Breakups can be some of the most gut-wrenchingly painful experiences of our lives. I wouldn't wish one on my worst enemy, but unfortunately, they happen to almost all of us at one point or another. I have had one myself, and have helped my friends through theirs, and I have noticed that we have a tendency to employ a lot of unhealthy coping mechanisms in this trying time.
Who could blame us?
After all, breakups are often when we are at our most vulnerable. However, we all surely want to get on with our lives as quickly and painlessly as possible, and I have collected some tips on how to do that.
1. Get that person out of your life.
Seriously. Even if it was an amicable breakup, that chapter of your life is closed and grand new ones await. You want to jump in with both feet and all that you are, excited and eager to live right in the moment of whatever God has for you next, without baggage from the past. I certainly felt like a big meanie explaining to my ex that I did not want to talk to or see him anymore, but I never wavered then or since that it was 100% the right thing to do. If your relationship was unhealthy, this will be the best thing you've done for yourself in quite some time.
2. Never badmouth your ex.
Never, never, never. There are two reasons for this. First, if you are constantly spewing vitriol about the negative things they did, it will become ingrained in your mind and make you even more bitter, prolonging your pain. When we remember an event, we actually are not remembering the event but the last time we remembered it, which is why you will distort your memories of your ex and convince yourself and others that your ex was way worse than they were, making it that much harder to forgive, find peace, and move on.
Second, if you insult them too much, you'll look like the bigger idiot for dating them if they were so bad. There is something about them that made you date them. This is not about the kind of person your ex was, but about the kind of person that you are. Note, however, that I am cautioning against gossipping loudly to random people and especially on social media. Figuring out what went wrong by talking to your family and close friends and therapist is not the same thing; neither is explaining your past to future romantic partners.
3. Cut ties on social media.
Going off the last point, if you are truly ready to move on, make it so that you do not have to see that person on social media. This should never be done out of anger or spite or hatred, but out of a desire not to be distracted from the beauty of the next chapter. We use social media when we are in all sorts of moods, and seeing a post from your ex when you are already in a weird or sentimental mood, or upset about something else, even when you are mostly over them, can send you spiraling. I did not unfollow or block my ex right away since obviously I still cared about him and wanted to be sure I wasn't acting in anger, but when the time was right, I did unfollow him and his friends.
4. Explain to your friends that you don't want to hear about your ex.
I was inspired by my friend, who after a breakup, told his friends and family that he did not want to know how his ex was doing or for her to know how he was doing. I adopted that myself and now all my friends are on notice that while I wish my ex all the best in the world, I do not need to know what he's up to and he does not need to know what I'm up to. If there is any juicy gossip about him, please share that with someone else. I did not ask them to unfollow him on social media, but most of them did anyway, so it's mostly a non-issue. Like the previous three points, this goes back to my desire not to be distracted from all the joys of my current adventure in life.
Feel free to be firm in your boundary. Some months after my ex started seeing someone else, one of my friends slipped up and told me about it. I had been seeing someone myself so at first, I didn't care, but I started to feel weird that my wishes hadn't been respected. After taking some time that evening to pray about my boundary, I knew I needed to talk to my friend and reiterate seriously that it's important for me not to be distracted from my present by my past, and it is even more important to me that I retain my privacy from him. She was completely understanding and apologetic and other than that, all my friends have been amazing and respectful and helpful in this area.
5. Set some goals and go after them.
Sometimes, especially in unhealthy relationships, we can lose sight of who we are and allow ourselves to become eclipsed by that relationship. It is natural for our lives to become entwined with those of our romantic partners, especially when relationships span months or even years, but when the break comes, it is so worthwhile to spend some time thinking about what you love doing and what your goals are in life. I dated someone with a very big personality, and I was subsumed by that more than I realized until it suddenly wasn't there. At that point, I made a list of goals I wish to achieve before my next relationship and a series of life goals, long-term goals, goals for the year, goals for the summer, monthly goals, and then I would decide which monthly goal I was going to chip away at every day. Each smaller set fed into the next larger set, and working on myself and my life in this way did more than I could explain in an entire book toward helping me recover my sense of self and purpose. I obviously did this for many more reasons besides just getting over a relationship, yet I didn't expect it to help so much.
6. Debrief from the relationship.
This can be with your therapist, mom, best friend, sister, pet, or journal. For me, I talked about it with all of those people, but my most profound insights came when I was alone with a pen and journal and asking myself why. Why did I do that? Why did I feel that way? Why did I vaguely dislike that? Those were the times when I learned the most about what I need to do differently next time and the ways in which my next (hopefully final) boyfriend needs to differ from his predecessor.
It definitely is important to learn what you did wrong, but in general, your ex is not going to be the best source of information on this topic. Do not internalize mean things they say to you. Remember that they are hurting and deserve compassion, but that does not mean you need to pay the slightest attention to attacks on you when they lash out in their hurt. Often, exes sound very logical and calm when they tell you why you're a horrible person, but absolute language like "You always" or dismissals of your entire personality, character, and existence are clues that they are speaking from emotion. Do not give space to this sort of toxic behavior, and be sure you do not tear them down in that way either. Friends, parents, and therapists are much better sources of ideas for personal growth.
7. Feel free to redefine yourself.
We all have ideas about who we are and how we should act and what we will and won't say, but not all of them come from healthy places. Shake it up! Give yourself the freedom to respond to people and circumstances in ways that are fun and natural for you. Breakups, like all tough seasons, can and do change our personalities, and that can be a very good thing. Even if you weren't acting any sort of way because of your relationship, this is a time of transition and therefore as good a time as any to let these changes roll. My newfound confidence turned me into a much more extroverted and less sensitive person, and now I have more fun in social situations than I ever did before. One of my best friends, following her breakup last year, got a lot more silly and goofy, and I live for it. On the other hand, another friend had always felt she had to be a social butterfly, but while processing her breakup she did become more reserved, and that was so good for her because that is who she is.
8. Reclaim smells, sights, songs, and places you associated with your relationship.
Associate them with new things. Take a trip, and listen to you and your ex's song somewhere new, so you can associate it with your trip. If there's a book you both liked, explore somewhere new and read it there. If there's a place you two used to always go, go there with a new friend. Of course, if you're like me, you may prefer not to do that with everything you associated with your ex, but it can be incredibly cathartic if something particularly pains you. Throw out the bad, but hold onto the good.
Author's note: The truth is that though these suggestions can help speed your process, they can't break your bad habits, they can't teach you to trust again, they can't erase your pain, they can't guarantee you bliss in your next relationship. If you feel ugly, they won't make you feel beautiful. Only Jesus can do that. Only He can make you complete and heal your pain and give you true radiance and confidence. Since our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9) even healing can become an idol. It is so important to keep Jesus on the throne of your life as you seek personal growth and confidence, and if you do that, the rest will follow!