Coping strategies when you want to move on from a relationship
Breakups happen every day. [But you are the only person who has ever been broken up with].
A song is being played on the radio for thousands of area listeners. [The emotional chorus is specifically about you].
You have formed, managed, and shaped countless relationships throughout your life. [This was the only relationship you have and ever will know] … and now it is gone.
A brain recovering from the initial shock of the loss of a primary attachment (whether long or short term) will frantically scan the environment for reminders of the safety and security it so strongly connected to.
Pictures, songs, artifacts, locations.
Moving On From a Relationship Hurts
Everything in the environment is primed to return our attention to that attachment we crave, even though the person it is associated with is gone.
Picture the lonely scavenger; hungry and in search of breadcrumbs leftover from a main course.
Whatever scraps are found will never sustain a healthy life, but in the face of starvation, the brain will blindly persist.
This is the reason that days or even weeks after a breakup, our minds can feel foggy, preoccupied, and even detached from the rest of the world.
The brain is in every sense in survival mode, and working tirelessly to either regain the lost relationship, or avoid the unpleasant inevitability of realized loneliness (“”).
Breakup responses are strong because they cut to the very core of our human desire to be connected, social creatures.
We need to feel needed. It helps us feel safe.
And so, there is good news and there is bad news. The bad news is that you cannot (and should not) avoid the natural sense of loss and distress that comes with losing an important personal attachment.
Just as we are wired to seek close connections and to have our most basic needs met through and with another, we are also vulnerable to a sense of pain when that connection is lost.
The good news, however, is that you can anticipate and adapt to the predictable cognitive changes that occur following breakup, which can help you pass through the challenging times more easily and more efficiently.
I’m going to share 5 coping strategies for moving on from a relationship. And while it’s true men deal with breakups differently than women, the tips below are applicable to all people, regardless of gender.
1. Accept (and Embrace) That Hurting Is Part of Healing
Your breakup is going to hurt. You cannot (and should not) avoid this. However, take solace in knowing that many others have gone through breakups before you, and many more will find their ways after.
Whether you are the breaker or the breakee, you are going to experience a sense of loss.
Your brain is going to be operating at an emotional deficit which will need to be acknowledged and addressed for you to regain a sense of stability moving forward.
Apply some self-acceptance, some gratitude at the beginning. Tell yourself, “this is going to be hard, but I’ll get through it.”
2. Lose Visual Reminders of Relationship
Following the breakup, you brain will automatically be seeking reminders of the previous relationship. Don’t make that process any easier than necessary.
Put away pictures, gather and stow belongings, and step away from the social media.
Easier said than done (your recovering brain will be horrified at the prospect of losing access to those pictures from that thing you did together), but establishing distance from reminders, and especially social media can be critical to your healthy recovery from the breakup.
Imagine a hammer. You are holding the hammer.
The hammer represents feeling poorly about the breakup. Looking at pictures or reminders is like hitting yourself in the head with said hammer.
Why would we do this to ourselves? As previously mentioned, your primitive brain is floundering to get traction towards regaining this lost attachment.
It will go to great (and unhealthy) lengths to motivate us to attach again.
3. Focus on Self-Care (Big Time)
When something important is removed from your emotional ecosystem, you must purposefully choose what will replace it.
If you do not act with intention and clarity, you leave open the potential for unhealthy and non-sustainable forms of soothing and coping to take root.
Temporary coping mechanisms include drugs, alcohol, flings, or over-indulgence in its many forms.
The problem with these “feel good quick” schemes is that when the pleasure gains fade away, we are left either back where we started, or further behind. Like throwing a Band-Aid over a wound.
In all cases, we are avoiding an inevitable confrontation with the emotional disruption caused by the breakup.
And so, we should take sustainable steps that improve our health, speak to our values, and improve our capacity for future endeavors. Exercise. Rediscover your hobbies.
Make time for family/social interactions. These forms of coping and self-nurturing can be the clean stitches that close the wound of the lost relationship and will continue to yield satisfaction long-term.
4. Lean Into Your Support System
The brain senses a loss. In its urgency, there is likely one question that will be asked again and again and again. That question is “why?”.
In the throes of an unpleasant breakup, your brain will be motivated to act and remedy the situation.
The undesirable is unacceptable, and we must plan to step forward.
Left to its own devices, your mind will offer countless rationalizations towards reaching out to your ex, seeking them out in public, or writing an emotional letter to explain your side of the story.
As many have probably experienced, this is not often a good idea.
In a heightened emotional state post-breakup, it is important to hand the emotional “keys” to a designated friend of confidant.
Allow them to present their view of the lost relationship and listen to whether they saw it as beneficial.
Granted, they will likely be motivated to tell you a bit of what you want to hear (“you’re so great”, and “they don’t deserve you”), but if given the chance to listen instead of plot, your brain may allow for a moment of relief and healing.
Keep in mind, following a breakup, the brain is working at an emotional deficit and should utilize all the help it can get.
5. Remember, This Too Will Pass
Perhaps the most important way that you can move on from a relationship is to repeat the mantra, This Too Will Pass.
Sure, that may sound overly simplistic but sometimes simple can be powerful. The hard truth is your mind – and your heart, are working through a trauma. In turn, this can make you make it seem like the pain will never end.
But I’ve got news for you – it will. Just as sure as the sun rose from the east on this day and set in the west, it will.
All of us heal at different speeds. The pace of that healing is largely determined by your personal life story and the depth of your feelings towards another.
That’s why it’s so important to tell yourself this too will pass, even if you don’t believe it in the moment.
By doing this, you literally send your brain the message to dial down anxiety and avoid the trap of “foreverizing”.
You’ve heard of that term, right? Foreverizing happens when you think a feeling will be with you for eternity.
I wish that I could tell you hypnosis could make you forget about someone or take away the pain. But that wouldn’t be honest.
But what I can tell you, based on science, is that meditation can reduce the intensity of your emotions and help you move closer toward healing.
Above, I’ve included a guided imagery video. Why not give it a try and see how it works for you?
Bringing It All Together
After a breakup, does it take the length of the relationship to heal? Probably not.
Do we ever really forget the people who were important to us or played a large role in our lives? Of course not.
To right the ship, you need to remind yourself (and the part of you that NEEDS someone to be with and depend on) that you are going to be okay.
When that part of you is soothed, reassured and not allowed to take over the controls, then you will be less disturbed when reminded of the breakup.
You may still feel poorly about it, but the boat won’t rock as much.
Maybe one day it won’t even rock at all. And the sad song on the radio might just be for some one else.