As the song goes, “breaking up is hard to do.” It’s especially difficult when you’ve been in a relationship with the same person for a long time. Your partner becomes a part of you after a long stretch together, and it can be challenging to picture your future without them in it.
Trying to understand a single life after the end of a long-term relationship is one of the hardest parts of the process. You might not even remember what it’s like to be single, depending on how long you and your partner were together. We know what it’s like to go through this kind of life-altering breakup, so we’ve put together some tips and tricks to help you to be single again.
Why Do Some of Us Take Breakups So Hard?
There are many facets to the question of how to be single after a long relationship. One of the factors that will make a difference in which tips and tricks work for you is how hard you take breakups in the first place. Some of us take them much harder than others, and psychologists have studied why that happens.
How Immersed Do You Become in Your Partner’s Life?
For starters, all romantic relationships have a degree of immersion into another person’s interests, activities, and even identity. For some of us, this overlap happens more quickly than others, and it can also happen more deeply. We can sometimes get lost in our partner’s traits and lifestyle while all but forfeiting our own.
To some degree, the immersion into another person’s life can be a good thing. It often broadens our horizons and can expose us to a worldview that is beyond our own. Unfortunately, it’s easy for this process to go too far as well because we can start to mistake our partner’s traits and interests for our own.
In cases where we begin to forget who we are, breakups can feel more like a loss of self than the mere loss of a partner. Some psychologists believe that the breakups within relationships where the partners felt they grew the most resulted in a loss of self or damage to our self-image that was more prominent than other relationships.
If a breakup makes you question your self worth or who you are, then you are more likely to take that breakup hard and to remember it for a prolonged period. Essentially, if you feel like you learned something negative about yourself from a relationship, it can wind up hurting you deeply and for years to come.
Individuals who can separate the rejection within a breakup from who they are, tend to have an easier time moving on afterward. These individuals often feel like they were able to learn from the past relationship or felt like they didn’t become so entangled in their partner’s identity.
One of the things that can separate the type of people who take rejection hard and those who do not is their fundamental beliefs about personality traits. Those individuals who believe that personality is a fixed thing often separate themselves from any negative thoughts during a breakup, where those who believe personality is a changing thing took breakups personally.
Breakups Can Seem Like Physical Pain to Your Brain
Believe it or not, your brain often prioritizes thinking about a past relationship immediately after a breakup in the same way it focuses on your physical pain after an injury. Scientists have conducted experiments in which they discovered that your brain lights up the same areas when you look at a picture or think about a recent ex as when a hot probe physically hurts you.
There is some disagreement among scientists as to whether our brain actually sees emotional pain as the same thing as physical or it just sees both things as important to pay attention to. In either case, the reason could be primal, since our ancestors would’ve seen both physical pain and rejection as reducing their chances of survival.
Humans are pack animals, and a rejection could’ve meant separation from the pack to our ancestors. That separation would likely lead to safety concerns and a lowered ability to find food and erect shelter. All of these components mean that we may have evolved to believe that emotional rejections like breakups are dangerous and, therefore, vital to focus on.
Love Can be an Addiction
Another reason why breakups are harder on some individuals is that love can have addictive properties. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that the brain releases in the body during both addiction and the early stages of love. Early love is often referred to as obsessive because we are often experiencing an infatuation with learning about and being with our new partners.
Because of the role of dopamine in love, we can sometimes feel “cravings” for our ex in a way that would be similar to a drug addict or alcoholic craving a fix. In studies, the parts of the brain that indicate these types of behaviors light up whether a person is happy in their relationship or has recently experienced a breakup.
Individuals who are prone to addiction of all kinds can find themselves having a more difficult time with a breakup due to dopamine production. So it might be biology that is holding you back from moving on more than your personality or past traumas.
Attachment Styles Are a Culprit
You may remember the term “attachment style” from a high school psychology class, self-help books, or even parenting guides. Attachment styles form early in life and can have a major influence on how we handle breakups down the road.
Individuals who have secure attachment styles tend to be kinder as the person doing the breaking up and tend to take breakups less personally as the person being broken up with. Secure attachment styles come from having had caregivers that responded quickly and often to you as a child, which instilled a sense of trust in you from a young age.
If you have an insecure or anxious attachment style, due to inconsistent attention from caregivers early on, you will likely have a tougher time in breakups. As the person doing the breaking up, you will likely not care how much you hurt your partner, and as the person being broken up with, you will likely take the rejection very personally.
How to Start Getting Over a Breakup
There are plenty of ways to get over a breakup and learn to be single again. Many psychologists and neurobiologists have theories on what makes breakups hard to handle, which can double as ways to move past your pain and into a fun, flirty single life.
Also, understanding the science behind happiness and positivity can help you move forward in your life and become a more mentally healthy person.
Trick Your Brain
You can help your brain to help you get over a breakup in a few different ways, according to psychology. First, you can avoid looking at photographs of your ex. We all know that Facebook or Instagram stalking your ex is a totally normal part of the breakup process, but it certainly isn’t healthy. Looking at these photos can release dopamine and send you on a downward spiral.
The healthiest way to avoid looking at photos or thinking of good times is to block your ex on social media and move photos from your phone to a hidden folder. You can have a close friend or family member help you with this process so that you don’t wind up looking at all of the pictures in the process of trying to hide them away.
You don’t need to delete this person from your life yet permanently, but you should avoid opportunities to actively think about him or her until you are past the mourning process, and your brain is in a less sensitive spot.
You should also avoid allowing yourself to remain in the obsessive cycle of thinking about your ex or your past relationship. You can do this by finding distracting activities to participate in, like reorganizing your room or going out with friends.
You can also trick your brain by starting to exercise or switching up your routine. Exercising not only helps you to feel better about yourself, but it also can mean new people in your life and can be a way to combat depression. Exercise even has the potential to get dopamine to flow, which means your new obsession could be much healthier than your last.
Don’t Try to Cover Up or Avoid Your Pain
The ending of long-term relationships can be nearly as difficult to deal with as the death of a loved one. Handling this kind of breakup, therefore, can be difficult, but letting yourself feel all of the emotions that come with a breakup will help you to heal fully. The sooner you allow yourself to face your pain head-on, the sooner it will go away, and you can move on.
Make sure that while you are feeling your pain, you are not demonizing your partner or yourself. You’ll want to take the time to look back on the relationship to see what mistakes you may have made and what parts of your partner you’ll truly miss, but you don’t want to get too hung up. Allowing yourself to wallow can quickly develop into depression, and that’s not the goal here.
To avoid allowing yourself to demonize anyone involved, you should try and wait to go over your relationship in depth. The longer you wait to look at what you learned and what you want in a future partner, the more likely you are to make it out of these thoughts unscathed.
Turn Your Focus to Friends and Family
If you want to get your mind off of your ex, you can try to refocus on the other relationships you may have been neglecting during your time with your partner. Check-in with friends and family that you don’t get to spend much time with when you’re in a romantic relationship. You can even plan a trip to visit a long-distance friend to help you get away from the day-to-day.
If you don’t want to or can’t put more time into your human relationships, maybe you could turn your attention to your pets or other animals. It might be a good time to do some volunteering at a shelter or to adopt the dog or cat you’ve been dreaming of owning.
Turning your attention to other relationships can help you to recognize your value. If you take the time to realize that other people or animals believe that you’re a worthwhile person, you may avoid the depression and obsession that some people experience immediately after a breakup.
Spend Some Time Solo
One of the most difficult things to do after a breakup is to be alone, so it’s a good idea to practice doing it in small ways. You can grab lunch by yourself or spend an hour reading in your bathtub. Take yourself shopping or out to a movie to get some more alone time in the books.
Don’t challenge yourself to do too much too soon, as you may end up feeling worse if you cut off too much contact with the outside world. Just find a few hours per week to be alone and enjoy doing something that you neglected when you were in a relationship. Time spent solo will help you to reignite your love for yourself and lose the negative self-talk more quickly.
You’re Over Your Ex, So Now What?
Now that you’ve worked on getting over your breakup, you may still not totally understand how to be single after a long relationship. In long-term relationships where you’ve been together since you were in high school or college, this can be especially hard. Dating has changed a lot just in the last five to ten years, and finding love once you’re done being forced to meet people in classes is a lot harder.
There are a few things you can do to amp up your single life, but first, it’s essential to decide whether or not you want to look for love again right away. Sometimes being alone and experiencing life as a single person can be refreshing and allow you to do things you couldn’t have done while tied down.
Find Single Friends
Sometimes being in a long-term relationship means that you’ve mixed your friend groups to the point of no return. That’s fine, and you’ll likely learn to live with seeing your ex at group functions from time to time, but don’t get trapped into spending all your time with those friends. Finding new single friends to spend time with can help you to grow.
You may want to join a new gym, start a new activity like a sports league, or do some networking. If you put yourself out there, then you’ll be more likely to find some friends that don’t know about your past and can help you focus on the future.
Single friends can also be great for planning adventures with. When you’re in a long-term relationship, you may feel tied down, but after it’s over, you can spread your wings and do the things you never thought were possible. You can take a girl’s trip to Europe or spend a guy’s weekend in the American northwest. It’s a whole new adventure waiting to happen.
Re-Immerse Yourself in Old Hobbies
Sometimes when you’re in a long-term relationship, you get so tangled up in what you and your partner like to do together that you forget how fun it was to do things solo. Jumping back into old hobbies or activities can help you to feel like you again. Our earlier suggestions for reconnecting with friends and family can help you to do this more easily.
Your old friends often became your friends through activities or shared interests. Consider joining them in activities that you both enjoyed before or finding new friends through the activities you once enjoyed alone. You can do things like join a co-ed softball team or take a pottery class at a local school.
Connect with New People and Potential Partners
These days if you’re single and ready to mingle, you’re probably on a dating app or website, or both. If you are ready to date again, you might try easing into it with a dating app that will allow you to chat with potential suitors in a low-key way.
If apps aren’t your thing, then you could try hitting up singles parties or networking events to meet new people who could potentially be future romantic partners. Of course, going to a networking event should be about making connections of the platonic variety first and foremost, but leaving yourself open to something more isn’t a bad idea.
Therapy isn’t just advice for those of you who are having an exceptionally difficult time moving past a breakup. Sometimes long-term relationships can affect whom we are so deeply that we need help finding out which parts of our “new” selves are really a part of our identity and which were results of our relationship. Therapists can help get us back on track.
Although talking to family members and friends can help, they aren’t exactly impartial. A therapist can come into a situation without bias, and is, therefore, more likely to help you sort through your feelings. Therapy can help you to feel like yourself again, or even help you to learn from your previous relationship and become a better person.
Write About Your Experiences
If you’re really struggling with a breakup and can’t seem to find a rhythm in your single life, you can try writing about the positive things you learned or experienced in your relationship. Studies show that if you write about positive parts of your relationship, you are likely to increase positive emotions.
Increasing positive emotions can help you to move past the addictive pieces of your former relationship and instead focus on ways in which you can improve future relationships. Positivity leads to more positivity, and writing out these positive feelings can help to make them more permanent and real.
A Little Wrap-Up
We’ve gone over a lot of information here to help you learn how to be single after a long-term relationship. It’s important to note that there are stages to every breakup, and not every person will experience them with the same speed or force as the next. Long-term relationships often change who we are as people, so you can’t expect to get over them in a day or even a week.
Psychologists have plenty of suggestions about why we sometimes have a more difficult time recovering from a breakup. Most often, our recovery rate is based on our attachment style, how secure we are with our self-image and self-worth, or how immersed we became in our former partner and their lifestyle.
Once you’ve discovered what could be triggering you to remain in a slump after the end of a relationship, you can work on ways to move past the pain. You can write about the positives from your past relationship, get therapy, talk to friends and family, and focus on rebuilding old relationships. You can also use distractions to help get past your emotional pain.
Finally, you’ll need to re-learn how to be alone. You ‘ll want to spend small amounts of time by yourself until you’ve worked up to feeling fine if you’re solo for a whole day. You’ll also want to decide whether or not you’d like to jump back into the dating world and ease yourself in if that’s the right path.
Being single after a long-term relationship isn’t easy, but it’s worth it to remember who you are and to learn to enjoy life again. Successfully managing the single life can mean much healthier relationship outcomes in the future and full and exciting life no matter your relationship status.