You know the feeling, right?
Well, maybe that is too vague…and maybe “the feeling” isn’t really a one-size-fits-all-feeling…and it’s definitely not just a singular feeling. So, perhaps, we should really call it “The Breakup Feelings.”
For some, it is a sudden, complete, abrupt stop. The moment of, or immediately after, the breakup, it all slams down on you. You practically have to will yourself to move in the simplest directions (out of bed; to the bathroom; over to the fridge).
For others, it is a gradual realization…the morning after the breakup; then a week later; then the next big occasion…the realization of what’s over trickles in and you’re struck by the understanding: there are so many potholes yet to come.
Regardless of the realization timetable, there’s just something about the ending of a romantic relationship…and that something is what usually feels like a sucker punch to the emotional and physical gut.
As you try to find the lines between "my fault" and "not my fault" or between "I can move past this, but not that", you can come to a better understanding of yourself. If you do that with intention, you can “fall forward” instead.
We listen to the advice of well-meaning friends and family: “there are more fish in the sea”; “they did not deserve you”; “<name of ex> is probably way more upset than you…look at what they’re missing”; and more. Again, well-meaning, but in the midst of heartache after a breakup, those sentiments land nowhere helpful.
So, instead of stumbling across potholes, or sinking into deep depression or anxiety or isolation or self-loathing, how do you “fall forward” after a relationship has ended? After all, falling in love was the easy part - the falling towards a better you is a bit harder (okay fine, on some days, WAY harder!).
So, with that difficulty in mind, our Chicago therapists have 8 tips to help you navigate a bad breakup.
The burden of a breakup can be significant, and finding a place to unburden while also growing, can be pivotal for your development and for the success of future relationships. Recount events of the breakup to your therapist---repeat them several times over if you have to. But make use of the counseling space to wade through the confusion or fear you have. A therapist can help you detect patterns, make changes, and even understand yourself better. They can also help you manage the emotions that come with a breakup, and really help you feel like you won’t totally bottom out.
Accept responsibility, but probably not all responsibility
It takes two to tango-both for a relationship to be healthy, and for it to head to breakup land. It’s good to take account of some of your missteps, but it is important to remember your standards as well, especially if elements of them were violated by your partner. Remember: respect is a two-way street. Relationships will fail if responsibility, respect, or regular adulting only flows one direction.
Keep your friends and loved ones close
We can be awfully hard on ourselves after a breakup. Our assessment of self is usually in the pits in the period shortly after parting ways with our ex. This can increase anxiety, depression, and negative thinking. It can lead us to wanting to disregard and discount EVERYTHING about ourselves and put us in permanent relationship purgatory. “NO ONE WILL LOVE ME!”
So, instead of fighting the battle of liking yourself a TON in that aftermath, surround yourself with people who see the positive traits you have, the strengths you offer, and all those warm fuzzy things. These loved ones are a better mirror of you to you, than you to you, in breakup aftermath.
After a few weeks, do some honest reflecting
Where can you make changes to your interactive patterns, emotional regulation, behavioral habits, etc that will have a positive impact on your own life and therefore on future relationships? What can you do now to start to implement those changes? This may feel hard at first, especially if it leads to “if only I had done this earlier!” Gosh. A mental minefield. But keep going. You’re laying great groundwork for the next person.
And trust me: there will be a next person.
Care for yourself. Intentionally
That will look different for different people, but take time to focus on what fills you up: petting puppies, going to wine tastings, trying your favorite restaurants, walking along Lake Michigan as the leaves change, and more.
Carve out time to overthink and ruminate
But have and hold those time limits. Your brain can get stuck, and neural pathways can become ruts. This may also mean utilizing podcasts, Audible, and YouTube for mental distractions---things to pull your thoughts into and therefore away from the breakup.
Faith and/or spirituality can come in as a major player while healing from a breakup
Don’t choose now as a time to distance yourself from those practices, beliefs, and habits. Lean in harder. They are strong pillars, which you need—and deserve—in this time that you’re feeling shaky.
Maintain self-respect. Handle yourself with care
Even if you think you made the worst possible choices in the relationship, you can move on and move forward. You can still gently remind yourself that "a stupid decision does not make me stupid."
Then grow back self-respect, self-esteem, and just general likeability of self. It’s okay if it is sometimes “one step forward, two steps back” but keep it up. You’re only human, after all. It will blossom.
This is not an exhaustive list: there are multiple ways of moving past a broken relationship. But, possibly, here's the greatest piece of advice I can give you:
You existed before that relationship, and you will exist after.
Even if you felt stifled, even if it was unhealthy, even if your trust was violated, even if you violated their trust, you are more than who you are with. You can exist independently; what is more, you can thrive independently. It is a choice you make: you fell in love - but will you fall forward after it ends?
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Our Chicago team of therapists offer a wide range of mental health services to help our clients through the different challenges and hurdles in their life. In addition to anxiety, depression, grief, therapy for men, and maternal overwhelm, we are specialized in professional burnout, therapy for breakups, and love partnering with working moms.