How to Get Over a Breakup In 10 Steps, According to a Therapist
DEAR DR. JENN,
It was rainbows and unicorns until it wasn't. After three years, my boyfriend broke up with me (I'm not 'the one', apparently) and I don't know how to pick up the pieces and move on. Where do I start? What should I do? —Broken Hearted
DEAR BROKEN HEART,
Breakups suck. There is no way around the pain. You can try to drink, shop, and eat Ben & Jerry's all you want... but that only postpones the pain. Unfortunately, you have to go through it, not around it. Anything else just elongates the suffering.
There are, however, some things you can do to expedite the healing process. Here's how to get over a breakup in 10 steps.
1. Go cold turkey.
Let's get this out of the way: Do not have any contact with your ex. I appreciate that many couples aspire to be friends after a breakup and some can, just not right away. You need some time and space to let go. The most important developmental task you must accomplish after a breakup is letting go. Meeting your ex for lunch is going to mess with that process. Metaphorically, your breakup made you bleed. You need a scab to form so you can heal. Every time you have contact — email, text message, FaceTime, a phone call, seeing him in person, getting a message from a carrier pigeon — it tears off the scab and you bleed again. This slows down your healing.
2. Let yourself grieve.
The stages of grief and loss apply to the death of a relationship. They are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. And contrary to popular belief, you don't complete one and then graduate to the next. You can alternate between one or more of them in a short period of time. Give yourself the room to feel your feelings and to process them.
3. Utilize your support system.
Breakups are always painful, but pandemic breakups are particularly rough since many of us can't see family and friends. Still, this is not the time to put on a brave face and pretend like everything is fine. This is the time to reach out to the people that love you and support you and let them be a shoulder to cry on. Find a balance between keeping yourself safe while not being totally isolated — this is the worst thing to do after a breakup. Whether it's on Zoom or in person at a safe distance, allow your friends and family to distract and support you.
4. Focus on self-care.
When we sit on the couch eating comfort foods, not showering, and wearing the same ratty sweats for days on end it has a serious impact on our mental health. Sure, you may need a day or two like that, but taking care of yourself (with basic hygiene, but also eating well and moving your body a little each day) is important, even if you don't feel like it. Sure, the post-break-up glow-up is the best revenge but more importantly, it sends your unconscious a message that you are worth taking care of and it helps you to feel more together.
5. Throw yourself into something productive.
In between grieving (and during), take on some escape projects. There's no better time than now to turn your closet into something that looks like it belongs on The Home Edit Instagram, start writing that book you have always wanted to write, or start an exercise program. Finding some healthy escapes that make you feel fulfilled will go a long way in helping you get over your breakup.
6. Change up your space.
If your space reminds you of the ex (or you just need a change), use this post-breakup period to switch it up. Burn sage, get new sheets, move the furniture, redecorate. Whatever it is, do something to change the vibe of your home that makes you happy (like painting your walls a color your ex would hate).
7. Try some bibliotherapy.
At this point, you've probably spent a lot of time hating on your ex and focusing on his shortcomings. But now's the time to read some books about breakups and own your part of what didn't work in the relationship. Taking the time to get to know yourself will only help you have a healthier relationship next time. It's also important to read about how you're family history impacts your choice of partners so you can pick someone better suited for you the next time around.
8. Take some time off of dating.
Sometimes it can be helpful to take some time away from dating to remind yourself that you are okay on your own. When we don't know that we can stand on our own two feet without a partner, we tend to put up with stuff in a relationship that we shouldn't. Taking a dating detox can help you reevaluate your dating patterns and focus on yourself.
9. Consider therapy.
If you are finding that you are just not able to move forward, get help. There's no shame in seeking out a professional who can help shift your perspective and work through this crappy time in a healthy way. If money is an issue, keep in mind that there are low-fee mental health clinics all around this country that will see you based on your ability to pay.
10. Let go.
Stop checking your ex's social media and looking at old photos on your camera roll (and put away the framed ones in your house). Don't ask your mutual friends how they're doing (and if they're offering it up without you asking, tell them not to.) Don't look for "closure." Most people don't get it from their ex; closure comes from within you by doing the grieving work necessary for getting over a breakup.
You can get through this. And, when you get to the other side, you will have more clarity and strength than you expect.
In Hump Day, award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sex and relationship questions — unjudged and unfiltered.