The end of a relationship is filled with conflicting feelings. We’re angry, heartbroken, and relieved. We still love our ex, but we also hate them. We want them back and we’re ready to move on and find someone new. Whether you initiated the ending or they did, it can be hell trying to figure out just how you feel about it.
All this confusion can also make it difficult to get over it. Trying to sort out our feelings can cause us to spend far too long lost in memories that only confuse things more. But ignoring our feelings just means it will all come back later — and maybe be a whole lot worse.
There are some very practical steps you can take that will help you heal from a major breakup more quickly. They’re particularly helpful in a divorce, where everything about your life is completely upended, possibly even including your identity.
Allow yourself to grieve
When we hear the word grieve, we immediately think of death. We grieve the passing of loved ones, but what about the passing of a relationship? Grief, and its stages, applies to the end of a romance too. We need to go through the grieving process in order to truly heal.
There are 5 stages, and we might not experience all of them. We can experience them in any order, and we might stay in one stage for months and breeze through another in hours or days.
What matters is that you allow yourself to grieve. Don’t try to force it to be done quickly, and don’t feel ashamed for grieving. Even if you initiated the breakup, even if you were abused or mistreated, grieving is natural. There is no breakup in which you are not allowed to grieve.
Take that time, feel it all, and allow yourself to let it go when you’re ready.
Find someone who will just listen
Everyone wants to offer advice when we’re going through something. Even a counselor or therapist is going to ask questions or offer suggestions. But sometimes all we really need is someone to just listen to us. No questions, no advice, not even a murmur to acknowledge they’re still paying attention — just listen. We just need the chance to vomit out all our thoughts and feelings without interruption or validation.
You need to find someone who can understand and provide that for you. Maybe it’s one of your parents or a sibling, maybe it’s your best friend. Maybe it’s a stranger on the subway. You might consider a free service like 7 Cups and just be upfront that you’d rather they just listened without any comment.
While there is probably a point at which advice or questions will be welcomed, you first need that opportunity to vent it all. Relieving the pressure of everything that’s built up inside you makes it easier to hear when others offer words that might be uncomfortable for you.
Seek counseling/therapy and perhaps life coaching
A counselor or therapist is trained to help you look at your past and figure out why you do the things you do or accept the things you accept. With the help of a counselor or therapist, you can talk about your relationship, what happened in it, and how it ended. This will help you work through it all so you can move on. But they can also help you figure out why you struggle to let it go, how you might have stayed in a bad relationship longer than you needed to, or even uncover a pattern of relationships that you might want to change.
While counseling and therapy are about looking at your past and self-understanding, life coaching (or relationship coaching) is for when you’re ready to start moving forward. When you’re beginning to wonder how to find a new love, how to make better choices, or design your future, that’s where coaching can come into play. A coach can help you come up with creative ways to find what you’re looking for.
Whether you seek counseling or coaching, the insights of an unbiased third party who has no attachment to your life and the outcome of your decisions can help you see things more clearly and make real changes.
I frequently suggest journaling and there’s a reason for that. As I’ve explained before about meditation, our thoughts often run on a loop. These thought loops can influence us deeply, but we might not even be aware of them. By journaling, we get out the thoughts we’re aware of, freeing up mind space for thought loops to rise into awareness. We can then write those down. Ultimately, by writing it all down, we’re better able to deal with it.
Journaling helps us see our thoughts written down. If you’re completely transparent and honest in your journal (as you should be), you’ll be able to see repetitive thoughts. This will allow you to analyze them. Are they true? If they are, how can you change them? If they’re not true, what truth can you replace the thought with?
When we write our thoughts and feelings down, we can deal with them and then let them go. Once they’re written in our journal, we can come back to the journal later to notice how differently we feel or notice patterns in relationships over the years. Alternatively, we can also use the journal to symbolically let go of the relationship, by burning, shredding or otherwise destroying the journal.
Change your environment
In a split, couples either fight over who gets to keep the house or sell it and split the proceeds. While there can be good reasons to keep the house, sometimes the best thing to do after a divorce or breakup is to completely change your environment.
When you stay in the marital home, you’re surrounded by memories of your defunct marriage. Even if you know that ending things was for the best, being surrounded by those memories can be painful and frustrating.
But it’s not just your home. Maybe you need to move to another town or even another state. Maybe you need to quit your job and find another. There are lots of ways to change your environment, and the more of them that you can do, the better off you might be.
While the divorce signals the end of life as you knew it, it also signals a new beginning. And nothing signifies a fresh start better than changing your environment. This change gets you entirely out of your comfort zone, shaking up old habits and beliefs so you can truly start over.
Engage in lots of self-care
This is something else that I often encourage. Self-care is critical as you navigate a divorce. There are several aspects to look at, but it’s important to remember that this is a time for indulgence and pampering. Your emotions are raw, you might be lacking energy and feeling alone or unloved, so giving yourself some luxurious self-care can boost you more than it might otherwise.
You should stay on top of quality self-care, such as eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and hygiene. But go ahead and splurge on a manicure or a haircut, as long as you can afford it. Shell out some cash for a massage or something else that you might not do regularly.
Others may be compassionate and do nice things for you — but we often need more compassion than people realize. We grieve longer than everyone thinks we should. Self-care ensures that you get all the nurturing you need without relying on others to provide it.
Accept not all relationships are meant to last
I’ve talked about this before in the context of letting go of a friendship, but it holds true for romance as well. We move in with someone or we get married, with images of happy ever after that lasts until our dying day in our head. And while this may be the ideal, it’s not always meant to be.
Even if there’s no cheating, abuse or other “bad behavior” that ends the relationship, some were just simply never meant to last forever. Some relationships are only meant for a few months or years, to teach us a lesson or help us grow in some way and once that’s accomplished, it’s time to move on.
Understanding and accepting this can make healing so much easier. Try looking for the lesson or how you’ve grown, if you’re struggling with the idea that this relationship was never meant to last. Did you learn something about what you need or want from future relationships? Did you learn something about yourself that will benefit future relationships?
Clean & declutter everything
It’s fairly common, after a breakup, to get rid of everything that reminds you of your ex. Trashing all the birthday cards, love letters, little random notes, gifts, clothes, and anything else they ever gave you is often one of the first things people do.
While this is certainly cathartic, and a good start, why stop there? There’s usually plenty of other things we hold on to, unrelated to the relationship, that we don’t need. And since you’ve already started purging, you might as well keep going with everything else.
Clean the house from top to bottom and declutter everything. Closets, cabinets, drawers, and dressers should all be gone through. Sort through papers, books, magazines, clothes, knickknacks, and boxes in your garage or attic. Evaluate everything you touch and decide whether it’s something you need or want, and if it’s neither, get rid of it.
As you get rid of stuff you no longer need or want, you’ll find you feel lighter and happier. You’ll start letting go of old memories and emotions, both relationship-related and otherwise.
There’s a lot that may be out of your control during a divorce. Even your identity can be in question as you decide whether to take back your maiden name or not. Despite all the things you may not have any control over, these are the things you do. By acting on them, you can put yourself back in the driver’s seat and get back on track to a happy life.
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