I’ve been through some rough breakups, and one in particular left me reeling, the pain overtaking me. I remember driving in the California sun, a brilliant day in the middle of spring, and I couldn’t see the blue sky. To me, everything looked gray. I could barely coax myself out of bed in the morning, let alone see how things could possibly get better.
It didn’t help that I lost my job around the same time as my boyfriend broke up with me. I felt useless, tired, and unwanted. My friends were supportive and invited me out, hoping that I would find some distraction in hooking up with a hot guy. But honestly, the last thing I felt like doing was trying to meet someone new.
But in time, I did find myself in a much better place, not only over my heartbreak (and with a new job), but stronger and more confident than ever. It took some effort on my part, but step by step, I moved forward.
To get a better handle on what to expect if you’re going through a break-up, here’s a breakdown of the emotional stages, and what to do:
Phase 1: Go Through The Pain and Devastation
You might feel blindsided by a breakup, or you might have felt it coming for months. Regardless, the pain is the same, and it’s okay to grieve for the loss of your relationship. Take some time, gather friends and family around you, listen to music – whatever brings you comfort. Don’t ignore your feelings, accept them so you can process the pain.
Don’t get stuck in your pain by trying to avoid it. Confronting and accepting it is the only way to move forward with your life.
Phase 2: Wondering What You Did Wrong
There’s no doubt that in the early stages of a breakup we look for ways that we might have alienated our partners. You might think: maybe I wasn’t pretty/smart/successful/talented/ fill-in-the-blank enough. It’s time to stop the self-blame; it not only is faulty thinking, it gets you nowhere fast and it takes your confidence along with it. You are enough, period. The two of you together might not be right for each other, but that doesn’t mean that you are somehow lacking. Let go of self-judgment. Remind yourself of who you are and the wonderful things that you do – and if you need help, ask a friend to remind you!
Phase 3: Denial/ Wanting to Get Back Together
This goes along with self-blame. When you think things like: If only I had done…, then we’d be back together, you are setting unrealistic expectations for yourself. You are also looking back on a skewed version of the relationship with rose-colored goggles. Relationships have amazing moments, but they also have challenges, so don’t reconstruct history. Instead of trying to win him back with some elusive tactic, thinking that things will be perfect this time around, it’s time to seriously ask yourself: What do I really want? What did I not get from this relationship? Chances are, there are reasons to let the relationship go.
Phase 4: Anger and Play the Blame Game
Not long after you’ve shed your last tear, you might feel anger. Maybe you are keeping a running list of all of the ways you’ve been wronged by your ex. Unfortunately, this blame game isn’t helpful. You might fantasize about calling him and explaining why he’s such a jerk, but you’re really only hurting yourself. The blame game keeps us caught in a vicious cycle of holding onto our pain, exacerbating our wounds, and prevents us from moving on. Instead of looking for justice or even some type of closure you may never get, make a decision to accept who your ex is and what he is and isn’t capable of. His actions don’t have to set the course for your life. By the same token, be realistic about your part in the relationship’s end. Were you holding back emotionally? What could you improve upon in your next relationship? We all have room to grow.
Phase 5: Letting go
Far too often, we become attached to the relationship, so when it ends, we are left with a void. We wander past that bar we used to frequent, or take the dog for a walk in the park as we’d done countless Sundays before. Instead of giving in to nostalgia, try doing something new. Establish your own routine. Get coffee on Fridays with a friend at your local cafe, or join a yoga class on Wednesday nights. It doesn’t matter what the new habit is, or even how long you maintain it. The important thing to note is by establishing your own routine, you are letting go of the reminders of your ex, and it will be much easier to let him/ her go.
Breakups are painful, but they also shape us. When we take time to process the pain, we emerge stronger and more open to future love. It’s important to take a good, hard look at our own behavior and what we could do differently, but also to let go of expectations of what we could have done differently. When we accept the old relationship for what it is, we can move on to a healthier, happier relationship.