Popular media, such as TV shows and movies suggest that the best way to get over a break-up is to immediately move onto someone else, or to go out a club and drink heavily while dancing with your rebound. But, in reality, this is only a short-term fix. Chances are, you won’t forget about someone you love by replacing them with someone you barely know who you haphazardly picked out of a crowded bar. Forgetting someone who is, or was at one point, very important to you, is difficult and can be a long process. But, the best way to do so is not to trick yourself into thinking that you need to immediately fill the romantic void in your life with someone else. The best way to soothe yourself after a break up is to take care of yourself and explore outlets you were distracted from while in a relationship or to discover new parts of yourself now that you have more time to focus on you.
Care For Yourself the Way You Cared About Your Ex
When you’re in a committed relationship, it’s normal to spend a lot of time caring for your partner, whether it be in tangible ways such as making them dinner, giving them a massage after a long day, or less tangible ways such as worrying about them during hard situations, or sending them text messages throughout the day. In (unless it was a toxic or abusive relationship), your partner probably looked after you in the same way. However, after a break-up, it’s easy to let your standards of life go down and let the things your partner did for you go undone. Don’t let this happen. If the relationship in your life which just ended was abusive or unhealthy, it is even more important to give yourself the thoughtful, comforting self-care you would give someone you love.
One of the most common examples of post-breakup syndrome is eating cereal or snacks as meals since you only have yourself to cook for. Many people think it’s not worth all the effort of making a more elaborate meal if it’s only for themselves. However, this is a self-deprecating thought process. Why wouldn’t you be worth a delicious yellow curry or Sunday morning French Toast? For that matter, why wouldn’t you be worth a trip to your favorite museum or restaurant? If you don’t already, learn to treat yourself to the same outings, fun activities and meals you did while you were with your partner.
Don’t Let Your Self-Worth Be Defined by someone else
No matter who you were dating, you are worthy as an individual independent of them. After being with someone for a long time it’s easy to slip into something called enmeshment—a phenomena which occurs when one’s own psychic boundaries blur into someone else’s. During enmeshment, one loses sight of where they leave off and their partner begins. Therefore, after a break-up, it can feel as though you’ve lost half of yourself. However, this is not the case.
Rediscover Yourself or Discover Yourself Anew
Remember who you were before you were half of a romantic unit. Maybe you used to go out dancing often, and then stopped when you began your relationship because your partner didn’t enjoy dancing. Maybe you used to practice piano on the weekends but then stopped when you had dates to go on, and no longer had time. Maybe you had a whole slew of hobbies and interests that you didn’t have as much time for once you engaged in a relationship, or alternatively, stopped because your partner didn’t enjoy them. One of the potential reasons for a break-up and/or one of the contributing factors to the feeling of emptiness after a break-up is that you didn’t fully love yourself before beginning the relationship. It can be very difficult to find yourself alone again after being in a relationship, if you didn’t like or respect yourself before the relationship or felt lost as to who you were. Reconnect with your old hobbies and interests, maybe find new ones. Spend some time reflecting deeply on your values, calling(s) and what you want out of life and you’ll begin to see yourself as an individual again, and a worthy individual at that.
Reconnect with Friends You Didn’t See as Much While You Were in a Relationship
People in romantic relationships can tend to view their partner as their most important friend and thus, hold them to the nearly impossible task of fulfilling the role their larger network of friends played before they entered their relationship. However, this sort of thinking has been found to be largely unsuccessful as one person is unlikely to encapsulate the traits and functions of a wide-range of people solely within themselves. So, if you haven’t seen some of your friends in while, since you and your partner were preoccupied with each other, this is a great time to catch up with them.
Let Your Friends Become a Bigger Part of Your Life Again
Once you begin to hang out with them more often you’ll likely remember why you and your friends were so close and realize that they fulfilled needs of yours that your partner could not. Likewise, surely your partner fulfilled needs that they couldn’t as well. However, by surrounding yourself with friends and family you will create a similar sort of emotionally supportive environment as that which you once shared with your partner and will likely feel better about the break-up.
If Necessary, Unfollow or Unfriend them on Social Media Sites
If you find yourself checking up on your ex on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any other social media platform frequently, then you need to unfollow or unfriend them. Constant reminders of your ex—what they’re doing, who they’re hanging out with, perhaps a new partner or casual date they have in their life will only slow down the process of moving on.
Delete Any Digital Trace of Them
Along the same lines, if you find yourself calling or texting them, drunkenly or not, delete their phone number. If the relationship came to an end, it was most likely not the right relationship for you and no amount of begging for forgiveness, asking for an apology, or trying to work through things is going to fix that. Additionally, delete all your messaging threads (text, Facebook messenger, Instagram direct, etc.), voicemails and even photos of them if you need to. As they say, out of sight, out of mind.
Let Yourself Make the Final Call
If someone is being so distant that you don’t know whether they want to continue your relationship or not, or constantly acts as though they don’t want to be with you but does not outright break up with you, they are not worth your time. You have the power to tell yourself the relationship is over and that you deserve better. If your romantic relationship is no longer fulfilling or barely even existent, it doesn’t need to be officially called off to be over. This is a difficult thing to do, but the sooner you end it for yourself, the sooner you’ll be able to move on.
Your Attachment Styles Could Have Clashed
There could be deep-rooted psychological reasons why the two of you didn’t work well as a pair, and you’re better off being in less damaging circumstances. A new study shows that anxiously attached partners and avoidantly attached partners make for a particularly bad cocktail. Anxiously attached people need a lot of attention and comfort from their partners, while avoidantly attached partners are more independent and would prefer to swallow their feelings and rely on themselves for comfort during stressful situations. 
Know That It Wasn’t Your Fault
Many times, there are insidious psychological principles at play which determine whether two people can withstand the test of time in their relationship or not. Historically, researchers have found that anxiously attached people and securely attached people (people who need a medium amount of attention from their partner and are independent, but not so independent as to be aloof and secretive about their feelings); avoidant people and secure people; secure people and other secure people; and avoidant people and other avoidant people form solid relationships. Thus, if your relationship falls into the anxious with avoidant category, unfortunately, it is likely to end in heartbreak. [i]
Give Yourself Time to Grieve, But Not Too Much Time
The time following a break-up, especially if the relationship was a long one, is extremely tough, and that toughness should not be undermined. Allow yourself the time and space to mourn the loss of the relationship in whatever way feels best to you. If you need to sit on your couch watching movies and eating chocolate with your friends, do it; if you need to go out to a bar and get a few cocktails, do it (but make sure you’re with a friend who won’t let you text your ex in a drunken haze), do it. But don’t let this grieving period spiral out of control. You might be sad for a long time, it might take longer than you expected to get over your ex, but going back to your normal routine and engaging in healthy habits will only aid in the process.
Think About What the Relationship was Actually Like
When you’re ready, think about the relationship for what it really was. Responsiveness, caring for each other, and soothing each other during difficult times are the hallmarks of good relationships. If your partner ignored you, did not respond to your distress or your needs for closeness and affection, then the relationship likely wasn’t going to work in the long-term anyway.
Reframe Your Negative Thoughts About Yourself
When someone you think knows you really well and tells you they don’t want to be with you anymore, your self-esteem can drop. You may blame some characteristic of yours for causing your partner to stop wanting to be with you. Maybe you believe you were too needy, or too aloof, not intellectual or interesting enough. The break-up may have reinforced doubts you had about yourself. But, no characteristics are set in stone, they’re all plastic. Therefore, if you think there’s something you can improve about yourself both for you and for future relationships, you can.
Embrace Being Single
Although it feels jarring at first to move from the comfort of couple life to singledom, think back to the moments during your relationship when you envied your single friends. They weren’t tied to anyone, their lives had the potential to be more spontaneous, more free. Perhaps you were so enamored with your ex that you didn’t have such thoughts, but chances are, that, once in a while, you did. Dealing with a break-up is much harder if you’re afraid of being single,[ii] so why not live it up a little?
Relish in Your Newfound Freedom
The time that you don’t spend at work or attending to other responsibilities, is now completely your own. There’s no one to confer with about what to have for dinner or which movie to watch. There are so many decisions that are now completely up to you. If you want to have breakfast for dinner three nights in a row while watching the complete set of “The Best of Gilda Radner” on Saturday Night Live, you can! If you want to go to a Dance Dance Revolution tournament on a Thursday night—which was previously reserved for date nights—you can!
Reflect on Why You’re Ruminating About Your Ex
Sometimes it’s not really your ex that you’re missing, but the idea of being in a romantic relationship. Many people find it more comfortable to be in a relationship than to be alone, even if their relationship wasn’t completely fulfilling, or, in the worst of scenarios, abusive. Take a moment to be truly honest with yourself and sort out your feelings. Is it that person that you want back in your life, or simply the comfort of a close, loving relationship? If it’s the latter, this is a good time to take a step back and think about what it is about being alone that disquiets you.
Don’t Let Society Pressure You into Entering a New Relationship Before You’re Ready
It’s possible that well-meaning friends will take it upon themselves to help you through your break-up by setting you up with someone else. Unfortunately, even in 2018, the world is caught up in the idea that one’s sense of self-worth is inherently tied to having a romantic partner. Yet, long, committed relationships are not for everyone. You may be more interested in a successful career, your own hobbies or traveling the world solo.
Single People Can be Just as Happy as Those in Relationships
The physical and mental health benefits of marriages are raved about by and large; however, a recent study shows that, these benefits are limited to quality marriages.[iii] In fact, many marriages make people less happy than they would be if they were single. This is not to warn against marriage, but simply to warn against the idea that marriages is not a cure-all. In truth, physical and psychological benefits come from close, fulfilling relationships, which don’t necessarily have to be with a romantic partner. If you’re not the type of person who feels as though they need a romantic relationship, you will feel just as happy as someone in one, if you surround yourself with close friends and family members on a regular basis.
Think About Reasons Besides Personal Flaws that Caused the Break-Up
Even if your relationship did end in an argument, there could have been other reasons for your separation as well. Maybe you had different goals or desires regarding family or marriage. Maybe external factors that were out of your control such as work, studies, distance, or finances got in the way. If this is so, then you should not blame yourself for not being able to adjust your life to these circumstances. Every relationship requires sacrifices, but these sacrifices should not be so large as to uproot your entire life, unless you’re comfortable with that. In the end, everyone has to do what is right for themselves, and lead a life they feel happy about. If circumstances make it so that this life does not include your partner, this is very difficult, but you should not berate yourself for not sacrificing your own happiness for theirs.
Immediately Replacing Your Ex with Someone Else Isn’t Going to Make You Feel Better in the Long run
It might be tempting to go out to a bar or club with your friends and flirt with the first attractive person you make eye contact with. And it might even feel good for a little while, to have someone pay attention to you in a romantic and sexual way again. It’ll briefly quell your feelings of missing your ex, or missing being in a relationship. But, the next day, or a week to a few weeks later, you’ll probably realize that you weren’t fully considering that person for who they were, but for the function they could play in your current situation.
Try to Approach Singledom Without Fear
Are you the serial monogamist of your friend group? Do you find it difficult to stay single even for short periods of time? If so, researchers have discovered some new data you may want to consider: women who are afraid of being single are more likely to become dependent on unsatisfying relationships as opposed to women who are fine with being single. The fear of being single can keep people in relationships they would otherwise leave. Many people view being in an unhealthy relationship as preferable to being alone.
Being Afraid of Being Single Can Keep you from Finding True Love
The fear of being single has the power to lessen your standards for potential mates, even if you don’t consciously realize it. During a research study, it was discovered that women who were actively looking for love, and were afraid of being single were far less discriminating of dating prospects than those were okay with singledom. They perceived less caring and attractive dates as equal to more caring and attractive dates.[iv] Thus, paradoxically, those who most equate happiness with romance are the least likely to find a loving, fulfilling relationship.
Channel Your Energy into a Productive Outlet
Chances are you’re reeling after the break-up; you’re probably acting differently than you normally do and have an excess of sad and angry emotions. Instead of using this energy to cyber stalk your ex late into the night, or chug that case of wine you bought on sale at Costco, engage in some healthy coping mechanisms such as exercise—maybe take on a kickboxing class as an outlet for your aggression—or take up painting, drawing or poetry to direct your emotions into a creative pursuit. In short, channel your energy away from your ex into whatever healthy, productive outlet suits you best.
Recognize That You Won’t Feel the Way You do Now Forever
It’s hard to see now, when you’re wounds are fresh, but you will find happiness with someone else in the future. Circumstances are always changing and each day is a new one. After reframing your thoughts about your own characteristics, you will likely have more faith in future relationships and will be more ready for one, having assessed what led to the end of your last one.
Give Yourself Credit
You may find yourself criticizing yourself often. But, when you’re feeling down, the best thing to do, is to be kind to yourself instead of emphasizing the things you don’t like about yourself. Challenge yourself to match each negative thought you direct towards yourself with a positive one. Remind yourself that even though, the relationship ended, you put significant effort into trying to make it work. Think about the warmth and care you’ve directed towards your closest friends while they were going through a break-up and extend the same kind of compassionate advice towards yourself.
[i] Beck, L., Pietromonaco, P., Debuse, C., Powers, S., Sayer, A. Attachment Pairings Predict Neuroendocrine, Behavioral, and Psychological Responses to Marital Conflict. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105, 388-424.
[ii] Spielmann, S., MacDonald, G., Joel, S., Impett, E. Longing for Ex-Partners out of Fear of Being Single. Journal of Personality, 84 (6), 111-122.
[iii] Carr, D., Pudrovska, T. Marital Quality and Health. International Encyclopedia of Social & Behavioral Sciences (Second Edition), 512-517.
[iv] Spielmann, S. S., MacDonald, G., Maxwell, J. A., Joel, S., Peragine, D., Muise, A., & Impett, E. A.Settling for less out of fear of being single. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105, 1049-1073.
Christine Lavosky – Website/CV
Christine Lavosky is a graduate from Emerson College who uses her minor in Psychology to develop complex, realistic characters for her novel in progress as well as her creative non-fiction. She is particularly interested in the psychological phenomena that come into play in romantic relationships and trauma and uses empirical studies and research on these topics to inform her fiction.