Breakups vary in all shapes and sizes depending on your age, the length of the relationship, the type of person you were dating, and many other factors. But there’s one common theme to breakups: they suck. If there’s one question I see the most, it’s “how do I get over my ex?” There are some good articles on how to do it, but I haven’t seen one that really hits the nail on the head and explains what to do from day 1 in order to get through a breakup.
Here are the 3.5 steps to take to get through a breakup and come out as a stronger, happier person.
Note: the time-frame for each step is put in brackets, but depends on the person and/or situation. Some people are quicker to “recover” than others, and relationships that last longer will generally require more time spent in each step. Adapt the time-frames accordingly.
Step 0.5- Realization/Acceptance (1-3 Days)
The absolute first step to take to get over a breakup is to realize and accept that it has happened and that your relationship is over. I’ve heard way too many stories about “half breakups” or breaking up for a day or two (or more) or not being on the same page, and these are all terrible situations to put yourself in. I’m not going to discuss whether you should try and “win the person back” in this post because it’s not the focus, so we will assume it’s in your best interest that this relationship ends.
Say this to yourself: my relationship is over. Period. This might (probably will) sound depressing and you still might not be able to fully accept it, but if you don’t start believing it, at least a little bit, you will never truly move on.
The “good” part about accepting the breakup as a fact is that you have clarity. When dealing with difficult situations such as these, for your own peace of mind, you should seek out clarity and certainty instead of confusion and “grey areas”. The sooner you can get it in your head that the relationship is over, the better. Trust me, it will help down the road to recovery.
Bottom line: if you know it is/should be over, it’s over.
Stage 1- Mourning (1-3 Weeks)
Now that you’ve realized and accepted that your relationship is over, you need time to mourn. In plain English, this means be very, very sad. Again, how sad or emotional you get will depend on many factors, and naturally some will need a longer mourning period than others, but give yourself between 1-3 weeks to cry it out. Be alone if you need to, have your breakdowns, cry on shoulders, listen to sad music, eat tubs of ice cream, whatever you need to do.
The key here is to get all of that sadness out of your system. In the next few steps, you will work on building yourself back up into a happier, stronger person. But the reality is that you can’t do that if you’re still holding onto feelings of sadness. Sure, you will have times down the road where you feel sad, but that is sadness you can overcome. At this step, you want to get all that underlying, heavy sadness out of your system, so recognize it’s there, don’t hold back and let it all out.
Also keep in mind that you should go “no contact” with your ex. This will be the hardest stage to stay true to the “no contact” rule, but it’s also the most important time to stick to it. Remember, this whole process is aimed at getting over the person, so anytime you message, call, creep or stare, will only bring back memories and refresh your feelings towards them. Avoid at all costs!
Pro tip: any time you get a strong urge to message/call your ex, message or call a good friend or family member instead. Even if it’s just to whine and sob about your ex, you’re better off doing that than communicating with your ex.
You should also set a specific ending date for the mourning stage. For example, let’s say you had a ten month relationship that was pretty great, but ultimately didn’t last that long. Also, you know you’re the type who doesn’t need long to recover. So you pick exactly 1 week.
Or let’s say you just got out of a 4-year relationship with someone who you thought was “the one”, and you’re a very emotional person who doesn’t handle these things well. You may want to pick a date closer to 2-3 weeks away.
No matter what length of time or day you pick, put it in your calendar and get it in your head that starting on that day, your mourning is over and your recovery begins. I’ll never forget the exact day I started properly recovering from my first big breakup; it was a 3-year relationship that ended out of the blue and left me in shambles. But after a brief phone call about 2 weeks after the breakup where she made it clear things were over for good, I told myself that tomorrow was the start of my recovery and stuck to it. It wasn’t until that day that things finally started to improve.
Pro tip #2: keep a journal. Yes, even if you’re a guy who feels like that’s too “feminine”. You are going to have a million thoughts and feelings going through your mind, and even if you have a great support system, sometimes it isn’t enough. At the beginning or end (or both) of each day, make a journal entry about those thoughts and feelings. It will help put your mind at ease.
Bottom line: accept the fact that you’re allowed to be sad, and get it all out of your system in a reasonable amount of time. Talk to family/friends for support and keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings.
Step 2- Recovery (1-3 months)
At this point, you’ve had a rough week/few weeks of mourning, but you got all/most of the sadness out of your system. This, in my opinion, is the most important step, and if done well, will set you on an amazing path moving forward.
This stage is the complete opposite of the mourning stage. Instead of remembering the past and being sad, we’re focusing on ourselves and our bright future ahead. The hardest part about going through a breakup is that there’s now a void in your life that your significant other used to fill- all the texting, hanging out, sleeping over, etc., is all gone, so you need to fill in that time. The key is to get active, get social, and keep busy.
Here are the best ways:
1) Do physical activities: No, I don’t mean start sleeping with other people (although they say the quickest way to getting over someone is to get under someone else 😉 ). Start going to the gym, or running, or going to yoga, or playing a sport, or going for daily walks, or a combination of a few of these. It doesn’t matter what it is, pick a physical activity or two that you enjoy and start doing them at LEAST 3 times a week. Bonus points if you have a friend/friends to do it with or play against. The psychological benefits of being active and in good physical condition are endless, so this is very important. Also, you’ll probably have a lot of ice cream to work off from your mourning stage…
2) Start talking to more people: In the mourning stage, it’s completely fine to curl up in bed for days on end, not talk to people and not want to do group activities. But now it’s time to flip the switch- start going out for dinners with friends or family, start going out to other social-type gatherings, start going out to bars, etc. Even little things like hosting a board game night, or going out to see a movie with friends, or for an ice cream cone. Doesn’t matter what, just start asking people to hang out and/or accepting invites to everything that gets you out of the house.
Pro tip: if you don’t want to ask people directly to do things, ask your friends and/or family to invite you out whenever they want company for anything. Don’t force yourself into their plans, but a simple “Hey, I’m really looking to get out of the house more these days, so if you ever want some company with anything, please let me know” works great.
3) Cook more/eat healthier: Heck, this could even be a new hobby you try out for the first time, but start cooking (more). How often do you cook already? If it isn’t almost every day, then start cooking meals more often. Whether it be a brand new recipe for dinner, a simple, fresh sandwich for lunch or a healthy snack you’ve always wanted to make, go get some groceries and prep your own food. It will save you money, improve your diet and can be a lot of fun with some music or a podcast on in the background.
4) Re-start or pick-up a new hobby: Remember that thing you loved doing in grade school that you don’t do anymore? Or even high school or undergrad? Maybe it’s comic books, or painting, or sewing. Or maybe you always wanted to try woodworking or the piano but never got around to it. This is the perfect time. Pick one or two and dive into it head first. Start reading guides, going to classes, talking with people who have experience, visiting forums online, etc.
5) Read and Write: Stop reading Facebook/Instagram feeds and start reading books; fiction, non-fiction, self-help, personal development, romance, whatever your heart desires. Also, start (if you didn’t already in the previous stage) a journal. I found that especially when you have your ex on your mind or feel like you need to reach out to them, writing about your feelings or even a letter addressed to them helped bring me down to earth without the negative effects that actually communicating with them brought.
6) Rely on internet strangers: This might not be for everyone, but there are so many great online social communities and/or forums with people who are either going through tough times as well, or those who have been through them and are willing to be a support system. Post or reach out to fellow current or former broken-hearted peers and you immediately get access to free, unbiased people looking to chat and help one another. However, this isn’t for everyone, and you shouldn’t become reliant on it. This is for general chatting and support, don’t get caught up spending hours chatting with people online. Use it as a filler when not taking part in options 1-5.
Implement all/most of these things in your life, and you will automatically become busier, healthier and happier. The recovery phase will last a different amount of time for everyone. Some people can get back to normal and into a good routine quickly, while others might not. Either way, focus on those activities (especially 1-4) and you’ll notice a gradual improvement in how you’re feeling day-to-day. Realize this will not be an overnight fix and you will have a bad day here and there. But if you stick to these guidelines, you will notice a gradual improvement over time.
Bottom line: stay busy by living an active, healthy life and you will slowly start to feel better, day by day.
Step 3- Revitalization (Forever)
This is the easy and fun part. You’ve spent a few days accepting the breakup, a few weeks crying it out of your system, and a few months building yourself back up and into a stronger, better person. There is no time-frame for how long recovery will take, but eventually, you will feel “normal” again and be ready to move on to bigger, better things.
This is the last step to getting through a breakup. In most respects, it is very similar to step 2, with one major difference. While you are still living an active, busy and healthy lifestyle, you are ready to start “moving on”. Maybe it has already happened, or maybe you are busy with your career and not focused on finding someone else, but at this point, you are ready if the right circumstances came around.
Because of this, there isn’t anything specific to do in this step except to appreciate that you made it through one of life’s greatest emotional difficulties, be open to opportunities and be excited for what you have ahead. Maybe you want to meet someone in bars, online, or in any other way, or maybe you still want to focus on yourself. Either way, the world is your oyster and you should move at whatever pace you feel most comfortable with.
Pro tip: Now that you’ve moved on from your previous relationship, it is a good time to reflect on it and learn from what went wrong. What truly caused the breakup? What things did you do that may have led to it, and how can you improve yourself for your next relationship? What qualities are you looking for in your next partner? No need to answer all of those concretely, but thinking about them will make your next relationship that much better.
One last consideration is “being friends” with your ex. Up until now, you should have avoided contact with them, but at this point, MINIMAL contact is completely fine. I know some former partners who ended up becoming friends, but I always avoided it. Not because they were bad people or because the breakup was nasty, but because I appreciated what we had in the past and didn’t want any potential of complicating things any more (or even worse, having one party develop feelings again).
Therefore, I keep communication to a minimum, such as birthday wishes and catch-ups every once in a while (maybe once or twice a year). Again, you may want or be able to include more communication than that, but I choose to focus on moving forward and avoiding any possible complications.
That’s it! For those going through a breakup or anyone with a friend who is, I hope that this will give you or them a framework to use to get through it as quickly and positively as possible. For those who aren’t or haven’t yet, keep this post in mind and don’t forget to check back and/or bookmark the page for future use (apologies for the pessimism, but you never know when a rough breakup may hit!).
Please leave any questions or comments below, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading!