Breakups usually aren’t easy, whether your ex-partner ended the relationship or you did. Reminiscing about the happy moments during your time together can make the breakup hard to get past.
Whatever you’re feeling right now is normal, though — whether that’s loneliness, humiliation, rejection, disconnection, disappointment, or even relief.
To help you better navigate the healing process, we’ll explain why heartbreak is happening in the first place. We’ll also review some tips on how to move past it.
What causes heartbreak when a relationship ends?
Dana Bottari, LCSW, a psychotherapist based in Florida, says that at the start of a relationship, our thoughts tend to be happy and uplifting. “We may have felt good about ourselves — thoughts about the time our ex commented that we were beautiful or handsome or how much they loved us,” she says.
However, when the relationship ends, your thoughts may be mixed. “We have the positive messages that were given by our ex, combined with perhaps our own judgmental thoughts that we are not good enough or thoughts that things never work out for us,” explains Bottari.
Thoughts affect feelings, and feelings affect actions, she says. When you’re feeling down, you may engage in behaviors you typically don’t. For example, you may skip showering or avoid getting together with friends and family. “We may now feel more alone than ever,” Bottari says.
Gina Moffa, LCSW, a psychotherapist based in New York City, adds that the details and circumstances of a breakup determine how you feel.
“If you feel you’re leaving someone in a painful place after you end it, you may be ridden with guilt and sadness. If you’re the one who’s been broken up with, you may be in a state of shock and go through different phases of grief, including anger, bargaining, depression, and anxiety,” explains Moffa.
Tips for healing a broken heart
As you cope with the loss of a relationship, these tips may help you on your journey to healing.
1. Take time to grieve
If possible, try to think of the loss of the relationship as a grieving process.
“Give yourself time. Do not try to find someone new right away,” says Bottari. “The best thing we can do is to try to honor our emotions and not judge our emotions.”
To validate your emotions, it may help you to reframe your thoughts. Instead of thinking, “I shouldn’t feel so sad,” Bottari recommends thinking, “I am experiencing feelings of sadness, and that’s OK.”
While some people take time to be alone, look inward, or see a therapist to work through the complicated emotions of a breakup, others may suppress painful feelings and jump into another relationship. “I don’t recommend that. We need time to heal what’s been shattered,” says Moffa.
“We need time to look within and take inventory of what patterns we may have taken into the relationship with us that no longer work. We need to tend to our wounded hearts and take the time to allow the healing to happen with time, care, gentleness, and deeper self-understanding,” she says.
2. Find a new source of joy
When you make time for self-inquiry and self-reconnection, Moffa says that this can lead to connection with what may have once brought you peace, joy, or inspiration but was put on hold during your relationship.
“We may be more open to saying ‘yes’ to new things, people, and experiences as a way to explore a newfound sense of freedom, even if it hurts,” she says.
Bottari suggests pushing yourself to do things, even when you don’t feel like it. “Chances are, even after meeting a friend for lunch, you arrive home feeling better than had you stayed home,” she says.
3. Make a list of what you like about yourself
When you are feeling low about yourself, consider making a list of all the good things you did for your past partner or all the qualities they liked about you — and the qualities you like about yourself.
For example, you might write a self-love list like this:
- I made him coffee in the morning.
- I picked her up from the train station when it rained.
- I put on her favorite song when she was sad.
- I reminded him about his dad’s birthday.
You may also find it helpful to write out a list of positive things you’ll do in future relationships.
If you’d rather not think about relationships, Bottari suggests searching the internet for self-affirmations that resonate with you, such as:
- I am not my mistakes.
- I am enough.
- There is no wrong decision.
“Recite these when you are having negative or self-defeating thoughts,” Bottari says.
4. Acknowledge thoughts about your former partner
When thoughts of your ex arise, try not to stop or block them. Instead, Bottari says, practice being a “witness” to these thoughts. When the thoughts come up, take a step back and acknowledge them.
“You know you are experiencing them; they are passing through your mind. You observe them. You practice observing and letting them go,” she explains.
“The minute you pay attention to one and label it as something ‘important,’ you are no longer witnessing them. You are now judging them. Judging brings more negative emotions since your expectations were not met.”
5. Express your needs to others
If you’re not feeling up to meeting friends out or are having a hard time following through on commitments, try to share your feelings with others.
“Try to reconsider your needs at this time and let others know what you are dealing with,” says Bottari. “Many people have felt the same way and will understand that you might need some time to return to your normal state.”
6. Turn your attention toward others
When the pain of a breakup is too hard to bear, you may find that focusing on the needs of others can help bring feelings of wellbeing and distract you from focusing on yourself, explains Bottari.
Consider volunteering at a local soup kitchen or animal shelter, helping a friend in need with meals or cleaning, or cutting a neighbor’s grass.
7. Allow emotions to flow
You may find it helpful to talk to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist about emotions related to your breakup or ex-partner.
If you’re not comfortable sharing all of your feelings, consider writing them down or meditating on them. You can also engage in another project, such as painting, that may help you release what’s on your mind.
8. Find relief in exercise and movement
Research shows that exercise can reduce stress. “Use exercise as a healthy outlet to manage feelings of anxiety, sadness, lethargy, and stress,” Bottari says.
A daily walk, bike ride, or online workout video are ways to work exercise into your daily routine when you’re feeling sad or stressed about the breakup.
9. Avoid activities that remind you of your ex
If you continue to feel overwhelmed by unwanted thoughts and emotions, consider staying away from places, music, and people who remind you of your ex for a little while.
“Try to go places that make you feel safe. Surround yourself with people that care about you. Go places that you have never been. Take a day trip and explore,” suggests Bottari.
10. Make meaning of the breakup
If possible, try to make meaning of the relationship ending, or accept that there’s no meaning to why it ended.
“Over time, you may come to realize that the end of your relationship was ultimately in your best interest. However, it is possible that you might not be able to find any positive in the relationship ending. Both are valid conclusions. Try to have faith and keep moving forward,” says Bottari.
A breakup can leave you feeling sad and alone, no matter who decided to split up. Cycling through a variety of feelings after a breakup is normal, especially if it was unexpected.
“We forget that we are meant to grow and change and learn. That doesn’t always happen at the same time or in the same way in a relationship,” says Moffa.
“Sometimes, one person changes and the other doesn’t. So, be gentle with yourself. You’re changing and growing and healing. We can’t do that all by force.”
Remember, it’s OK to not feel OK for a while. Give yourself time to process the loss of the relationship and practice self-compassion.