Breakups are tough, especially if you were really invested in the relationship. And if you already saw the two of you married with three kids - it’s even harder to accept that that reality won’t come to pass.
Having dealt with a couple of breakups in my own life and becoming a counselor who specializes in relationships opened my eyes to a couple of things that everyone should know and practice - but most don’t. Somehow, most of us go through these breakups all wrong. We take a day or two to cry - alone or on our friends’ shoulders - and on day 3 we decide we will not by any means think about that person anymore!
But let me play a little experiment on you right now. If I said “Whatever you do, do not think about the white elephant!”... What will be the very first thing that comes to your mind? The white elephant, of course!
So why do you think it would be any different when you forbid yourself to think about your ex? That’s how we get to step #1 of overcoming a breakup and getting over your ex…
Stop Trying to Not Think About Them!
You spent a certain amount of time together. They were a big part of your life and, I would assume, of your every day. It’s impossible to just stop thinking about them overnight. And once you place this demand of yourself - “Whatever happens, I shall not under any circumstance think about him!”, and you fail to do it, you end up angry with yourself, and possibly even down and guilty because you didn’t really create any resources to cope with it all, so every time it hits you you’re essentially defenseless.
In Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, the main thing we teach clients is that unhealthy emotions (such as anger, guilt, depression - all those that stop us from reaching our goals) come from placing certain demands on ourselves, other people, or life itself. So if you want to truly get over them, stop forcing yourself to act like a computer that can simply select + delete all the files containing your ex in them!
It’s normal you’ll be thinking about them from time to time, and by stopping mid-tracks every time you do by distracting yourself with something, you’re simply making the memory stronger the next time it appears.
So what should you do instead?
Think about them to a certain extent, and let the memory play out. But every time it does, repeat a coping sentence you’ll create for yourself (I’ll give you a couple of examples at the end of the article), and try not to spiral down into an endless river of memories without using them for your own wellbeing. One thing that helped me was a method of looking through a telescope from the wrong end. Every time a memory of them resurfaces, try to see it as if you were looking through a reverse telescope - that way, you’ll let the memory play out, but it will seem so far away that you’ll be able to live through it without unhealthy emotions and without ruminating endlessly.
Step 2: Set a Grieving Period for Yourself
Like I said already, trying to be okay three days after a breakup and refusing to feel any negative emotions is downright impossible. Now, it’s worth noting here that negative emotions are not by default all unhealthy. Negative emotions can be healthy, too - as long as they allow you to live your life and become stronger as you go through something. So if you feel sorry about your mistakes, it’s a healthy negative emotion - it allows you to understand your mistakes, apologize where possible, and accept them where it’s not, so you can change your behavior in the future. But if you’re feeling guilty, chances are you’re beating yourself up endlessly over something, but staying in place without really doing much.
So feeling things like sadness, disappointment, and, yes - grief - is perfectly healthy and expected. However, you have the power to decide how long it should realistically last. A week might be too short a period, but a whole year of grieving a relationship may be too long.
Choose a period that would work for you, and if you’re struggling with it or any of the other steps, schedule a free consultation with me and let’s work it out!
Step 3: Understand Your Mistakes and Accept Yourself as Flawed
It takes two to tango, right? But there is a trap we often fall into after a breakup (our emotions can cloud our judgement quite a bit!) We either convince ourselves all the fault lies with us, or we stubbornly blame the other person, unable to accept our own mistakes - because that would mean we could have done something differently and saved the relationship!
But here’s another experiment for you. Place both your arms in front of yourself and raise only one hand. Now think about this: could you have chosen your other hand instead? Chances are you’ll say “well yeah, sure”, but the fact is - you couldn’t have. Why?
Because if you could have, you would have.
There was something in your genetics and experiences that led you to raise that particular hand. Maybe it’s due to you being right- or left-handed. Maybe you thought “A-ha, she expects me to raise my dominant hand, so I won’t do that!” Whatever it was, it led you to choose one hand over the other - and in that moment, there was no other choice.
When it comes to relationships, it’s pretty much the same. If you loved them and wanted to be with them, and if you really could have done these things differently, don’t you think you would have? Sure you would! And the fact that you didn’t means that you did everything you could at the time, with the resources you’d been given - so beating yourself up over something you had no real control over is utterly useless and can only harm you.
What you can change are your present and future, so learn from the mistakes you’ve made and do things differently next time!
Step 4: Remove Everything That Reminds You of Them
This is something you’ll read about often, but it’s really important. I did say it’s okay to think about them from time to time and you shouldn’t desperately fight it, but why not make it easier on yourself by removing those reminders just the same?
If you’re the type who likes to keep reminders of past relationships as life lessons of sorts, then ask a friend of yours to keep them for you until you’re over that person and ready to remember them as a nice memory, rather than something painful - and make sure they don’t return any of it before that grieving period is over, no matter how much you’re asking them to!
Step 5: Do Not Try to Win Them Back
I know this one may sound downright evil and unempathetic, but trust me when I say - ain’t no way that’s ending well! I’ve been there, and not only has it not ended well, but it brought me far more pain than the initial breakup.
Whatever the reasons behind your breakup, they were big enough for the two of you to say “This love is not enough, we simply can’t be together anymore”. Neither of you will change over night, and if you’re entering the same relationship as the same people, then do you really believe you have a chance?
“Yes, but we’ve realized while being apart how much we miss each other!”
Of course you’ll miss each other! As I said before, you’ve been a part of each other’s lives for some time. But just because you miss them and they miss you, it doesn’t mean you can make it work this time. The sad truth is - love is not enough. It takes a lot of effort and hard work and, in case of a breakup, personality changes if you truly want to make it work.
If you’re thinking of being with them again, give yourselves a real chance by getting over the past relationship, accepting yourselves, forgiving the other person, and changing your behaviors. If you do that as part of the relationship without truly closing the last chapter, the past mistakes will always be hunting you. I know it’s painful, but don’t think about it as giving up - think of it as having enough love and patience to give yourself a real chance at love.
And as promised, here are a couple of coping sentences to keep you going when you feel an unhealthy emotion or a destructive thought overtake you.
"I did everything I could at the time with the resources I had then." "If I could have done better at the time, I would have."
"I am a flawed person as we all are. My mistakes do not define me, but I can sure as hell learn from them."
"They are flawed and a complex human being, as we all are. If they could have done better, they would have."