6 Steps to Turn Your Breakup Into a Breakthrough
Or you'll just sink in feelings and spin in your head.
Posted February 15, 2021 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
Relationships can be like an addiction. Like the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, there are necessary steps to take after a breakup. Or you can just sink in feelings and spin in your head, which will prevent you from healing. Here are six steps to help you move through so you can start healing.
Step 1: Accept That Your Relationship Has Expired
I know this sounds cold. Relationships are not milk. We’re talking about a human who shared their heart with you. But this is more about a reframe, a mindset shift, a different way of looking at it to help you accept that the relationship is over and let go of it.
One of the hardest things about a breakup is wondering if it could have been different. What if I did this? What if she was more like that? What if. What if. The what-ifs keep us holding on, feeling like sh*t. We play the highlight reel instead of the whole documentary. We drown in our emotions, questioning whether we made the right decision or could have done more. All these thoughts keep us stuck.
Your relationship has expired. It was not meant to last one day more or less. It has run its course. Not because of you or your partner, but for a different reason: Your relationship hit its expiration date. You have to believe that.
Step 2: Cut the Cord
One of the greatest gifts my ex-wife gave me was a hard line in the sand. Firm boundaries. I didn’t appreciate it at the time. She tapered off all communication, texts, emails, phone calls. It felt like ice cold. I didn’t understand how you could go from knowing each other for 10 years to not knowing each other at all.
But part of what felt “cold” came from being a boy who couldn’t stand on his own. She needed the space and was protecting herself. Maybe for the first time in her life. She wanted to move through. And thank God, because I didn’t have the strength to do it. I wanted to stay connected. To hold on to her leg and not let go. Her cutting of the cord forced me to go on my own journey.
There’s no way around this one. You must unfriend, unfollow, and unsubscribe. Stop texting and calling. Resist the urge to leave a voicemail. You have to let go. Maybe not forever. Maybe the two of you can be friends one day. But that won’t come unless you give yourself space now. If you don’t, you’re just peeling scabs. You’re holding two hostages: your ex, and you. Respect the relationship and what you had by respecting the expiration. Draw firm boundaries.
What if you have a kid together?
You communicate. You get on the same page and establish healthy boundaries as best you can. It may get ugly. When we are hijacked by emotions, we may use our children as chess pieces. Even unintentionally. Our emotions are the elephant, our logic is the little rider on top, and the elephant is going to go where it’s going to go. But it’s critical that you set some kind of boundaries or healing won’t happen. There’s no way around it. Space is what heals. If you don’t get it, you won’t be moving through. Instead, you both will have shackles around your ankles from the residue of the relationship.
What if your ex doesn’t want to communicate? Or just plays games? What if they’re too angry? What if you’re too angry?
Request a mediator or a couples counselor. Not to fix the relationship, but to help you both create healthy boundaries and respect each other while moving forward. Make sure these boundaries are crystal clear, or space will open up again for hurt, which will only lead to reactions. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for your child. Remind your ex of that as well.
Remember to pull from love, no matter how hard it is. No matter how angry or unsettled you are about what happened. Whether there was abuse, infidelity, or just the drifting apart of two people, don’t live in what happened. Give yourself personal space to process and start healing so you don’t get sucked back into the old relationship dynamic.
If you can’t respect your ex, at least respect the expiration of the relationship. There is you. There is him or her. And there is what you guys built. It is a living breathing thing that has died. Respect that death by staying on your side of the fence. By not gossiping and lashing out. By not using your child as a tug-of-war rope. By drawing healthy boundaries.
Step 3: Take Ownership
This is the step we often forget. Or run from. But it’s the most important one.
Most of us lay blame. We point our fingers and are quick to spell out everything our ex did wrong. This becomes a broken record that sinks us deeper. By blaming your ex, you are putting yourself in victim mode, as though you were powerless over what happened. And yes, many of us have been victims. If you’ve been in an abusive relationship, physical or emotional, you have been victimized.
Something has been taken from you. Self-esteem, voice, a sense of worth. And that wasn’t your fault. For many relationships, though, what happened is not so black-and-white. Sure, your partner was sh*tty sometimes, but were you perfect? Instead of feeling the pain of an expired relationship—and don’t forget, a relationship always involves two people—it’s easier to demonize your ex. This might feel good, but by ignoring your own role, you’re setting yourself up for a repeat performance. By blaming and not taking any ownership, you are living in the past instead of creating the foundation for a better future.
The way you avoid history repeating itself is by taking ownership. That’s how you get your power back. That’s how you connect back to yourself. Without taking ownership, there is no growth, learning, or evolution. I haven’t always taken ownership. Instead of sitting with myself after the breakup with Street Art, I jumped into something new two weeks after, with someone she knew. I understand it happens all the time, and that’s why people book sessions with me. But I don’t believe in hurting people like that. I was lonely when I did that. I was also selfish and confused. And I was wrong.
When you own your part in the breakup, you can start growing again. You circle what happened with a red marker, but you also remind yourself that you’re human. Taking ownership makes you accept the breakup, learn from it, and form a desire to be better. No space for growth can be created when you’re defensive, make excuses, pull away from logic, and tell yourself and everyone else all the reasons why it wasn’t your fault. You’re running away from yourself instead of toward yourself. You’re moving on, but you’re not moving through.
Step 4: Focus on You
When a relationship expires, we want to jump into something else as fast as we can (speaking from experience). We search for our next ride right after getting off the last one, without giving ourselves any time to really process what happened and how we feel about it. Obviously, it’s uncomfortable to be alone, and we want an easy fix. But love is not an amusement park. If you just keep jumping from one ride to the next, you will only repeat patterns. Nothing will change. I know I said it before but I’ll say it again. The soil for growth is so rich when you’re single. But only if you are focusing on you. Not on finding someone else.
Many don’t know what to do with themselves when they are alone because they get their worth from loving someone else. They have never made life about themselves, but always about others. So they have never really built a relationship with themselves. They only know themselves through a relationship. And if those relationships have been unhealthy, their relationship with themselves has been unhealthy too. This is why it’s so important to focus on you when you’re single. You will also bring a more whole and authentic version of yourself to the table when you find someone who deserves you. The dynamic of the relationship will be different. It won’t be like the last time.
How do you do this? How do you focus on you? I bet if you hear “date yourself” one more time, you’re going to jump off a building. Instead of thinking about going on sad dates with yourself, think about things that you’ve always wanted to do but didn’t because you didn’t have the time or the money, or you were afraid. Like traveling, picking up new hobbies, taking that Bollywood dance class you’ve had an eye on for so long. If saying yes to new experiences means “dating” yourself, then you should be dating yourself even when you are in a relationship.
But working on your relationship with yourself isn’t just about doing things alone. It’s about being alone. On purpose. Sitting with everything that comes up, however uncomfortable. Finally breaking the patterns you fall into to cope and numb when you are alone by noticing what comes up and why. This is the inner work. The hard work. This is what focusing on you looks like. This is where you build a relationship with yourself. It’s an inside-out process, not an outside-in process. As you do this work, you also practice self-compassion and forgiveness. Accept your story, let go of what you need to let go of, and start leaning into your evolution.
Step 5: What Are Your New Non-Negotiables?
As you sit with yourself and with the uncomfortable, it’s time to learn why you do what you do and where that comes from. And of course, it’s also time to make a conscious effort to change those thoughts and behaviors and take a different path. As you start to play things back, take ownership of what has happened in your past and connect it back to yourself. (Remember, relationships, even healthy ones, can disconnect us from ourselves.)
As you do this, you will start to draw new lines in the sand. You will create non-negotiables. Things that you will no longer tolerate because that sh*t didn’t work any better the fourteenth time around than it did the first time.
Remember: There’s a difference between non-negotiables and preferences. Telling yourself you will date only men who are 6-foot-2, make six figures, and drive a vintage Porsche are not non-negotiables. That’s called being picky. Non-negotiables are new standards you’ve created for yourself that line up with your new story. They form the container that houses and grows your sense of self-worth.
Here are some of my non-negotiables.
1. I will never be in an abusive relationship, neither physical nor emotional. I don’t care if she blows my socks off and the chemistry is out of this universe. This is a very hard line.
2. I will not be with someone who does not support my passions or champion my story. She doesn’t have to agree with me on everything or like the same things I like, but she has to support who I am and what I stand for.
3. I will not be with someone who does not take care of herself. This is not just about working out or maintaining a certain physical appearance. I will not be with someone who ignores her mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health.
4. I will not be in a lopsided friendship. That’s one where you always have to come to the other person, and where they always make it about them and never hold space for you. Friendships that are superficial.
Your non-negotiables don’t all have to be big things. Needing to be able to have great banter with the other person can be a non-negotiable. They can be based on common interests and values. Maybe you will no longer tolerate being with someone who plays video games all day.
Non-negotiables are not just for relationships and friendships, either. What are your non-negotiables at work? With family? When it comes to fitness? Or your home? What do you absolutely require with respect to nutrition and sleep? What will you never give up about your meditation practice?
Step 6: Smash the Clock
One of the most common questions people ask me after an expired relationship is: How long does it take to get over someone? Or: It’s been three months! Why am I still not over him?
I hate to break it to you, but there is no fixed time it takes for you to “get over” someone. There is no formula, no secret steps. And just because you got over someone in three months last time doesn’t mean it will take just as long this time.
Here’s the thing. Every relationship is different. They make imprints on us that vary in depth. Who you are or were in that relationship is different now. There are too many factors involved to be able to judge or compare your expired relationships this way. It’s going to take as long as it’s supposed to take to heal and move through.
If you want more tips on how to empower your singlehood journey, check out my new book SINGLE. ON PURPOSE.