DEAR DR. JENN,
My girlfriend and I broke up recently and I know it's for the best long-term, but it feels physically impossible not to still text her. I want to be friends but I know it's probably not healthy right now until I've really moved on. How do I stop the urge to find reasons to contact her? How do I move on? —Needing a Love Detox
DEAR LOVE DETOX,
Do you are onto something. Too many people try to remain friends with an ex way too soon. The litmus test to figure out if you are ready to be pals is the following question: If your ex were to tell you that she had met someone great and was madly in love, would you be happy for her and excited to meet that person?
When the answer is yes, that means you're ready to be friends. Until then, you cannot have a true friendship. There will always be an agenda, whether it's to show your ex that you are winning the breakup or a secret desire to get her back. Neither one allows for a healthy friendship.
So how do you move on? The no-contact rule. I believe that no contact for six to twelve months is the best way to detox from the relationship and figure out if they are someone you really can and want to have a friendship with. (Sometimes, the best thing that you can do is to not only step away from your ex, but also from dating entirely and go on a dating detox.)
When it comes to cutting off contact post break up, most people struggle. It takes enormous emotional discipline not to reach out to someone who has been your touchstone for many months, or even years. The most common complaint that I hear is "he/she was my best friend and I need that support." Most people don't want to lose the connection, encouragement, and friendship that their partner once supplied. But when you have shared a sexual attraction and a bed, most people need some space before they are able to have a true friendship.
Here's the thing though: Taking time away from that person should not be used as a manipulation or a strategy to get them back. It is a way to preserve your own mental health and allow you to heal and recover. After a breakup, your most important developmental task is to let go of the bond that you previously shared with that partner. It is nearly impossible to accomplish that while hanging out with them, texting, or DMing each other memes.
I understand that following the no contact rule is easier said than done. Here are a few tips to help you to maintain the distance.
1. Write a letter to yourself.
Write a letter to read in moments of weakness. This should include your motivation for ending the relationship or why you know you should stay away from someone who ended it for you. This kind of letter should remind you of the repercussions that will occur if you reach out and also provide motivation to keep up the no contact rule.
2. Give yourself room to grieve.
The end of a relationship is a loss, even when it is the right thing. When a relationship ends, we go through the same stages of grief and loss that we do when there is a death. These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. We don't necessarily go through them in any specific order and we don't graduate from one before we move onto the other and never look back. It's very possible to alternate between two stages like sadness and anger. Give yourself the room to grieve and have feelings without involving your ex in them.
3. Make a list of every terrible thing your partner ever did.
Along with your letter, it's a great idea to have a list of all the reasons why this relationship is not in your best interest. This list should include things she has done that hurt you, any betrayals that have occurred, ways that you are not compatible, things that did not work in the relationship, ways that the relationship was not healthy for you, and reminders about why the two of you are not together. You may want to store this along with your letter to yourself. This is your in case of emergency break glass list. If the letter has not worked and you are reaching for your phone, read this first!
4. Start a self-care list.
Create a list of things that you can do that calm you, distract you, and help relax you. Start with 20 different activities that you can do that you enjoy. This should be a living list that you constantly add to. Make sure some of these items are things that you can do at home by yourself, regardless of the weather. I have a list of 150 self-care activities in my app that you can borrow from to start your list.
5. Have a breakup buddy.
It can be helpful to either have a friend who's going through something similar or just a pal who you can be accountable to. This is someone who you can make a pact with not to reach out to your ex, come up with consequences if one of you does, or just support each other while going through this difficult time. Having someone who you are accountable to besides yourself can help you be clean with your no-contact plan.
6. Work on yourself.
After a relationship is over, that can be a really wonderful time to start some self-exploration. Start individual therapy so you can look at any patterns that you have in your relationships and correct them before your next partner. If money is a concern, look into local mental health clinics that will see you based on your ability to pay. Do some bibliotherapy. Read books about breakups, childhood trauma, changing relationship patterns, having healthier relationships, or anything else geared towards self-improvement.
7. Start a new hobby.
Utilize all of your new free time to find new passions and activities that you love. Always wanted to take a class to learn how to write a novel, paint a picture, play the violin? This is the time. Find new things that light your soul on fire, or even just help you pass the time while you heal.
8. Give yourself some structure.
Sleeping all day, eating ice cream out of the container, and staying up late drinking are all temptations of the broken heart. But we tend to thrive and heal faster when we are able to provide structure for ourselves. Write up a schedule for yourself that allows you to get enough sleep, do some moderate exercise, and provide healthy nutritious food for yourself. Make sure you include time with your support system and fun time with friends. You are going to need this to get through this difficult time.
9. Change your surroundings.
Sitting in bed looking at that framed picture of the two of you on that romantic trip you took does not help you heal or let go. Put away all the photos, memorabilia, and things that remind you of your ex. Burn some sage to get rid of her energy in your home. If you can afford to do a little redecorating, this is the time. Even just moving the furniture in your apartment can give you a fresh outlook and make it remind you less of the time when she was there.
10. Plan something fun.
Give yourself something to look forward to. Sign up for a class (virtual or otherwise), plan a trip, organize a dinner with a favorite friend, or plan a little shopping splurge. Giving yourself something to look forward to can help shift your mood and keep you looking forward instead of back.
Keep in mind that sometimes even the most heartbreaking breakups usually end up being for the best. Sometimes we are just too close to see it. Do your best to utilize this time to reconnect with your self and take great care of you.