The Grown-Ass Way to Get Over a Break-Up
Just "getting over it" isn't helpful advice, and doesn't validate the grieving process
Maybe it's the idea of "getting over" it that bothers me so much. "Getting over a break-up" makes it sound like lost love - along with all the dreams for the future that came with that romance - is something you can sidestep, like an inconvenient sidewalk puddle.
I don't think that's how emotional life works, neither does Robert Frost ("The only way out is through") and neither does Shelby Forsythia, who hosts the podcast, Coming Back: Conversations on life after loss. As bad as our society may be at mourning death, she says, we're even worse at mourning lost love.
"With breakups, little societal sympathy is given to mourning what was, what is, and what has changed about the future," she wrote on Medium. "'Moving on' is seen as healthy," she notes, when what we need may be staying put.
"We need to honor our breakups," Forsythia advises. "We need to honor our breakups, not just in the moments they happen, but as they continue to impact our lives."
This requires reframing the end of a relationship. Rather than an event you "get over," the very real loss of love is, like grief, a process to be lived through. It can't be rushed, and it has its own timeline.
"Let's soften our post-breakup focus on moving on, cutting ties, being 'done,'" she suggests. "Let's shift our focus to acknowledging new realities, listening to pain, and simply being there."
Here we offer some ideas on just how to do that for yourself with kindness.
Feel the Feelings
Instead of trying to feel better, give yourself permission to feel the way you feel. The experts say it's okay, too.
"It's okay to stay in bed," says clinical psychologist Suzanne Lachmann, PsyD. "It's okay to take a few days off from work (if you can). It's okay to lie there and stare at the ceiling while time ticks by painfully slowly. It's a colossal loss and must be understood as such. Your whole life has just changed."
Give yourself permission to take some couch time to process
The idea is not to think yourself into a resolution or clarity as to "why" this happened, she says. It's just to be—a challenge for all of us used to focusing on "doing."
"Work on feeling your way through your pain, one breath at a time, one second at a time," she says.
Luxuriate In Good Self-Care
You might not have the energy for your 6AM kickboxing class right now. Hell, you might not even be able to make it to 6PM candlelit yoga. Whatever you are able to do for yourself, do it with kindness.
"Breakups take an emotional toll, but the effects can also be felt physically," therapist John Sovec said. "Even if you don't feel up to more than a long, leisurely walk, simple movement can improve your mood and have a positive impact on your body and mind."
Take the time to care for yourself - even if it's just stretching on your balcony
As your energy improves and your mood lifts—and it will—indulge yourself in meaningful ways, with a hike that offers a great view, a bouquet of daffodils, and maybe even that kickboxing class that makes you feel like the force of nature you are. Think of it as dating yourself: giving yourself all the love, affection, and attention you've ever wanted from a partner.
These treats, outings and adventures devised solely for yourself "can help you see how it is possible to create your own joy," Sovec added.
Write It Out
Your journal can be a judgement-free zone to process your honest emotions about the relationship and the breakup—what you loved about it, what you learned, and what you long for. You can also address the person who is on your mind, perhaps even writing a letter to your ex.
"The letter is an an opportunity to really say goodbye, as well as say all the things you never said or wished you had said," Olubukonla Kolawole, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in New York City told Refinery29. "Write it as if you won't be sending it so you can just write freely and take your time. But more importantly, let yourself feel your feelings as you write the letter. Let yourself grieve the relationship and feel sadness, anger, gratitude and whatever else comes up."
If you do decide to send it, remind yourself this is not an opportunity to get something from your ex, Kolawole said. Let it go expecting nothing in return, like a bird flying from your hands.
And if all of this sounds like we're encouraging you to handle epic, post-breakup wallowing with super-soft kid gloves, consider that science backs the gentle, reflective approach to "moving on."
Research suggests that "dwelling" on a breakup actually speeds our emotional recovery, with those who reflected on the relationship reporting lower levels of loneliness nine weeks later; what's more, in that time they had developed "a clear, independent sense of self."
If you allow yourself the time to mourn, you may come out the other side "a wiser, deeper, stronger and more resilient version of yourself," said Lachmann. "If you choose, this process will allow you to make room to co-create a fulfilling, reciprocal relationship in the future, even if you can't believe that just yet."