Your Post-Breakup Plan, in 20 Expert Steps

Photo credit: MGM
Photo credit: MGM

"Hearst Magazines and Yahoo may earn commission or revenue on some items through the links below."

There's no getting around it: Breakups are terrible, even if they're handled with compassion. They can shake you to your very foundations, causing you to question your confidence AND your faith in love itself. If you've been broken up with, you're grappling with the very real pain of rejection on top of mourning a lost love. When you're the one who chose to end things, there's often guilt swirled into your sadness. Even in the most amicable, mutual situations, a split is an ending—and in a culture that emphasizes "forever" as a relationship goal, we're made to feel like an ending is a failure.

In reality, breakups are often the shattering preamble to a new-and-improved life (one that can eventually include a relationship with someone you're more compatible with). But in those first few brutal days and weeks, you've got every right to feel inconsolable. In time, though, you can move onward and upward. Here are 20 ways to start feeling better fast, according to experts.

Allow yourself time to grieve.

No matter the circumstances of your split, your feelings are valid and processing them is a journey in itself.

"You're losing a big part of your life when you break up with someone. They are a friend, a lover, a confidante and maybe a housemate," says Charly Lester, dating expert and CMO of Lumen, a dating app for people over 50. "They've probably been a daily feature in your life for some time, and you need to grieve that loss almost like you would a death."

Tess Brigham, a therapist and life coach based in California, agrees. "It's okay to feel sad one day, mad the next, in denial the day after, and back to feeling sad again."

Don't stay friends–consider deleting your ex's number.

Maybe the two of you said that you'd stay friends, as many people do. Dr. Gary W. Lewandowski Jr, Professor and former Chair in the Department of Psychology at Monmouth University in New Jersey, explains that for some, “keeping the connection helps things stay civil and makes the transition less abrupt,” especially when you do it for practical reasons like if you work together, but it can be a tough task.

A post-breakup friendship may well happen in time, but "time" is the key word here. Very few exes make a seamless transition into friendship immediately (and if you think you've done it, see what happens when one of you starts dating someone new). Dr. Lewandoski Jr adds that staying friends with an ex is in fact linked to “more depression, jealousy, heartbreak,” and even a “harder time finding a new romantic partner”.

"If the breakup was instigated by the other person, delete their number from your phone, so you aren't inclined to contact them," dating expert Lester says. It'll help you avoid the dreaded drunk-dial, and eliminate the impulse to send ill-advised texts.

Protect your heart with a social media purge.

Whether you're scrolling through old photos of happier times or hitting refresh on your ex's profile to analyze every update, Facebook and Instagram can be pure poison for the brokenhearted. “Though it may be temporarily gratifying to satisfy your curiosity,” regarding what they’re up to, Lewandowski Jr suggests it’s best not to look back.

"Trying to decode if your ex is happy when he or she posted a picture from brunch is just going to make you feel bad about yourself," says Brigham.

No matter what an ego-wounded ex may tell you, it's not unkind to unfollow them; feel free to block them in the name of mental health. You can also choose to "snooze" a Facebook friend for 30 days by clicking on the three dots in the right-hand corner of a status update, so they won't appear in your feed for a month (you'll still need the willpower to avoid checking their profile, though).

"The same goes for their friends and family," Lester suggests. "If you think it's just going to make you obsess over your ex's every move, mute or remove them from your social media."

In fact, Lewandoski Jr explains that Facebook research participants who stalked their ex’s profile more ended up having a harder time dealing with the breakup. Reports included “nagging feelings of love, continued sexual desire, more distress and negative feelings, and less personal growth post-breakup," says the expert.

Don't contact your ex unless absolutely necessary.

Are you sensing a theme here? Distance is tough, but crucial. Moving logistics and figuring out shared dog-custody is one thing; calling or dropping by to get that one sweatshirt you "need" is another. DO NOT DROP BY.

"It isn't going to help your healing process, and the quicker you can adjust to life without your ex in it, the better it's going to be for you," Lester explains.

Don't go back to them.

Let’s be real–redinkling a former flame can be tempting at times, even to the best of us. In feelings of weakness or a period of loneliness, one might find the idea of reconnecting with an ex more appealing than they should. Lewandoski Jr illustrates how exes can be associated with a certain familiarity and convenience, which is why many people revert to going back to them. More specifically, “those who need more reassurance and love in their relationships due to insecure attachment are more interested in getting back together with an ex”.

Instead of indulging though, take charge of your healing journey and avoid prolonging it by calling up an old flame. Chances are, you’ll re-encounter the issues that drove you apart in the first place or erase all of your efforts to move on, especially if not enough time has passed. It’s best to focus on yourself and redirect that energy to better things…or potential new hobbies.

Write on.

A new activity you can pick up that’ll help you move through your feelings during a breakup is writing. Breakups are inevitably filled with negative emotions and it’s “all too easy to wallow in those feelings, spiral down, and bottom out,” explains Lewandowski Jr. To help get through this tough time, he recommends adopting this new hobby. “For just 20 minutes a day over 3 days, commit to writing about your deepest thoughts and positive feelings regarding the former relationship”. According to his research, participants that focused on the positive aspects reported a subsequent increase in positive emotions including “contentment, strong, thankful, relief, wise, and satisfaction”. These participants evidently yielded better results than those who placed too much focus on the negative.

Being a pessimist can taint your view on everything at times, but can also allow feelings of anger, sadness, or resentment build up and suffocate you from the inside. Existential psychotherapist Sara Kuburic explains how completely dismissing a relationship that was once so meaningful to us, “does not honor our effort, our love, or the ways in which the person had enriched our lives”. “Recognizing the good and attributing meaning to the relationship can be healing,” she says. It’s important to be able to acknowledge the relationship in order to move forward and to see the good that can come out of it, like a possible silver lining.

Schedule plans with friends.

"In the early days after a break-up, you're likely not to feel great, so try to distract yourself as much as possible," says Lester. "Make plans with friends so you don't have time to wallow."

Book a dinner date with your best friend—and if it turns into an hours-long hang, all the better. If you're the type to neglect non-romantic relationships when you're in love, come armed with an apology (and the intention to never do that again). You might throw your energy into forging new friendships, too.

Before you dash off those invites, remember to strictly stick to buddies who make you feel like the best version of yourself, instead of those who don't. Your heart is like a wounded baby animal right now, and it needs to be pampered!

Lean into your experience.

When faced with difficult feelings, many people opt for bottling them up in an attempt to avoid the pain associated with them. As much as you can distract yourself with fun activities, be careful not to box your feelings up completely. “That backfires because trying to hold back your thoughts, ironically encourages you to think about them more,” explains Lewandowski Jr. His own research demonstrates that when people going through a breakup tried blocking out those feelings, they ended up feeling worse. Dr. Lewandoski Jr. tells us to “embrace those inevitable feelings,” instead.

Although it’ll be painful, feel those feelings deeply and purposefully move through the waves of emotions that come with a relationship ending. Doing this will enable you to grow and move forward, without awaiting for the feelings of distress you’ve boxed up to eventually resurface.

Make a breakup playlist.

Music has a powerful effect on mood, which is why the breakup mix is a key part of your post-parting toolkit. When you find yourself adrift in a churning sea of emotion while driving to work or rage-cleaning your apartment, let the breakup playlist be your constant.

As for what to put on your mix? That's intensely personal. According to a 2016 study, listening to sad music is a source of comfort for some, while it makes others feel worse. If you know from past experience that moody songs will soothe you, go for it. Otherwise, you'll want to step away from that Adele album, pronto.

Consider energizing talk-to-the-hand jams that make you feel...well, "Good As Hell," to quote a Lizzo song. "Truth Hurts" is another excellent option—and so are all of these perfect breakup songs.

Reconstruct the future without them.

During a relationship, it’s inevitable to talk about your hopes and dreams and plan out what your future together might look like. According to Kuburic, this is one reason why we often feel stuck and lost after a break-up. “The future we once envisioned we can no longer have”. If we don’t handle these troubled waters correctly though, we could fall into the trap of adding a “disproportionate value to our ex partner,” making it even harder to move on.

Kuburic suggests the solution is to focus on taking charge of our own path and goals. “What we can do is change the future we see for ourselves”. The more we’re able to look forward and accept that new vision without the person, the closer we are to feeling healed.

Rediscover yourself.

Relationships often shape us, and breakups can shake us to our core. Kuburic explains how our sense of identity can get “tangled up” with our partner and the relationship, resulting in feelings of loss and confusion when it’s over. “Reflecting on who we are now that we no longer have the ‘role’ of a partner or the influence of that person is an important step in moving on”. She adds that it can help to do activities that help us reconnect with ourselves. In other words, return to the things you love doing, but they didn't.

As Lewandowski Jr describes in his TED talk, “Break-Ups Don’t Have to Leave You Broken,” it’s important to become reacquainted with “parts of yourself that you may have deemphasized or neglected during the relationship” in order to “remember who you are separate from the relationship”. He encourages asking yourself what activities your relationship may have been blocking, and then rediscovering that part of you. According to Lewandowski, research participants who participated in rediscovery activities experienced more drastic benefits and overall positive feelings than participants who engaged in new or routine activities.

Remember how Indian food used to be your favorite, but your ex nixed that takeout option every time? Order curry tonight, and enjoy the taste of sweet freedom.

Lose yourself in a good book.

Is there a better (and more affordable) form of escapism than an absorbing read? Put one in your tote and head to the park or a coffee shop—it'll get you out of the house, and you never know who you'll strike up a conversation with about the page-turner in your hands.

Need recommendations? Start with 13 books that'll help you heal after a breakup, or make your way through every Oprah's Book Club pick ever.

Keep it (and yourself) moving with a new workout.

Exercise helps your body get a shot of mood-lifting endorphins and serotonin (you can listen to that breakup playlist while you work out!). And if you've never had a fitness regimen before now, that's okay: A recent study suggests that starting today can still yield major benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and early death. Besides, it's difficult, if not impossible, to weep your way through an entire Zumba class.

Travel and explore new places.

Enter a new headspace by exploring a new location. It doesn't need to be a lavish, Eat, Pray, Love-style solo trip, either: Start by switching up your route home, or check out a restaurant the two of you never went to.

"When you're in a relationship, it's easy to get stuck hanging out in the same places, doing the same things," Brigham points out. "Push yourself to explore parts of the city you've never been in, or take a weekend trip by yourself to somewhere you've been meaning to visit but haven't had the time."

Do not get a "breakup haircut."

Or, at least wait a second before getting bangs for the first time in your adult life. Same goes for quitting your job, getting that tattoo that seemed brilliant last night, and all other major life changes.

According to Lester, it's best to write these urges down and revisit them a few weeks later. "Your emotions are likely to be running high, and you might not be sleeping or eating in a normal way, which can affect your judgment."

Identify what you learned.

When reflecting on your time with the person, figure out what the biggest takeaways are. Kuburic describes the importance of keeping the knowledge you’ve now acquired close to you, even if the relationship isn’t. “Relationships teach us a lot about the other person, but also about ourselves”. She adds that the process of identifying what we’ve learned not only lets us “find value in the relationship,” but also prepares us as we move forward into the future. Having your lessons and thoughts clear following the closure of this chapter in your life can give you the tools you need to eventually enter your next relationship knowing what you want.

Release the "what ifs" and the mistakes.

"We learn a lot about ourselves through our relationships—both the good ones and the not-so-good ones," says Brigham. That said, "going in circles and feeling angry and resentful isn't going to help you learn about yourself and what you want in a relationship. It's going to keep you stuck in the problems of the past." Resist that urge to obsess and fume over what went wrong.

Kuburic explains the counterproductivity of dwelling “on past mistakes or on hypotheticals,” and the importance of “accepting reality and forgiving ourselves,” obviously depending on the situation. “We cannot change the past, so let’s accept this limitation and offer ourselves grace as we cope with it”.

Try to accept that the relationship ended for a reason, and focus on picturing what you'd like to give and receive with your next partner, instead. Meditation and therapy are two ways to let go of anger about the ways you were wronged (and definitely skip bringing the topic up on future dates). And speaking of dates...

Don't rush into the dating game too soon.

If you do find yourself ranting about your last relationship while on a Tinder date, that's a clear sign that you need more time, Lester says.

"While meeting new people can be a great way to realize there are plenty more fish in the sea, you don't want to be sobbing about your ex over drinks," she adds.

Rethink your definition of "closure."

It isn't that there's no such thing as closure. It's that too many phone calls, DMs, and "one last talk" coffee shop meetups are committed in the name of achieving it, when all you're actually doing is reopening a wound. True closure only comes with time.

Lester breaks it down like this: "In my experience, there are two scenarios. You either get enough time and emotional distance to be able to look back and appreciate why it didn't work, or you end up with an 'eclipse effect.' That's when you meet someone else so amazing that they completely eclipse all your previous thoughts of your ex."

Finally, when you're ready, forgive.

"Forgive yourself for mistakes you made in the relationship, and forgive the other person," Brigham says. "We don't forgive for the other person, we forgive for ourselves."

Letting go of the bitterness will help you find that friendship with an ex eventually, if you both want it. More importantly, it will help you move forward.

For more ways to live your best life plus all things Oprah, sign up for our newsletter!

You Might Also Like