We aren’t taught to grieve breakups properly. The advice we’re given is to get over it, get out of the house to meet someone new, and get on with life. In reality, we need to both tend to and honor the deep wound left behind by a breakup. This applies to both tumultuous and amicable breakups.
How Not Grieving Our Breakups Hurts Us
A study looking at the impact of unmarried relationship dissolution on mental health and life satisfaction found that the dissolution of an unmarried relationship was related to an increase in psychological distress and a decline in life satisfaction. Meanwhile, popular culture tells us that we can power through this mental distress by plotting our next hookup or changing our hair. Cutting bangs can’t close the sutures that keep ripping open every time we think of our ex.
Failing to grieve relationships can put us in one of two places. If the other party is willing to play the game, we may end up in a boomerang relationship that prevents us from ever moving forward. This is a scenario where a fully committed partner constantly goes back and forth with a disinterested, ambivalent partner. If the other partner has cut us off completely, we risk becoming stunted in place as we fixate on feelings of longing and regret. Mourning and honoring the relationship are both necessary for moving forward.
Tips for Uncoupling With Grace
First, keep an eye out for what psychologists refer to as self-abandoning behaviors. These tend to creep in when we have our world rocked by a breakup that leaves us feeling like we no longer have an identity. They include numbing through substances, obsessing over work, making sure everyone knows just how terrible our ex was, or closing ourselves off to the idea of ever dating again.
Here’s a survival checklist for getting through a breakup:
- Accept that closure doesn’t mean the absence of pain or sadness. You can still grieve a relationship even if you wish things hadn’t ended. You’re also grieving your expectations.
- Appoint a friend or family member to be a mediator to address any unfinished business. Your mediator is the person your ex can communicate with over items or accounts that need to be squared away after the breakup. This system protects you from having to continue to communicate with your ex. A study from 2019 shows that up to 47% of people lack the skills necessary to end romantic relationships. Having a plan for disconnecting helps to avoid a cycle of remaining in a relationship that is unhealthy, unsatisfying, or out of sync with your individual goals.
- Be realistic about your ability to be friends with your ex. If you’re still longing for them, it may be hard to resist using friendship as an “in” for getting back together. This will only delay your healing.
- Give yourself permission to skip gatherings or events where your ex will be present.
- Disconnect digitally from your ex. Block if necessary. This will help you to avoid the inevitable experience of seeing them in a picture with another partner.
- If you have linked financial or streaming accounts, remove yourself from them immediately. Having the ability to see what your ex is viewing or buying can send you into an obsessive spiral if you’re still tender.
Another resource that can be helpful is my Break-up Guide. Download this guide today to help you heal from a breakup.
A big part of getting through the grieving process is being kind enough to yourself to avoid moments of catching glimpses of your ex both online and in person. It’s best to simply decide that whatever they are up to isn’t any of your business. When breaking up, it’s also important to treat the process as a mental health experience instead of something you need to shake off. Don’t forget that counseling can be a great resource for working through what you’re feeling when confusing thoughts or urges emerge in response to the changes happening in your life.