When you’re in the thick of a breakup, friends, family, and even co-workers will try to offer you advice — some solicited, some very much unsolicited.
And while these people hopefully have your best interests at heart, their advice can sometimes be a bit misguided. That’s why we asked relationship experts to share the kernels of wisdom they wish more people received when relationships come to an end. Here’s what we learned:
1. It’s okay to be the one who’s hurting more.
People experience and process emotions differently, so there’s no way to gauge how your ex is actually holding up post-split ― no matter how many seemingly carefree photos he or she posts on Instagram. Quit playing the comparison game and embrace however it is you’re feeling, even if it’s pretty crappy, said marriage and family therapist Spencer Northey.
“You don’t ‘win’ the breakup by being the one who experienced less caring, less attachment and less vulnerability,” she said. “It’s okay to lean into the loss of someone who was important to you. Recognising the value of what you lost in the breakup will help clarify what you want when you are ready to date and be in a relationship again.”
2. Don’t be fooled into thinking binge-eating and drinking, shopping sprees or a string of hookups will pull you out of a funk.
Hey, there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to a heaping portion of mac and cheese, binge-watching “Friends” and throwing back a few glasses of sauvignon blanc post-split. We all crave comfort and a distraction during tough times. But eating, drinking, shopping or dating in excess ― and doing so to avoid dealing with unwanted emotions ― isn’t going to solve your problems; it’s just putting off getting a handle on them.
“As a culture, we are taught to ignore or mask unpleasant emotions by indulging in activities that help us temporarily escape,” said Laura Heck, a couples therapist and co-host of the podcast “Marriage Therapy Radio.” “Your feelings are intended to be felt, so feel them. Lean into the sadness.”
3. Revisit an old hobby or try something new that you’ve always wanted to do.
Post-breakup, you’ll probably find yourself with some extra time on your hands. Use it to your advantage: Volunteer with an organisation you’re passionate about, revisit a hobby that might have fallen by the wayside during the relationship or try something new entirely.
“Connect to something that’s important to you — a hobby you haven’t enjoyed in a while, getting back to your fitness routine or listen to that audiobook you’ve been wanting to read,” therapist Juan Olmedo said. “When a relationship ends, it’s helpful and healing to reconnect with your most important connection — your relationship to yourself.”
4. Lean on your support system.
Getting through a breakup may be a personal journey, but that doesn’t mean you have to go at it alone. Open up to friends, family members and a therapist (if you have one) about what you’re going through.
“Believe that your friends and family want to be there for you,” Olmedo said. “It can help to get your thoughts out of your head so you’re not stuck in a loop, and you can get feedback from someone you trust that what you’re feeling is valid. If you’re feeling stuck, give working with a counsellor or therapist a try for an objective ear. Do what you need to remind yourself you’re a good person who deserves a good relationship.”
5. Stop following your ex on social media and communicating via text or email, at least for now.
Accepting that a relationship is over isn’t easy, especially when you’re being bombarded with constant reminders of your ex, like text messages, Insta stories, Snapchats and Facebook posts. If you don’t want to block the person, consider other options such as muting him on Instagram or unfollowing her posts on Facebook. Out of sight, out of mind.
“Smartphones and social media make it easier than ever to track your ex and reach out in moments of weakness,” psychotherapist Elisabeth J. LaMotte said. “Impulsive communication does not reflect your best version of yourself and increases the likelihood of spontaneous hookups with your ex that can compromise whatever positive memories and feelings remain between the two of you.”
6. Resist the urge to look at the relationship through rose-coloured glasses.
Simply put: No partner or relationship is perfect. No matter how much you loved your ex, try to be honest about his or her flaws instead of romanticising them.
“As painful as a breakup feels, it can be liberating to admit the reasons you are better off without your ex,” LaMotte said. “Even if you thought they were the One, there were surely some obstacles and flaws in your relationship, and it frees up emotional energy to admit these shortcomings.”
7. Take responsibility for your part in why things ended.
Acknowledging your shortcomings and character defects is an important step toward emotional maturity. Being able to admit your mistakes requires self-reflection and humility, qualities that will serve you well in your future relationships. (One important exception: people ending a relationship with a physically or emotionally abusive partner.)
“It is also liberating to acknowledge your role in the relationship’s demise,” LaMotte said. “Even if your ex is 90% to blame, owning your part in the process is a way to make sure you learn from the relationship and position yourself for a healthier romantic future.”
8. Give yourself enough time and space before you have the closure talk.
Getting closure after a relationship ends can be healing and help you move forward. Though you may be tempted to have this post-mortem conversation right away, don’t rush into it. Both you and your ex could benefit from some time to breathe and reflect.
“Unless there is a safety issue, it is often helpful and healing to have a final closure talk once the dust has settled from the breakup,” Northey said. “This is a sort of relationship exit interview where you can ask some burning questions and get some feedback that may be helpful for moving on in future relationships.”
She recommended waiting anywhere from a month to a year to have this discussion. “No sooner than a month, because emotions and thoughts need time to clear,” she said.