MOVE ON FROM A MESSY BREAKUP
Break-ups can be messy affairs. But there’s a way to guard your emotions and maintain your sanity during the madness.
Most women have experienced the inevitable gut-sinking feeling during a break-up. It’s a pain that many of us aren’t prepared for. It’s not just the sadness and grief over losing someone close — but it’s also disbelief that someone who was once fully accessible to you is now off-limits.
It’s not hard to see why we backslide into contact with exes — for sex, cuddling, or texting — when we’re feeling lonely, weak-willed or even drunk. But some people seem more prone to it than others. My first break-up was a mess. My high-school boyfriend and I lingered in an ambiguous space for so long, that I wanted to avoid repeating a similarly torturous situation at all costs. To me, the fewer boundaries we had, the more hurt we felt.
Other women avoid all forms of contact with former lovers. Corey, 28, ended things with her first love at age 26, after he admitted to being unsure of where their relationship was headed. She was restrained about the whole matter, especially considering they worked together. She cut off all unnecessary contact. “I knew we couldn’t continue dating after I dropped the L-bomb. The thought of hooking up after he didn’t say what I wanted to hear repelled me — I knew I deserved better than someone who was unsure.”
Another friend, Jane, 29, dated a guy in her social circle until his hot-and-cold behaviour led her to cut things off… but it took a while. “He knew what to say to keep me interested,” she says. “It’s seriously an art — he was manipulative.” Break-ups are never fun, but they definitely don’t have to be as bad. Follow these 12 steps to make yours cleaner, clearer and less confusing.
1. Call it something else
We’re not advocating that you engage in denialism about your
relationship status. But when you’re really hurting, experts say it can help to reframe it mentally and verbally. “Thinking of moving the relationship to another stage in which you no longer share intimacies, commitment and friendship can help people move into acceptance and healing more easily,” says couples therapist Dr Marlene Wasserman. So don’t be too hard on yourself; take your time.
2. Realise you might not get closure
Some break-ups make you want to reach out to your ex – if a guy disappears on you without an explanation, for instance; or if you thought things were good and your partner drops a bombshell that they’ve been unhappy for a long time. Even if you talk to him, you might never get the answers you’re looking for. He might not even fully understand his own reasons. It can feel torturous, but it’s important to realise that you and only you can work out your feelings, now that the relationship is over.
3. Yes, you have to block him
There are so many reasons why you need to do this on social media and even via text or email, if necessary. It stops you from compulsively and obsessively checking his Instagram and Facebook pages to see if he’s dating anyone new, and it stops him from doing the same to you. It also prevents either of you from starting conversations you might regret. “Contact is seductive and tempting,” says Wasserman, “but it can be torturous and confusing. Communication, confidence and boundaries are required for emotional health, when it comes to dating and break-ups.”
4. Take a short trip down memory lane
Reliving your happy memories as a couple is not off-limits, says Wasserman. “If you block them out, you’ll hunger for contact, to get positive feelings from an ex.” So spend some time with your journal or old photos and honour the good stuff you had together. This ritual can be cathartic and positive, but keep it short and sweet — then put them away.
5. Let yourself ‘be in your feels’
After you’ve acknowledged the positive things your ex brought to your life, it’s time to fully feel your sadness. “Simply be in the moment with the pain, heartache, rejection, anger and shame,” advises Wasserman. Processing them is necessary in order to let them go – and to prevent yourself from getting stuck in a cycle where you’re reaching out to your ex (or letting him reach out to you) because of the intensity of those feelings.
6. …and then actively detach
After you’ve felt sad for a while, it’s time to give yourself a little tough love and put the break-up into perspective. “As painful as it is, for many people that pain is actually about something in their past, and may not entirely be about their former partner,” says couples therapist Tara Fields. Once you realise that the feelings that are leading you to prolong contact with your ex might not actually be all about him or her, “it can help you get perspective and detach,” she says.
7. Don’t go it alone
You’ve heard it before, and we’ll say it again: Get support when you’re dealing with a break-up. Find a therapist who can help you work out some of the issues. And lean on friends: “Accept that you’ll have weak moments, where you may get the urge to contact your ex – so have other people you feel comfortable calling to talk about your pain,” says Wasserman.
8. Have a no-fantasy policy
“You can’t always trust your instincts in these situations, because when you’re feeling desperate or lonely, you may choose to see things that aren’t there,” says Fields. “You’ll take bread crumbs and make a loaf.” Even if your ex is giving you mixed signals about not being 100% sure they want to break up, you’re still better off giving them space to do that. “That way, you increase your sense of self and their value of you, whether they come back or not. You can’t control your ex, but you can control your reaction.”
9. Be accountable
“Give a close friend permission, when you’re feeling weak, to repeat all the things you told them were negative about the relationship,” says Fields. It’s not about putting your ex down in order to build yourself up; it’s about staying grounded in reality—the reality that the relationship didn’t work out for a reason.
10. Get busy
Go out with friends. Even if you’re not ready to seriously date yet, do fun things. Go to a party you normally wouldn’t attend; or just go out for casual drinks with another man to remind yourself they’re out there. Wasserman suggests keeping condoms in your bag in the event of “casual spontaneous sex — whether it’s because you hope it’ll heal you, help you forget your ex, or simply because you’re horny.” No shame in that!
11. Treat yourself
“Give yourself a lot of self-care during this time,” says Fields. “Treat yourself to things that are nurturing to you. Get a massage, buy yourself flowers, or just ask friends for a lot of hugs to give you the oxytocin boost you’re missing from your ex.” Or shoes… retail therapy is real!
12. Use what you learned
Break-ups suck, but it’s not all bad. “It’s a time of reflection,” says Fields. “Think about what led to the relationship’s end – you’ll discover behavioural patterns that’ll give you insights into future relationships.” Wasserman echoes this sentiment: “The pain will pass. It’s important to develop a strong relationship with yourself before starting your next committed relationship.”
“ACCEPT THAT YOU’LL HAVE WEAK MOMENTS WHERE YOU MIGHT GET THE URGE TO CALL YOUR EX.”