At the beginning of a relationship, we don’t often predict the end. But the only constant in life is change. Whether or not we realize it, many relationships have a timeline and end with a broken heart.
In those times, it’s easy to wonder whether your feelings are typical. Whether your behaviors are unhealthy, and potentially harmful. Whether it’s possible to move on the right way. Here’s what you need to know.
“Normal Feelings” After a Breakup
There are as many ways to react to a breakup as there are breakups. Everyone is different, and every relationship is different. Even if you’ve had lots of different relationships, you’ve (hopefully) grown and changed over time and so your responses will, too. How you feel about the end of a relationship could be influenced by:
- Who you are as a person.
- Your previous experiences with relationships and breakups.
- How long and serious the relationship was.
- The reasons for the breakup.
- How the relationship was going before the breakup.
- How you felt about how the relationship was going before the breakup.
- Who decided to end the relationship – you or them.
- The breakup conversation itself: Was it respectful? Was it definitive and clear?
- Whether the breakup was a surprise or a long time coming.
- The degree of enmeshment between you, including houses, children, pets, finances, friends, hobbies, professional worlds, and more.
Some feelings after a breakup can include:
- And so many more, sometimes all at once!
What Are Some Unhealthy Reactions to a Breakup?
Feelings are not reactions. It’s okay to feel whatever you feel during and in the weeks and months after your breakup, and your main job in those moments is to process your feelings in healthy ways. But feelings don’t tell you facts, and they also don’t tell you how to act.
Some unhealthy reactions to a breakup include:
- Being consumed with wondering “why” and replaying every moment of the relationship, wondering where things went wrong
- Not taking care of basic physical needs like water, food, and sleep
- Self-isolation from friends and family
- Endlessly checking the Instagram/Facebook/Twitter/repeat of your ex, their friends, and everyone they’ve ever known to search for answers or updates
- Trying to force your life to look exactly the same as it did pre-breakup
- Crossing your ex’s boundaries
- Crossing your own boundaries
- Leaning on or asking your ex for emotional support
- Calling or texting your ex just to say hi as if nothing has changed
- Asking to get back together
- Using substances to cope
No one likes emotional pain and loneliness. But what many of these unhealthy coping mechanisms share is that they prolong processing and moving on from the breakup.
Your relationship is over for a reason. Let it end. Either you made the decision to end it, in which case you had your reasons, or your now-ex did, in which case it doesn’t matter what the reasons are: if someone in a relationship says it’s over, it’s over. No amount of wine, emotional self-flagellation, listening to her voicemail, or begging her to take you back will change that – and it would not be a healthy relationship, between you or with yourself, if it did.
What Are Some Healthy Responses to a Breakup?
To respond to a breakup, feel and process your feelings, maintain your boundaries with your ex and yourself, and focus on moving forward.
Ideally, we’d all maintain our interests and senses of self regardless of relationship status, but in practice that’s not always true. This means that, to get past a breakup and to stop refreshing your ex’s social media, start by focusing on (re)connecting with yourself.
Create a new normal. How do you want to live your life when it’s just for you? What interests, hobbies, and friends do you want to spend more time with – or less? What opportunities can you take to get closer to the life you want to live, whether through therapy, exercise, professional goal setting, or even what you do with a day off?
This is going to take some time. You’re used to sharing your day-to-day life with someone, and change is always an adjustment. But it will be that much harder if you’re stalking their Facebook, asking friends about them, or texting or calling them directly. No matter how tempted you are, you must not do these things.
Instead, as difficult as breaking up can be, try to see it as a good thing. Relationships teach us about ourselves and how we relate to others, even when – and sometimes especially when – they end. They can show us how we want to be treated, how we want to treat others, and what we value in a partner. And when they end, they can be opportunities to examine and work on ourselves.
The goal is to learn from each and every relationship and move forward into the next relationship choosing better partners and being a better partner in return, until you can, if you want, find the one that sticks.