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My Complete Guide to Surviving a Break-Up

My 6-step guide to getting you over the ex that probably didn't deserve you in the first place.


I'm a dating coach, so I consider myself a pretty regular fly-on-the-wall in my client's dating (mis)adventures. That said, it's been a minute since I myself had a dating story - in fact, my long-term boyfriend and I just celebrated our 3-year anniversary earlier this week! (Time flies!)


So when I was asked to come up with three dating stories, I dug out my old journals, pulled up the Notes app on my Macbook, and started reading. Surely, somewhere in these pages - I would find my dating stories.


I did find them - and, once I did, I was intrigued to discover that two of the three lessons I'd selected were about breakups. I also realized (which is embarrassing) that back in the day, I'd basically turned navigating my breakups into a science - I had broken up with or been broken up with by so many people that I had created a system (my Enneagram 5-ness is showing, right?) out of what to do, how to weather the storm, and what I needed to emerge on the other side feeling better than before.


Breakups have a way of sealing important lessons in your mind - in fact, studies have shown that we tend to remember information better when we attach it to a painful memory - which is the reason why you can still remember that embarrassing moment from middle school, where you threw up from nervousness after asking Greg the team captain to go get milkshakes with you, but will forget about the assignment that your boss gave you unless you put it into your Google calendar [1].


For this reason, breakups can be a goldmine of information and potential lessons - if you're brave and patient enough to mine for their hidden treasure.


But - in order to get to the lessons, we need to get through the breakup first - and preferably, get through it in one piece.


What follows has been my own process to grieve and to work through past breakups, and it's the process I coach with my clients.



My process to coach clients through breakups (and my own tried-and-tested method of handling my own breakups back in the day):


1. Cut them off.


Go "no contact" for a period. In most cases, remaining in contact with an ex immediately after a breakup is going to be like twisting a broken arm - painful, and actively working against our healing. The point of a breakup is, literally, to detach. So - go forth and detach.


There will be plenty of time to rekindle your friendship later on if you're really invested in that happening.


2. Lean into your support network.


After a breakup is usually a time when we're craving connection; the intimacy that we formerly found in our relationship is now missing. To counteract this, lean into your existing support network: call your family, grab coffee with a friend, do a girl's night in, and spend time with your extended family - there's nothing like little nieces and nephews to keep you busy and your mind occupied.


Alternatively, if you get out of a relationship and realize that many of your friendships have atrophied, now is a great time to make new friends and breathe life into old connections.


3. Process your grief.


This one is critical.


FEELLLL YOUR FEELINGSSSS. Cry. Talk to a friend. Watch a sad movie buried under a heap of Kleenex and some ice cream. Journal. Get it all out. Feeling allllll of the feelings can suck, but without it, none of the other steps will work.


So put on some Taylor Swift, grab a box of Kleenex, and buckle up.


4. Practice self-compassion.


You just went through a breakup. Breakups are hard. It's okay to be sad.


It's also okay to cut yourself some slack - in any way that you need. Need a day off of work? This is me giving you permission to take a day off. Heading to bed early, with chocolate and a good rom-com? Permission granted. A bubble bath? Also excellent.


It can also be helpful to remember that your best form of self-care may look different depending on where you are in the grieving process - there may be times (like directly after the breakup) when self-care looks like extra chocolate, giving yourself a pass on working out, and screaming into a pillow.


There may be other times (like a few weeks post-breakup) when the things that feel the most supportive are going to bed early, being really regimented with your gym routine and not missing a day of journaling. Both gentleness and discipline can be nurturing - make use of both, and don't be afraid to slide back and forth between the poles depending on what you need right now.


5. Resist rumination.


I personally am a huge ruminator. After past breakups, I was the person who would call my friends, journal several times a day, talk to my mom, and scour the internet for blog posts and YouTube videos that might give me insight into my ex-relationship - for weeks.


Ruminating after a breakup is normal, but it can also be a way of staying stuck. I usually advise my clients to process their emotions, learn from their experience, and then find somewhere else to redirect their energy. Feel those feelings, journal as much as you need to, and take whatever lessons the breakup (and relationship!) had to teach you. Then - letttttt. Themmm. Gooooo. At least for a little while.


It can be tempting to re-read old text messages and rehash old conversations indefinitely, but after a certain point, it's only serving to keep you from moving forward.


I usually tell my clients to use the mantra "Reflect, then release" to interrupt when they recognize ruminating thought patterns.


6. Pursue goals.


If you've processed your feelings into the ground and are still plagued by intrusive thoughts (hiiiiii! meee!), I typically advise clients to put all of the energy that they would otherwise put towards thinking about their ex into a new goal. For example: read a book, practice a new instrument, learn French. Use that pent-up energy that you would otherwise use to think about your ex to move yourself forward instead of focusing on the past.


Now is the time to take up a new hobby, start a side hustle, or join a gym (and actually go!). We tend to have the most motivation to start a new habit during "transitional" periods of our lives, and these also tend to be the times when new habits are most likely to "stick" [2]. So - the idea for a new business that's been in the back of your mind, or the move you've been thinking about making, or the book you maybe want to write - now is a great time to start any of those things.


Just - maybe don't cut bangs.


It's the integration of past and future - processing the past, and taking intentional steps towards the future - that make our presents feel bearable and meaningful.


Where I most often see clients get "stuck" after a breakup is in only focusing on one or the other: either pitching a tent and setting up camp in thoughts of the past, or investing in their futures immediately and without acknowledging that they did just go through a breakup, and some amount of pain is inevitable.


Intentionally taking the space to honor our former relationships - the good and the bad - and then making steps to move our lives ahead - is what gives us hope. And, in the middle of a breakup - hope is what we really want, right? We want to hold onto the belief that our new tomorrow - if we play our cards right - can be better than today, and just as good - if not better - than the lives we imagined with our exes.






Footnotes:


[1] Brown, Roger and James Kulik. Flashbulb Memories.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/001002777790018X

[2] James Clear. Atomic Habits - somewhere in Chapter 2. I'll dig up the page number reference when I'm back from vacation.