How to get over a breakup, heal, recover and regain happiness
Category: Better Endings | Author: Elly Prior | First published: 21-04-2014 | Modified: 03-12-2017
This article is part of a series on breaking up, separation and, if you're married - divorce. All together they make up a complete breakup survival guide.
I know only too well, from personal as well as professional experience, how painful breaking up can be. So I want to be sure I cover the subject from all angles to help you as best as I can.
On top of the agony of the break-up itself, you may worry about the future: how long it will take to get over the pain, maybe moving home, your finances, how your children will fare, childcare, the divorce process, etc. Depending on your situation, you may have to deal with all of these things alongside being completely heartbroken.
It may feel like your legs have been cut from beneath you. That is - if you're the one being rejected. Or if you have been so hurt by your partner that you see no other option but to end the relationship.
So, if your emotions are all over the place, I can tell you now that you're normal! It's perfectly understandable if you can't stop crying, are angry, disappointed, depressed and anxious - and swing between all of these at any time of the day!
This article is for you if you want to leave the sadness behind as soon as you can...
The do's at the end of a relationship
There are definite do's and don'ts when you want to get over someone and leave all that's happened behind. Most of these are about taking control and meeting your essential emotional needs in balance.
There are probably two scenarios that got you here...
... you were told "it's over" this week
... you've already separated and you think you should be - or can't - get over the breakup
In the case of the former, you need a little time to just 'be' and not do anything at all for another week or so (if at all possible). Definitely don't make any decisions about your future just yet.
If you have ended the relationship (you're likely to be further in the grieving process) or the break-up happened some time ago, here's what you can do to help yourself:
- Focus on yourself, if you've found yourself focused a great deal on your ex-partner or husband/wife. Or, if you've focused too much on yourself, turned inwards and stopped seeing friends and family - it's time to focus outwards and engage with their lives instead.
- Do all you can to build up your strength and self-esteem, most importantly by being kind and compassionate with yourself (see Related Articles at the end of this article). Self-hypnosis can dramatically speed up that process.
- Stop blaming - your ex and yourself. It's the one thing that's going to stop you being able to let go and move on. I know from experience that is much harder if you haven't been given the opportunity to 'spit it all out' and talk it over. Never having the opportunity to have a conversation about it may be harder to forgive than the reasons why your relationship or marriage ended and how it ended.
- Change your surroundings, move furniture, clear up, buy new sheets and pillows for your bed. This is your space (if indeed it is and you haven't had to move in with someone as a temporary solution)! It will help you gain a measure of control, and having a sense of control is one of our essential emotional needs (see related articles).
- Delete whatever and whoever needs to be deleted from your social media sites as much as you can, so as not to be confronted with your ex's to-ings and fro-ings at any time of the day.
- Remind your friends and family to keep your ex out of the conversation if possible. Ask them to be really sensitive when that can't be avoided (possibly because of your insistence that they tell you stuff!).
- Get professional help if you need to. No need to suffer in silence. Speak to one of our licensed online therapists.
Remember that by taking control and doing something to deal with the pain of an ending you're always going to feel better.
However, I do appreciate that after all that, you're left with a hole in your life for at least a while. And you know what? There's not much more you can do about that. It is what it is - a painful time in your life. You can help the process along though by sharing what you can with people who care about you.
I just want you to know that you will survive, once you've made the decision to. I'm going to help you along with a free worksheet. It's aimed at getting you looking after yourself and helping you to focus on the now (not on what was)...
This is a Bleeding Heart plant. Broken-hearted -
does it feel like your heart is bleeding?
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I can help you get over someone you love - regardless of the circumstances!
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What not to do when trying to get over a breakup
The following are perfectly understandable early on, but will impede your recovery in the long run. So here's what to remember...
10 Ways to avoid making it harder on yourself to get over someone you love
- Don't hold on to anger and resentment - it hurts only you. And just in case... regardless as to whether or not your ex was cheating - or doing anything else hugely upsetting - revenge doesn't work (it stuffs your lawyer's wallet though). You may feel bitter, but just remember that it makes healing much harder, and jeopardises your recovery. Can't let go? Get the help of a licensed therapist. It's easy to set up an online session. For further information see my page on online counselling.
- Don't spill the beans all over social media. The majority of your 'friends' don't really care - even if they do leave some kind messages (save for a few 'likes' of course). And, most concerning - the evidence of your unravelling and emotional spilling will be forever publicly recorded!
- Don't ask your friends what's going on with him or her after the break-up - focus on yourself. You need all the attention, don't give it away to your ex
- Don't continue to torture yourself by wearing his or her T-shirt in bed, or anywhere else, beyond the early days. I get that you may find it hard to sleep, so by all means wear it for a while, but long term it won't help you get over the grief.
- Don't contact him or her frequently - or at all - because you miss them so much and you just want to hear their voice. This will only prolong the agony!
- Don't agree to having sex with your ex for any reason whatsoever. Listen to the story you tell yourself when you're tempted - it's a false one!
- Don't hold on to reminders, such as jewellery, clothes, photos, etc - you get my drift. Hand back their possession as soon as possible (though be considerate of your children's feelings!). The rest you can ditch in stages - you don't have to do it all at once. Store them away where you have access to them. It's okay to look at them or hold them every now and then. You can let go of them completely when you're ready.
- Don't make it difficult for your children to love their other parent or carer by spewing your anger, distrust and pain in their presence.
- Don't expect to be over it when other people tell you it's time to move on. You will know yourself when you need to reach out for help because it's taken too long.
- Don't expect to forget him or her completely - they're part of your life's story. The pain attached to those memories is likely to lessen - depending on your attitude!
However much you're hurting now, you're going to have to rebuild your life and move on
Can you ever really forget someone?
We have an emotionally laden TV programme here in the Netherlands, which tells the story of people who have loved, lost touch, but never been able to forget.
I know many of my clients had secret memories of lost or unrequited love lurking under the weight of their relationship problems. They were often comparing past, often idealised, partners with their present one. Sometimes their partner or spouse could never match up to the person they had once lost their heart to, but they 'made do'.
Reasons for not being able to forget someone?
- It may have been their first ever love affair, with a bond so tight they'd thought they would never part
- It may have been a holiday romance and necessarily had to come to an end, yet they had idealised the object of their affection
- It may have been a sudden ending, without there ever have been an explanation or even a chance to ask questions. Their then boy- or girlfriend/partner or spouse may have suddenly disappeared off the face of the earth and they were forever left questioning themselves
In the programme, many a story of a break-up covers several elements of these. Endings were caused by critical and even forbidding parents, letters not posted or love letters received but never passed on. Break-ups were also caused by death, illness, accidents, etc.
The common pattern is that people are often left with what felt like a gaping hole in their experience and therefore their memory.
Interestingly, the person being sought doesn't even always remember the love-lorn searcher!
The answer to whether or not you can forget someone is to some extent determined by the strength of your feelings at the time. Also your gender has some impact on the memories. Women, on the whole, tend to have a better memory for emotionally laden experiences.
In any case... the programme makes it clear why some of these men and women had not been able to get over that break up. Being able to see each other again and getting the opportunity to explain, or perhaps apologise (some admit to having been mean!) is often very poignant. Their coming to terms with what happened and finally being able to leave it behind makes for compelling watching. Also, some took advantage of having a second chance and started to rebuild their relationship.
I wonder if you too are finding it difficult to let go, because of the kinds of events I've mentioned here.
However, if the ending of your relationship has happened relatively recently, you'll find my article How to Get over Someone more helpful.
Of course you can mourn the loss of a relationship for a time! But don't lose sight of what you have left and what you gained.
What to do if you can't get over someone
You may never be able to completely forget your ex. However, that doesn't mean that it will always feel as raw as it does shortly after the breakup. You may also have trouble forgetting the actual breakup, perhaps because it felt to you particularly unexpected and therefore traumatic.
You won't know how it's going to be for you in the future until you're at least a year on from the ending. Your recovery also depends on the strength and the length of that relationship, your character and emotional make-up, and previous as well as future relationships.
If it's been more than a year after your breakup and you feel you've made no progress at all - it's time to do something about it. The best way to go about it is to get some professional help. If you can't afford that, be sure to talk to someone in your own surroundings. It will have to be someone you've not spoken to before. Read my article on making sure you're getting trustworthy advice first to learn who best to talk to.
Know though, that the relationship - and its ending - will become part of your life-story. It'll include all your experiences (for as far as you remember them) - from the most glorious to the frankly disastrous. These experiences all come together to create the colourful handwoven tapestry of your life.
So rather than wanting to forget, adopt an attitude of wanting to preserve the beautiful, the interesting and the difficult times as a gift of experiencing and learning - of living a life.
I promise you, you will move on - even if there are parts that are more difficult to forget. You may find it becoming less painful with time. Or, you might manage to ditch the torment and emotional turmoil in a moment of clarity.
Either way, you'll still be you! You'll have the learnings from these life experiences forever more in your own personal toolkit. And you'll be free to move forward, in whichever direction you choose!
For more information, tips and advice on getting over someone, see also...
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The Human Givens
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Help Your Children Survive the Breakup
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