guide to Breakups

Breakups can be brutal. Here’s what you need to know!

Posted Aug 21, 2020

 praetorianphoto/iStock
Source: praetorianphoto/iStock

We all know breakups can be incredibly painful. As a clinical psychologist who works with high-functioning people, I know that if you’re an intelligent and persistent person who likes to make things work, it can be mind-boggling to encounter a situation where no matter how much you want to make things work, the only thing to do is actually to give up and move on. Of course, it is almost impossible to make a breakup easy, but at least there are some strategies that can help make the process a little easier, and potentially help you to be better prepared to make good, healthy choices when you’re ready to date again.

Here are some tips that can help:

  1. Don’t grieve alone. Losing a relationship can feel almost like a death of the relationship. We were not meant to grieve alone, so consider making sure that you’re always with a supportive friend or family member for the first week or two. Especially if you lived together or spent a lot of time together, you may be feeling a major void. Obviously, a friend or family member doesn’t fill the void, but at the very least it can be helpful to surround yourself with support during a loss. Some people even arrange to stay on a friend’s couch if need be, or have a friend stay with them, for the first days or weeks.
  2. Experience healthy touch. Consider booking yourself some massages. On a certain level, part of what you’re experiencing may pertain to a sudden loss of touch and affection. Our bodies actually acclimate to certain frequencies of touch, so a breakup can feel like a double whammy: We are losing emotional support and simultaneously experiencing a dramatic decrease in the amount of physical affection we receive. While a massage certainly isn’t the same, it can help your body/mind to at least experience positive touch; plus massage has been shown to reduce cortisol levels (cortisol is a stress-related hormone, which may rise during breakups).
  3. Open your eyes. You may want to make a list of the top five times when your ex hurt or disappointed you, or other negative points that may help you to realize that in fact the person is by no means perfect. We sometimes view our exes with rose-colored glasses, which can make it harder to move on. If you thought your ex was perfect but they broke up with you out of the blue, you might consider making their inability to make or keep a commitment to you as part of your list—sometimes just realizing that a person is actually not the stable, reliable “relationship person” we initially thought they were can help decrease that person’s desirability, thereby making it a little easier to move past them. Consider making this list a screensaver on your phone or having it somewhere else that’s easy to see, if you feel you may have your ex on an “but they were so perfect” pedestal that is making it hard to see things squarely. You may also want to ask a friend to help you recall problems or issues, if you are feeling stuck in the “but they were perfect” mindset.
  4. Don’t be afraid. Sometimes we may obsess about the past as a way to avoid re-entering the dating world, because on a certain level we are afraid of repeating whatever potential mistakes that may have led to our current situation. If you think this might be the case, make sure you find ways to learn from your past relationship and have support as you ponder dating again. Consider checking out my book, Dr. Chloe’s 10 Commandments of Dating, or other dating books that resonate with you. Whatever book you get, consider getting it in print as well as on audio book, since sometimes listening to a self-help book read by a friendly-yet-focused voice can be almost like listening to a supportive, knowledgeable friend giving you a pep talk—and who doesn’t need that, especially during a breakup? Of course print or e-books are great too for quiet contemplation. Sometimes when we want to change habits or really absorb material, it is helpful to expose ourselves to it in multiple ways, so consider letting yourself consume whatever book you choose with your eyes as well as your ears.
  5.  Fill your brain with new experiences. Part of why breakups can be so painful is that we may feel that everything in our current environment reminds us of our ex: whether being at home and thinking about how you and your ex used to spend time there, or going to work and thinking of how your ex used to meet you for lunch nearby, it can sometimes seem as if everything in our life reminds us of that person. One way to change this is to deliberately create new experiences to help the old memories start to recede. New experiences can also subtly reassure us that there are other possibilities in life. Whether it’s traveling somewhere new, taking a class in something you’ve always wanted to try, or even finding a really gripping novel, find ways to give yourself new, positive experiences that are independent of your ex.
  6. Get your rest, but also get out. You may find that sleep is the best medicine in certain moments. Your brain needs to process what happened, and sometimes that happens best when you’re at rest. A little hibernation can be restorative, so don’t be afraid to to put on an audio book, close your eyes, and drift away—I mention an audio book because sometimes it’s nice to have something for your mind to follow rather than leaving yourself “alone with your thoughts” while you try to rest, especially during a breakup. While it’s good to get your rest, also know that sometimes a simple walk in fresh air or chat with a friend can do wonders if you start to think you might be overdoing it on the hibernation.
  7. Look out for loneliness. One of the most confounding things about a breakup is that you may be used to relying on your ex for emotional support—and now here you are in need of extra emotional support right now because of the breakup, yet you’re also experiencing a sudden decrease in the availability of support since your ex is gone. It’s like being very hungry yet being blocked from your kitchen at the exact moment you need to eat. You may benefit from a “breakup buddy” who agrees to be available for you to call for lifeline situations when you’re struggling; and potentially plan your calendar so that you’re proactively booked with friends for the next week or two. Surrounding yourself with supportive friends can also help bolster your sense of self-esteem (self-esteem can suffer during breakups) plus it can make it easier for you to see that you can be happy even without your ex. Friends can also be helpful if you need a pep talk or just want some perspective.
  8. Remember your last ex. If you’re feeling like you’ll “never get over” your current breakup, it can be helpful to remember previous breakups where you may have felt the same—even if it’s thinking back to how your high school sweetheart seemed like the one for sure, and remembering how intense those feelings were at the time, then realizing that in fact you went on to meet someone you liked even better (possibly your current ex). Take refuge in knowing that you’ll likely move forward and meet another person who you may like even better than your ex one day, even if that seems as impossible now as it did to your high school self years ago. This can help you to put things in perspective and remember that you have gotten over breakups before; and you have been pleasantly surprised to meet someone new before in your life—so odds are it may happen again! If you’re worried about the breakup part happening again too, you may want to be sure to see item 4 in this list about making sure you learn from life’s experiences.

Whatever you decide to do, please take good care of yourself. Know that your desire for a strong relationship is nothing to feel ashamed of, and take refuge in knowing that you’re not alone—by definition, everyone who isn’t in a committed relationship shares in common with you the fact that they haven’t found “their person” yet, so you’re totally normal in this regard. The key is to take good care of yourself so you can move forward in a healthy way and find fulfillment!

You can also check my vlog on The Ultimate Guide to Breakups here.