Breakups suck. They might even be some of the worst things you’ll experience in your lifetime. They’re painful and full of related stresses like financial instability, custody battles (kids and/or pets), having to move, or potentially losing your best friend. Getting through a breakup is hard and may seem like a never-ending endeavor, but the pain will be manageable in time. As someone recently out of not one but two (ethically non-monogamous) relationships, here’s my advice for dealing with a broken heart.
1) Survive the Worst of It
The first few days are going to hurt the most. They’re going to seem impossible at times. In some cases, you may even be sharing a home and suddenly looking at everything you own together and feeling that heartbreak all over again. (Seriously, I cried over shared kitchen utensils and shampoo bottles in the first few days because while you’re in this period, everything reminds you of them.) The most important thing to remember during this time is that you will get through it. The pain may linger for a while, but it will get easier in time–sometimes in just a few days. Until then, you are in survival mode.
Do whatever you need to do in this time without guilt. Call out of work if you need to grieve. Give yourself time to cry and get your emotions out in the open. Write in a journal or reach out on social media for support. Talk about what you’re feeling with friends, family, or a therapist. If you’re afraid you might hurt yourself, don’t hesitate to contact a suicide hotline.
During this time, people can be incredibly dysfunctional. Breakups can trigger manic, depressive, or psychotic episodes in people with mental illness, so it’s especially important to take care of yourself in this time. If you’re having trouble taking care of yourself, try writing down a plan of action or using your phone to set reminders. I personally found it useful to set alarms for my medications and every few hours to remind me to hydrate and eat food if necessary. If you have problems self-motivating, trying reaching out to a friend who can text you reminders or check in with you throughout the day.
Now is an important time to practice those self-care skills. Focus on keeping a positive mind as best you can. Put on relaxing music and let yourself take naps with a big, fuzzy blanket. If you have a pet, spend some time cuddled up with them. (If you don’t have one of your own, playing with pets at your local shelter or pet store counts, too.) Motivate yourself to stay on top of hygiene by treating yourself to a bath bomb or face mask when you bathe. Make any necessary therapy or doctors appointments and make sure to show up. Masturbate, if you’re able to. (It’s not uncommon for masturbating to trigger some emotion after a breakup. If it’s too much for you that’s fine. Give yourself time. But for those who can, it releases a ton of endorphins that can help you feel better.)
The most important thing right now is to take care of your body and mind.
3) Stay Busy
The next step is keeping busy. Distractions during this time are important to keep you active without dwelling too much on negative emotions. Focus on things you like, such as a new video game or binging some Netflix. However, being productive after a breakup is also a really big deal. Reconnect with an old friend. Get some writing done. Make sure you’re up to speed on your work assignments. Empty your inbox. Volunteer. Try a new recipe. Go to the gym.
Use this period as a way to transition yourself back to everyday life. Get yourself back on track to where you need to be. Staying physically active is important, as is your social life. Involve yourself in tasks that make you happy and keep you motivated to move on from this emotional event.
4) Deal with the Details
Once you find yourself on solid ground again, you can deal with the details of this breakup. If you’re living with your ex, decide where to go from here. Sort out a new living situation, and talk to your landlord about the lease to see if there’s anything they can do for you. Find temporary housing if you’re unable to stay in your current home.
If you weren’t living together but still spent a lot of time in each other’s homes, you should be gathering personal effects to exchange. Having a basic level of respect for each other is important, even in situations where the breakup may not be amicable. Even if emotions are high, you should try to be mature about the situation as best you can. (Also keep in mind that destroying someone’s property can lead to legal issues!)
If your living situation is affected by the breakup, take this opportunity to purge your possessions of unwanted reminders. You can keep sentimental things by all means, but if they don’t serve a healthy purpose, don’t be afraid to get rid of them. (Take a word of advice from Marie Kondo and only keep things that “spark joy.”)
In cases where children or pets are involved, figure out a plan for custody. Having to give up a cherished pet in the process of a breakup is not an easy task, but is sometimes necessary. Again, try to address your needs in a mature fashion to come up with a compromise or arrangement that works best for both of you.
Obviously, if children are involved or you’re going through a divorce, those have their own legal processes. Get in contact with a lawyer and figure out your rights to find the best way to proceed in this situation.
5) Maintaining a Friendship (Optional)
Not all relationships are going to end on a positive note and it isn’t necessary in the least to maintain a friendship with your ex. However, if this is a step you both want to take, it can be very healing. One or both of you may need some time before this process actually begins. Time-frames for this step, as well as all others, are relative. Both parties need to be prepared to make an effort for this step to work.
Communicating openly about the relationship and the problems within it is important. There needs to be a mutual understanding between you both to move forward with a new kind of relationship. It’s absolutely possible that you’ll work better as friends, but you should also be prepared for the chance that a friendship might not be ideal.
Give it time–and if you’re still living together, space. Once you’re both in a stable mindset, you can begin to move on from the relationship. Do your best to support each other’s individual healing process by offering to discuss your feelings, but be respectful of each other’s comfort level. Make sure you both want to move onto a friendship. In cases where emotions are high, it may not be healthy for one or both of you and that’s perfectly acceptable. Moving on to friendship, in this case, is an all or nothing decision. It may change down the line, but you both need to want it for it to work.
What kinds of things have helped you during a breakup? Is there any part of your own process that may be useful for someone else to hear? Feel free to share your thoughts!