Have you ever gone through a breakup and felt as if nothing would ever be right again? The end of a relationship is certainly a life-altering event that can turn your world upside down, whether or not you initiated the breakup. Unfortunately, it’s rare that one could go through life and escape the experience of a breakup. After all, how many of us marry our first boyfriend or girlfriend?
Based on my own experience, I have crafted a twelve-step process for dealing with a breakup and moving on once you have determined that a relationship is certainly over. Take your time completing these steps. This process is necessary, but it can be taken at your own pace.
Before you read on, here is some inspiration for you. I have been through the end of countless short-term relationships and two very serious ones – one of which was an engagement. I learned and grew from each ended relationship, and now I’m happily married. There is light at the end of the tunnel! One step at a time, you will find your light, too.
1. Grieve. The end of a relationship is, in many ways, like a death. A breakup signifies the end of something as you knew it, and it deserves to be grieved over. Allow yourself a set period of time to grieve – perhaps a week – and do so in healthy ways. Cry, journal, take bubble baths, watch sad movies… Just remember to still continue to fulfill your life’s obligations. One day your life will go on, and when that day comes, you won’t want to be facing failing grades, the loss of a job, or angry creditors.
2. Face yourself. You must physically face yourself after a breakup. Look in the mirror and announce what has happened. When you hear it out loud, you own the truth instead of being owned by it. Continue to look yourself in the mirror every morning. Find a mantra to repeat that puts a positive spin on the breakup. Say, “This too shall pass,” or, “This is a new beginning.” Make sure to smile – forced or not – before you leave the mirror. Smiling releases hormones that elevate your mood and will help you maintain a positive outlook for the rest of the day.
3. Pray. Even if you neglected your religious beliefs before your breakup, or you never took the time to develop any, now is the time. As a Christian, nothing empowers or calms me more than discourse with my Creator. Even if you do not desire to claim religious beliefs, self-reflection and quiet time is a must in the aftermath of a breakup. You need time to process the events, gain some perspective, and rediscover who you are. This can be the turning point in your healing process as you deal with a breakup.
4. Make a list. Now the logical part of a breakup begins. Get out your pen and paper and make a list. Write down the reasons your relationship didn’t work, and the reasons why the breakup is a good, positive thing for you. Be honest and real. Don’t exclusively point fingers at the other person; rather, look at the relationship as a whole and decide why you didn’t work together. Keep the list in a safe place, and any time you start to idealize your ex or wish you were back in the relationship, read the list and remind yourself why you are better off this way.
5. Pack up. After a breakup, you are likely to have a lot of “souvenirs” from the relationship. Fill a box with your ex’s belonging’s that need to be returned. Set up a time to give the box to your ex (if you’re ready to see him or her). You could also mail it or ask a mutual friend to deliver it. Fill a second small box with a few mementos – a favorite photo, a letter, or a gift – so that you can keep the memory of this important part of your life, but hide it somewhere so that it is not easy to get to. Finally, fill a third box with whatever remains, and take it straight to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army.
6. Prepare for future interactions. After a breakup, you must now redefine your relationship with your ex. The next time you see your ex, whether in a planned or unplanned scenario, he or she will not be related to you as intimately as before. Actually imagine yourself encountering your ex. Walk yourself through the interaction, relating to him or her as any ordinary friend. Don’t overanalyze it or script your words. Rather, get comfortable with the feeling of interacting with your ex as friends or acquaintances so that you are not hurt or taken off guard when it happens in real life.
7. Take care of the logistics. At this point in the breakup, some logistical things have to happen. First, you may need to let others know about the breakup. You might do it all at once through a medium such as Facebook, reveal the news to a select few friends who will spread the word, or share the news on a case-by-case basis. You may also have to handle some complicated issues, such as moving out of a shared apartment or splitting up assets. It may be best to take care of these logistics in person. On the other hand, if the two of you have a tendency to fight or to get physically intimate when you see one another, then do things from a distance until you are detached enough to spend neutral time together.
8. Schedule your time. After a breakup, your schedule might change dramatically. You were probably used to spending a lot of time with your ex, and you may have planned your schedule around him or her. Take the time to make a daily schedule. Try to find a balance between social time, productive time, and self-reflective time. Follow the schedule to the best of your ability. Practicing discipline during this time in your life will be crucial, as it will give you a sense of balance and accomplishment.
9. Set goals. One of the best things about a breakup is the opportunity to re-discover who you are. To get started on that process, consider some small goals you would like to accomplish during the next month, such as signing up for an art class or finishing a project at home. Write down your goal deadlines on your calendar, and hold yourself to them. Alternatively, you could create a list of ten life goals, such as backpacking through Europe or learning to cook. Then, set yourself deadlines for reaching small goals that will move you on your way toward accomplishing those larger goals.
10. (Re)connect with friends. After a breakup you may come to the startling realization that many of your other friendships have fizzled over time. Now is the time to try to reconnect with some of your old friends. Start by apologizing for being absent. Then, invite a friend to do something specific, and set a date and time to get together. Make a pact with yourself that you will maintain this friendship, even if you enter another romantic relationship! In addition, get out there and make new friends. Join a gym, a club, a church group, or a volunteer organization, and develop some new friendships to keep your social life rich.
11. Define what you are looking for. The time will eventually come after a breakup when you are ready to enter the dating scene again. By all means, don’t rush in! Allow yourself time to heal, and very honestly decide when you are ready to enter another relationship. The most important thing to remember about your next relationship is not to settle. Get your values and priorities in line, and write out a wish list and a “deal-breaker” list. The next Mr. or Miss Right doesn’t need to match all of your desired characteristics, but at least you can have a compass with which to navigate the dating scene.
12. Write a reflection. If you’ve gotten to the point after a breakup that you’re able to think about future relationships, it’s time to do something tangible to put your former relationship away and move on. Write a reflection about your relationship. Record your favorite memories, the lessons you learned, why you loved the person, the reasons for the breakup, and what you want to go differently in future relationships. Pour your heart and soul into it, cry if you need to, and be as honest as you can. Then, put your reflection somewhere hidden – in a book you’ll never read, an old shoebox, or even buried in the garden. Physically let it go.
Breakups can be incredibly emotional and trying, but at the end of the day, they are a blessing in disguise. They give you a chance to let go of something that’s broken, rediscover yourself, and prepare for your future relationships. You have grown, you are returning to your old self, you have a full life without your ex, and you have a bright future ahead of you. As you face each new day, keep in mind one of my favorite quotes of all time by a band called Nine Days: “You should never let the sun set on tomorrow before the sun rises today.”