Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


6 Common Break-Up Mistakes That Often Make Things Worse

Find out how to stop the pain and start the recovery after a breakup.

Unsplash by Booke Cagie
Source: Unsplash by Booke Cagie

Break-ups are among the more painful experiences in life. But like any other unwanted experience, how you handle them can make many degrees of difference in how much distress you feel. Below are some very common break-up mistakes that can exacerbate the pain and prolong the recovery time. If you’re doing any (or all) of them, don’t beat yourself up, just try the suggested instead behavior to facilitate the process of moving on.

1. Believing you’ll never meet anyone better. What if "X" was the best thing that ever happened to me? During a break-up, this thought goes through most people’s minds at one point or another. Remind yourself that the relationship ended for a reason. Something about it wasn’t right. Even if you feel your own behavior contributed heavily to the break-up, you didn’t act in a vacuum. Something in the relationship probably wasn’t aligning that led to your behavior. If you work on your own development and approach finding a new relationship with integrity, then you improve the chances that you will find another partner who may even be a better fit. There was a time before you knew "X" and right now you just haven’t yet met the new person that will be in your life so it’s hard to imagine him or her coming.

Instead of thinking you won’t meet someone better, really define what you think a partner who is a good fit would look like. What traits and qualities will they have? What deal-breaking characteristics are you certain you don’t want them to have?

Knowing who you’re looking for helps you recognize when they show up and it can keep you from wasting time on people who aren’t a good fit. Then think about whether you are a match to those qualities you want in another. Someone who has those qualities will be looking for the same. Spend some of the time you have between partners working on becoming the match to who you’re looking for. That way when that person does show up, you’ll be ready.

2. Believing you’re doomed to be alone. Just because a relationship ends says nothing about your worthiness to be in a relationship. In fact, if you learned from the relationship then you will have grown as a person and quite likely you are going to be even more prepared for a better one. If you believe you aren’t good at relationships or that you’ll always be alone, then you are likely to create a self-fulfilling prophecy by acting on what you expect.

Instead, make a list of all the reasons you know you are a great catch. You don’t have to be rich or beautiful to offer something in a relationship—personality characteristics are far more important to the overall quality of a relationship. Think about the traits you have as a person—you may be nice, trustworthy, funny, kind, or a good communicator. These are traits most people value in a partner. And think about how you make the other person’s life better: Do you make them feel loved, supported, and happy? These are things everyone wants to feel in a relationship, but many often don’t. Focus on what you offer instead of what you feel you lack; this will change your perspective about your value as a partner and your likelihood of finding love again.

3. Seeking “closure." If the relationship officially ended, it’s very likely you have all the closure you need. It didn’t work out; it wasn’t meant to be. While it can indeed be helpful to know why a relationship ended, the reality is in many situations you will never know. Either because the person initiating the break-up has a difficult time being honest and is more likely to give some version of the it’s not you, it's me explanation, or in worst-case scenarios, the person ghosted you and refuses to give an explanation. Efforts to demand an explanation from someone not mature enough to give one will likely just cause more pain and drama than it is really worth. The good news is once a relationship is over, you don’t need anything from the other person in order to move on.

Instead, of obsessing over why the relationship ended, try refocusing all of your attention and energy back on yourself. Use the time to work on becoming the best version of you. Spend some extra time exercising, buy yourself a new wardrobe, or get a new haircut. Pick up a new hobby, go to a self-development lecture, or take a class on something you’ve always been interested in. When you are busy, and feeling good about yourself, your attention is on looking forward to what’s next and not backward on what was.

4. Trying too soon to be friends. Many people hang on to the idea of friendship with an ex as a way to keep the possibility of the relationship alive because the idea of completely letting go seems too overwhelming. While, depending on the circumstances, a friendship may eventually be possible, being friends can’t happen in a genuine way until you have healed through most if not all of the pain, which takes time.

True friendship means two people care about each other’s well-being and have one another’s best interest at heart. By the time many relationships end, it is often in question whether both parties can genuinely provide this kind of care and support for one another. The expectation that someone who didn’t treat you well while you were together will be capable of being a true friend afterward sets you up to continue being hurt.

Instead, of trying to be friends before the pain of the break-up has healed, initially set some clear boundaries. For most people, for the first 30-90 days, having no contact can be very helpful as a way to put some distance between you and sever the bond. Any friendship you do have will be a different relationship with different parameters and having some space will help you clarify what you are comfortable with later.

5. Forgetting the bad times. Because our mind is trying to heal our heart, the painful memories often get shifted to the background and we find ourselves remembering and longing for the good times. We forget who the person really was and idealize who we wanted them to be. But the whole of a relationship is what it was from beginning to end.

Instead, of reminiscing about the good you feel you lost, to get past these moments try writing down every painful thing you can remember happening during the relationship and read it over to yourself while making the effort to vividly recall those memories until the painful feelings subside. The point here isn’t to stay angry but to remember the full truth of why the relationship ended.

6. Stalking on social media. Yes, you are dying to know what your ex-partner is up to. You may be hoping they will reveal something that gives you more insight as to why the relationship ended. Or perhaps you want to keep tabs on them just to know if there is a possibility that you might be able to get back together. Maybe you’re just addicted to the dopamine rush you get when you see their face. Whatever the reason, continuing to check an ex’s social media is likely to prolong the pain of the break-up and make it harder to move on.

Instead, try deleting him or her as a contact or blocking their accounts from your feed. You may go through withdrawal, but in the long run, it’s better for your self-esteem and mental well-being.

For more, see 5 Ways to Move On From an Ex You Still Love.

Facebook image: Stockbusters/Shutterstock

More from Jennice Vilhauer Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today