If you have any experience in the realm of romantic relationships but have never gone through a breakup, you are a rare anomaly shielded from this type of pain. For everyone else, breakups are something of an inevitability, like shadows appearing wherever there is light to cast them.
Eventually, we manage to find someone with whom we can keep the shadows at bay indefinitely.
But the path to getting there varies from person to person in length and difficulty, and the breakups along the way – especially those that leave us with a broken heart, vary in the intensity of the pain they bring to our lives.
From the first breakup with someone you were only vaguely dating to a divorce that can only be described as nothing short of cataclysmic, and everything in between, getting over a breakup is something most of us have to go through in life, but don’t always know how.
The severing (or setting-on-fire) of a romantic bond can potentially be traumatic, and the process of going through it is similar to that of grieving. It is, at its core, the experiencing of loss, and the pain we feel in that loss is perfectly natural, normal and demands our attention.
If you’re trying to find out how to get over a breakup for guys or girls, the 9 steps below are for you. Keep in mind that these steps are interconnected, and each makes the other easier to take.
There is light at the end of this tunnel, but you need to move forward to get there.
1. Let your feelings be
The main drive behind the pain we feel after a breakup is the negative feelings and emotions that come with it. Those include sorrow, anger, fear, shock, confusion, resentment, anxiety, rejection, regret, and grief, among others.
These are unavoidable but should not be suppressed – they are essential for the grieving process to take its course. That process includes denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance, though their order often varies.
There is also no need to hurry. How long it takes to get over a breakup is a question to which the answer varies from person to person.
As difficult as it may be, it’s important to let yourself feel, recognize what you’re feeling, and actively express those feelings. This can take many forms, but a few, in particular, stand out.
The first is to talk about them with someone supportive, such as a close friend or family member, or as a part of breakup therapy (more on that later). Having someone to hear and accept our experience is valuable for us to understand that our feelings are normal.
And sometimes, when we talk, we learn things we wouldn’t otherwise.
The second is to write down your thoughts and feelings in the form of a journal. This helps when you don’t have someone to talk to at a moment of need, or if there are simply things you’re not ready to share with another person.
Whatever you feel – it is okay to feel it, and you won’t feel it forever.
2. Keep your distance
Be it a breakup you caused or one you had no real say in, there are certain things you should do to feel better, but if there’s one thing you shouldn't do, it is keeping your ex close.
Keeping your distance from them will help you grieve, and this distance manifests on three different levels: physical, cognitive, and emotional. Ideally, you should strive to keep it on all three.
On a physical level, it’s better for you to stop seeing them and definitely stop living under the same roof with them. Depending on the circumstances, this can be very easy or very difficult to accomplish.
For example, it may take some time for one of you to move out completely if you live together, and if you have children together – not interacting at all may not be the best solution. But the general rule of thumb remains unchanged: the more distance, the better.
On a cognitive level, it’s better for you to not ruminate about them by allowing them continuous presence in and control over your train of thought, your imagination, and your aspirations.
Examples include not thinking about whether they are with someone else right now (especially sexually), not daydreaming about how they will change their mind and things will work out, and not reliving the time you’ve had with them in your head.
This is not easy to do, but the idea here is not to remove them from your mind 100% but to do your best in keeping thoughts about them to a minimum and trying to avoid wallowing in the mental bog of negativity that your brain now associates with them.
On an emotional level, it means not relying on your ex for emotional support. When a person is a source of both pain and comfort, the dissonance works against the recovery, as the source of pain isn't going away but sticking around.
None of this is to say that a friendship cannot one day flourish between you too, but it’s better to leave that to the future – for when you have done your grieving, have emotionally stabilized, and are capable of calmly deciding on whether you want such a friendship or not.
3. Take care of yourself
When we feel bad, attending to our basic needs often drops in our priority list. After all, when we are full of negative thoughts and emotions, whether we have been drinking enough water today is the least of our concerns.
But, counter-intuitively, not taking care of your basic needs is going to worsen your already negative state of mind and keep it going for longer.
If you don’t exercise, your brain doesn’t release the endorphins that make you feel better. If you don’t eat and drink enough water, you don’t have sufficient energy to deal with the upheaval you are going through. If you don’t get enough sleep, getting through the day becomes extra difficult.
Of course, going through these things as though nothing happened is not a realistic expectation. Things did happen, and your approach to self-care needs to adapt accordingly.
For example, it’s common for people under duress to have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep. If that is the case for you, be mindful of that and make sure you are giving yourself enough time dedicated to sleeping – more so than usual.
If you find that you just aren’t hungry and cannot eat as much, or at all, make sure that you at least eat something, ideally something healthy and nutritious. If you don’t have enough energy or will to exercise as much as you normally do (or should), focus on doing less but still doing.
Another aspect of this adaptation is accepting that you’re not operating at full capacity. This means you may not be as productive at work, and certain things you normally do may require more time or energy to get done. Give yourself a break, and don’t expect too much of yourself.
Actively not neglecting your basic needs is a reminder that in spite of the breakup, you still matter. Your needs deserve being tended for, and the one to tend for them is the one who is always there for you: yourself.
4. Maintain a routine
One of the direct results of a breakup is the loss of stability. It’s as though the ground you were standing on crumbled away, and you fell down with it. It is very difficult to plan ahead when you have nothing to stand on.
This is why maintaining a routine, either an existing one or a newly created one, is so important. It carries with it a sense of stability and normalcy. If you are at point A, you know point B is next, and you know where point B is and how to get there. All you have to do is move forward.
Without a framework that organizes your time and how you spend it, you remain susceptible to the chaotic nature of life after a breakup. When life is chaotic, it’s extra difficult to take care of yourself, keep your distance from your ex, or be mindful of what you are feeling.
When free, purposeless time is abundant, your mind will always find time to ruminate about your ex and remind you of how awful things are.
The routine itself will vary from person to person and can be made of several different things. But the connective tissue is being stricter about when you do what: waking up, eating your meals, working, engaging with after-work activities, and going to sleep.
5. Indulge healthily
The strong desire to stay on your couch, eat lots of ice cream straight from the box, and binging on, well – anything, is one many are familiar with. It’s an expression of an attitude that says, “to hell with it, I’ll do whatever I want.”
And the truth is, there is honestly nothing wrong with that. Indulging yourself with things that can make you feel better, like sweets, comfort, and entertainment, is not an admission of defeat. Gaining a few pounds, if any, is a fine price to pay for that.
In fact, why stop there? Take a lazy bath with a glass of wine, chat with your friends, buy yourself something new that you don’t particularly need, and anything else that can be considered unproductive or extravagant. If it makes you feel better, why not do it?
This, of course, does not come without a caveat. Indulgence has its limits, and beyond those limits is the realm of addiction and dangerous, irresponsible behavior.
A glass of wine (or 2) is fine, but starting to drink every day is not. Lots of ice cream is fine, but constantly eating until you are bloated is not. Buying new things is fine, but spending all your savings or gambling excessively is not. Trying new things is fine, but getting into drugs is not.
In a nutshell, feel free to indulge but do so mindfully. Consider how much is enough, and don’t let a free-spirited mindset become reckless abandon.
In other words, how to deal with heartbreak allows you to exercise your freedom, but please do so responsibly.
6. Don’t generalize
It’s not uncommon to extend the scope of your negative feelings to go beyond your ex and your relationship with them.
It might appear that it isn’t just that they were a jerk, but that all men/women are jerks, or that it’s not that this relationship didn’t work, but that all relationships are bound to fall apart.
Words like “all,” “none,” “never,” and “always” are rarely realistic when talking about things as complex and intricate as human relationships. They are just a way for our brain to put the same tag on everything so it’s easier to categorize.
Recognizing that you are seeing certain aspects of the world through the lens of your experience (which, again, is not particularly positive after a breakup) requires a certain amount of mindfulness and discipline, but doing so is very worthwhile.
When it isn’t the entire world, everyone in it, and all relationships that are bound to hurt us, our experience with our ex is put in perspective. It’s only one person and one relationship. Not more.
How to overcome heartbreak gets harder when we generalize but becomes more manageable when we don’t.
7. Let pain teach you
Pain is a teacher, and one of the best teachers at that. But like any teacher, it can do its job better if you come prepared and willing to learn from it. When you do, there is much to be learned from going through a breakup, so get yourself a pen and some paper.
Consider what happened in that relationship. What are things either and both of you did that you believe led to its ending? What are the things that hurt you the most? What are things you don’t like about your ex and that your future partners ideally won’t be like?
These are the sort of questions you should give yourself time to answer. In addition, focusing on the positive aspects of the breakup, such as being freer or on the negative aspects of your ex, can make you feel better overall.
Importantly, be careful not to fall into the trap of blaming yourself over things you did or didn’t do. Yes, there’s always room for improvement, and in hindsight, some things could have been done differently, but the goal is to simply be aware of what happened and how that can better inform your future relationships and decisions thereof.
It is not a coincidence that the ground around a volcano is often very fertile some time after the eruption calms down. By learning through pain, you give yourself an opportunity to grow better and to mature as a giver and receiver of love.
8. Safeguard yourself from depression
There is a non-zero amount of overlap between what you may experience after a breakup and the symptoms of depression. The intensity of that experience and how long it lasts are often the dividing factors between the two.
Normally, people going through a breakup need time to process what happened, recover from it, and adapt to their new life circumstances. This can take several weeks to several months, but within that period of time, your emotional state improves bit by bit.
When your emotional state does not improve with time, or worse – it worsens, that is a cause for concern. In this case, there are several different things you should try in order to deal with depression, with reaching out to professional help, such as online therapy, being key among them.
The best advice is simply to be mindful of your experience and your mental state, note whether it is getting better, worse, or neither, and be willing to seek help with breakup therapy.
9. Try online therapy for breakup
It may be easy to think that talking to a therapist is something you should do only if you get really depressed and can’t seem to deal with it on your own.
It may also be easy to think that since breakups are something most people deal with at some point (or, more realistically, points) in life, there’s no need to start therapy to find out how to get over a breakup.
The reality, however, is that that therapy shouldn’t be reserved for extreme cases only. Breakup therapy can not only help maintain the previous 8 steps but also make them more effective through support, feedback, and guidance.
Online therapy for breakup is very good for that. Since online therapy is faster to start, you spend less time inside your own head without external support. It’s also more affordable, which is always a plus!
If you are going through a difficult time thinking how to get over a breakup with someone you love, don’t try to shoulder it all by yourself. There’s no shame in reaching out for help with online counseling. At DoMental, our therapists are always ready and willing to help you. All you have to do is ask.