5 Pieces of Advice You Should Ignore After a Breakup
After a relationship, friends and family don't always know best.
Posted July 15, 2016
One of the hardest aspects of ending a romantic relationship or marriage is listening to others tell you what you need to do. Many people don’t know what to say or how to comfort you, or they take on the responsibility of “fixing” you and your situation. In reality, all you really want (and need) is a kind and supportive ear.
You may find yourself with mixed feelings about how to cope with the shock and heartache that the loss of a relationship brings. Examining what's behind these 5 well-meaning pieces of advice—and where they go wrong—will help you cope with your loss in the best possible way:
1. "Move On."
When you grieve the loss of a relationship and feel intense heartache, it's likely that some people close to you will say that you should quickly move on. They may want you to do this right away. Perhaps you hear the following statements: “You’ve just got to move on." “Get over it." “It is what it is." You may even tell yourself these things. It’s completely unrealistic to expect that you will immediately move on. You need time. The more you beat yourself up by telling yourself you should be moving on at a quicker pace, the longer it will actually take. Your brain and your body need time to come to terms with the loss. Some people never do this work and quickly jump back into dating, or they make other major life changes in an effort to wipe the slate clean and avoid the pain. They may move across the country, buy a new home, get a new job, or make large purchases, almost as a way to will themselves to move on. I consistently find that people who accept that the process of letting go takes time end up moving through the process more smoothly. You will recover. You will move on. Instead of forcing it, allow it to happen naturally—at your own pace.
2. "Don’t Sulk."
There are people you care about, and who care about you, who will tell you to push your feelings aside: “Don’t dwell on your ex." “Don’t think about the past." “Some people have it worse than you." “Snap out of it!” Yet the opposite is true: You have to feel and talk about the hurt, anger, and despair to truly let go. Just let yourself feel sad and hurt without also being critical about what you can’t help feeling. There is nothing abnormal about going through a range of emotions as you process the loss of a marriage or relationship. One way to cope with emotions, without pushing them away or becoming overwhelmed, is to set aside a period of time each day to feel and concentrate on them. When that time elapses, move on to other tasks or distractions.
3. "Don’t Contact Your Ex."
This is common advice. However, and this is important, processing with your ex what happened in the relationship, or what led up to its demise, can be very helpful in some cases. You first have to assess if you and your partner are actually capable of doing this. Sometimes contacting your ex is a reminder that there is nothing left between you and that you do need to stop contact. If you delete every bit of connection too soon, you may have regrets that lead you to obsess and self-criticize for being too hasty. You'll know when it’s time to take a step back. Be aware of how you feel when you view your ex’s social media updates, or when you talk with them or see them in person. If you feel worse after contact, take these feelings seriously—they may be telling you that it is time to pull back. If you feel better, or that you receive something valuable from the interaction, it may not be time. (See Breaking Up and Divorce—5 Steps.)
4. "He Didn’t Really Love You."
Well-meaning friends and family may get angry on your behalf when you recall incidents of mistreatment and experience intense heartache and pain. Your friends and family love you, and they don’t want you to be mistreated. They may get to a point where they tell you (or you even tell yourself) that your ex never really loved you. This opinion just adds to your list of reasons to feel bad. The elusive question, “Did he ever love me?” invites a downward tailspin. At the end of a relationship, even if you didn’t feel loved, it doesn’t mean there was never anything meaningful between you and your ex. Why else would people commit to someone for the long term? Love is complicated, and people are complicated, but this doesn’t mean that your ex never saw anything special in you.
5. "You Need To Forgive."
When you're angry or recounting difficult moments to a close friend or family member, it's common to hear something like, “You really need to work on forgiving him,” or “You’ve got to let the anger go.” This may or may not be true, but hearing it only adds to the load of things you need to do—and the things you are doing wrong. Forgiveness is something that, years later, you may naturally reflect upon and recognize as present. It is not something you can will yourself to do. It’s precisely through processing the anger and feeling open with, and unconditionally supported by, others that we eventually let that anger and resentment go. If you feel embarrassed to talk about it, or believe you're better than it, the anger will stick around and possibly hinder you in other destructive ways.
Jill Weber, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in Washington, DC and author of Breaking Up and Divorce 5 Steps: How to Heal and Be Comfortable Alone. For more, follow me on twitter @DrJillWeber, follow me on Facebook, or check out drjillweber.com.