Research shows that recovering from a romantic relationship looks a lot like recovery from addiction. Did you get that? It’s important! Try reading it again: Research shows that recovering from a romantic relationship looks a lot like recovery from addiction. Relationships are powerful stuff. They propel our brain in amazing ways. And you may know all too well how good it can feel when things are fine, and how terrible it is when things are not. The brain and heart go through something that looks a lot like withdrawal after a break up. So it comes as no surprise that walking away from a relationship can be one of the hardest things you ever do. But if once you’ve passed the point of no return in a relationship, there are important steps to take to help with your healing. Today, I’ve included some ideas about ways to recover from a relationship break up—and while this list can be very useful for romantic relationships, it works for any kind, including failed friendships, estrangement from toxic family members, etc. As with all the content I offer here, this isn’t designed to be a substitute for therapy. If you’re struggling in the throes of a bad break up, see about getting some professional help.
FIRST: STOP CONTACT The first and possibly hardest step of all. This means you need to stop rehashing why you broke up via chats, texts, and emails with your ex. It means you need to stop trying to be friends right after the break up. It means you need to block or de-friend them on Facebook. As tempting as it is to return to this relationship seeking comfort and closure about why it ended, you aren’t going to find it there.
If anything, those conversations will leave you feeling more lost and hurt than you were before. Does this mean you aren’t entitled to a final conversation as you part ways? No, of course not. But chances are good you’ve already had that conversation—possibly several times. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that this person can or will support you in the aftermath of the break up. While they may have been a primary source of support in your life beforehand, they can’t be now. It can be hard to let go of that habit. How long does this need to last? Some say it needs to last as long as you’re asking that question of yourself—it suggests you’re still quite attached and waiting for reunion. Some say that a full detox needs to last a minimum of a full eight weeks of no contact—and that includes seeing the person, their picture, exchanging texts, emails, or conversation of any kind—even smelling them. It’s a detox. That means not even a little bit. And if you slip up? Start the counter over, because your brain’s confused and thinks this person is back in your life for good. SECOND: GET RID OF REMINDERS Remove everything in your life that reminds you of this person. If you want to keep some mementos from the relationship for future reference, consider asking a friend to safeguard this box for you. Or, put it out of reach some other way. That way, you won’t be tempted to dig it up at an inopportune moment and flood yourself with memory and feeling you aren’t prepared for yet.
It may help, if you choose to donate certain things, to think about the happiness those possessions may bring to someone else who is unattached to them at present.
THIRD: FIND AND GET SUPPORT This means avoiding contact with people in your life who thrive on misery and hardship (yours or theirs). Of course, it also means bringing people nearer who are invested in your happiness and can be supportive in healthy ways. This is a good thing to do any time in your life, but it’s especially important in the aftermath of a break up. You may consider seeking a therapist for support through the break up, depending on how much of a hardship it is. Be extra picky about who is in your world after a break up. You aren’t going to have much emotional bandwidth left over for relationships that are depleting.
FOURTH: GO AT YOUR OWN PACE After a break up, you may find yourself feeling reluctant to reach out. Recovery from a break up is a very personal thing—it is important to go at your own pace. If you have reservations about your choices, or if it seems to others you are avoiding intimacy make sure you take the time to reflect. You may find you need a longer period of time to recover from certain relationships. It may not always make sense why some are harder to recover from than others.
The main point is that you give yourself recovery time in the aftermath of a breakup. If you don’t you may find those unresolved feelings emerging in your life and future relationships in problematic ways.
FIFTH: HEALING THE HEART There is no one size fits all recovery process, but these principles are designed to give you the space you need to start over. Finding that space is often the most difficult part of the recovery process, because it is so natural to seek comfort and contact with a person who was once an important part of your life. Even after a break up, that person remains an important part of your life—and in order to honor the depth of that relationship, you need to give yourself the time and space you need to heal.