Dr. Amie Harwick is a Therapist in Los Angeles specializing in sexuality. She is the author of The New Sex Bible for Women, and she is giving all of us an incredible set of tools to deal with our most heart-breaking breakup(s).
At the start of a relationship, it is common to feel that this is your happily ever after. That isn’t wishful thinking, that is called hope. You had the hope that this relationship would be forever and ever, or at least last a lot longer than it did. Unless you get hitched to your first and only love and stay married in a monogamous relationship until death do you part, you will experience a series of breakups in your lifetime. And when that time comes that your love becomes your dearly departed, you will have to face a loss then too. But don’t despair, as a human being you are a lot more resilient than you give yourself credit for. If the pain from a breakup never evolved or subsided, we would ALL be in a deep, dark hole of sadness. Lucky for you, we bounce back, and better than our pre-breakup selves since now we have a few more pieces of knowledge about the world, relationships, and ultimately ourselves. Use this list as a breakup survival checklist to get you through that first 30 days as your heart mends itself back together with stitches that will add to your character and help you make some even better choices the next time around.
- DABDA. Acknowledge the process of loss recovery. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross established this acronym process that is typically used for grief recovery, but can apply to other losses and life changes. Try to understand that these series of emotional states are normative for a relationship loss. These steps are not linear and sometimes it may take longer to reach acceptance. Be patient, you will get there.
D- Denial: “This isn’t happening.” “It is not REALLY over.” “That Tinder profile of my girlfriend is fake, she would never cheat!”
- Anger: “I hate him/her for this.” “This isn’t fair.” “I want to rip his beard off.”
- Bargaining: “I’ll just call him one last time.” “We can still be friends.”
D- Depression: “I can’t stop crying.” “I am having nightmares.” “I miss him/her.”
- Acceptance: “It ended. I am okay. I can continue on with my life.”
- Acknowledge the loss. Whether you are the initiator or the receiver of the breakup, it is still a loss. Your normal just changed and now it’s time to start the healing process. It is okay to say to yourself “That just happened, and it didn’t feel too great.” Your life may shift and change, but for the better. There is an empty space where the relationship was, but you are about to fill that space with taking care of yourself, character building activities, and creating new memories with your friends.
- Space, The Final Frontier. Take your space, and give them theirs. Just like anything that you want to quit, give it 30 days and then re-evaluate. So, your ex wants to be friends…. Give it 30 days. 30 days is the minimum amount of time that you will need to start healing and re-establish your baseline. After 30 days of no contact at all, make a list of why you would want this person in your life. You broke up for a reason. Imagine a close friend doing the same thing, would you keep them around as a friend? Typically with a trust violation or something hurtful, the answer would be that you would to separate from this person that may not be healthy for you. Your ex doesn’t get a hall pass for bad behavior because you were in a relationship with them. 30 days is hard. You are going to miss them, want to talk to them, want their attention, and that good, sweet loving. But take a break. It is only 30 days. You can do it. At the end of each day, you are one day closer to your goal that seemed impossible.
- Call On Your Support System. It is time to summon the troops to surround you with attention, love, care, empathy, a listening ear, and a shoulder to cry on. Let your close friends and family know that you had the split and now is the time that you need encouragement, coffee dates, venting phone sessions, and funny memes. Make a point to see a friend, whether it be in person or facetime, once a day. Surround yourself with people that care. Stay busy. It may feel forced and your automatic idea of to cope may be Netflix and Chill for one, but invite a friend over for TV show binge watching, and tell them you will provide the snacks. A breakup book is a great idea as well to support you through this process, because this list can only help so much. Try It’s Called a Breakup Because Its Broken to guide you through this time. The most important things are that you aren’t alone, that you know that you have lots of supportive people in your life, and there was a life before and after your ex.
- Out of Sight, Out of Mind. Your environment will have a big impact on how you heal. If you are surrounded by items and ideas that make you reminisce about romantic times or make you want to toss that picture frame with your photo booth pictures in it across the room, your healing may be delayed. Week two is a great time to make your space work for you a little better. Take everything, and I mean everything, that reminds you of your ex. Put it all in one room, and with the help of a good friend if needed, divide these things into three categories. First, the pile of things that you want to throw away. This might be excessive photos that do not have as much sentimental value. Do you really need 40 photos of you smooching them? Pick the best 1-2 and place in the keeper pile. His items that are more disposable such as socks, underwear, ratty t-shirts (ok, maybe not that original 80’s Slayer tour shirt, keep that for you), and toothbrush can go in the trash. These are not reasons to contact your ex to meet up and return them. Go through your phone and trash sexy texts and videos. Even if your Ex was a total dirt bag, show him/her the decency to delete those dick pics and sexy shots. The second pile is what to return. His favorite items of clothing, anything of value over 20 bucks, and anything of sentimental value from before you, like that teddy bear he slept with (If he is over 13 and sleeps with a teddy bear, be glad that you broke up with him) can go in a box to return. Give this box to a mutual friend or drop off the box on his porch when he is not home. The last pile is what you keep. Pick a box, the smaller the better, and start evaluating what you want to keep. You can always revisit this after 30 days, so no worries. What to keep? A few select photos. It was a memory of your life after all. Keepsakes, sentimental gifts like jewelry that you may need a break from wearing, and anything else that you can envision yourself looking back in ten years and being ok with.
- Self-Care, All Day, Every Day. You had your week of moping, crying, binge eating ice cream, restricting food because you just didn’t feel like eating, sleeping all day, or not sleeping at all, boozing to kill the pain, or getting high all the time, just to keep him off of your mind. You had your self-destructive week, but now it’s time to take care of yourself. Neglecting your health and well-being will only make you hurt more and for a longer period of time. Make a checklist in your phone noting your basic self-care. How much are you sleeping? The average person usually needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Make sure you start your day with some type of healthy body fuel, eat every 4-6 hours to keep those energy levels up, and stay hydrated with lots of water. Activity and exercise aren’t just good for the body, but good for the brain and your aching and mending heart. Aiming to just walk for 20 minutes a day will pump your blood to your brain to help mental clarity. And breakup recovery isn’t a 40 ounce to freedom. Introducing a depressant such as alcohol when you are already depressed will not help the situation. Marijuana may be your drug of choice, but the lingering impact may decrease motivation to get the ball rolling on the revitalized and healed you. Limit (Or better yet, cease) your drug and alcohol intake for optimal breakup recovery success.
- Social Media Pain Shopping. This is a modern day issue. Don’t worry, you are not alone. In my practice, I hear patients looking at exes social media all of the time. In fact, most people experiencing breakups that are under 50 do this. Let’s think about pre-social media age and compare this behavior. Imagine if every few hours you walked by your ex’s house, looked in the window, saw what they ate, and watched them hanging with their friends. That would be creepy. Don’t be a creep. It is the same thing, we just have so much more ease and access, which can be a dangerous thing for your healing heart. This just means that you need to take more responsibility for your Insta-Stalking. I call this behavior “Pain Shopping”. You look your ex up, or maybe even your current partner, knowing that you will see something, anything, that will take a jab at your heart. You look with the intention that you will find something, and you always will. Even if nothing is currently happening, that photo on Instagram from 65 weeks ago with another girl might eat away at you (try not to double tap it!), or a meaningless comment on your ex’s Facebook from a random girl will replay in your head until you are convinced they are getting it on or planning a wedding. Looking will only hurt you, each and every time. Stop looking for the pain, because just like Carly Simon said, you haven’t got time for it. The solution? Limit your total usage a little bit. Let yourself check your social media just once or twice a day. Try making a list of ten other things to look at when you get the urge to social media creep. Look up vacation destinations, hilarious memes to send to your friends, beauty tips, artists, new music to listen to, or even adventures to have in your hometown. Take responsibility. Do not look at your ex’s Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Delete and block them if you need to. If you don’t want them to know the level at which you have ex-communicated them, an unfollow on Facebook removes them from being in your feed. Use your self-control to have self-respect and look at ideas and images that will help you grow.
- Altruistic Endeavors. Practice Altruism. It is the act of being selfless. During a breakup, we tend to focus on ourselves. What happened to us, how our life changed, how we feel, how will we move on…. It becomes all about you, as it should, for a short period time. By week 3, its time to take that inward energy and project it outward in a positive way. By focusing on others, it takes the emphasis off of you. By continuously focusing on and defining yourself by the breakup, you go into an egocentric style of thinking that places you at the center of what is important or meaningful. Try helping out a friend in need or volunteering. You can find amazing volunteer opportunities on volunteermatch.com that will match your skills and interests with an activity that will have an impact. From tutoring someone in English to cuddling puppies, there is something for everyone.
- Get A Hobby. You have a little bit more time now that Mr. or Ms. Ex is out of the picture. Use that time and energy to develop a skill. Think about it, if you used all of that time that you spent on being upset or angry about the relationship on learning how to play the guitar, you would be a shredder by now. Pick up a guitar, learn a romance language, paint (your walls or a canvas), or get sporty. You can find some great activities to join in on at Meetup.com.
- Change Your Narrative. It has almost been a month and you have gotten this far. By now, you have started taking care of yourself again, helped others, learned something cool, and reconnected with your friends. Now, it is time to work on changing that inner dialog from being “post-breakup”, “Broken Hearted”, or “Newly Single” to simply being the most awesome you that you can be. Stop using your breakup as a reference to a time frame, or your relationship for that matter. Start referencing other points in time as markers. Your breakup does not define you.
- Take Responsibility. Your ex wasn’t for you. Maybe it worked for a time, but the relationship was not serving you anymore. Of course your ex did things or acted in ways that you weren’t a fan of, be glad you broke up. If this is hard for you to remember, make a list of what didn’t work, what you didn’t like, and what you wouldn’t tolerate. Use this list in the future to remind yourself of what you want and what you deserve. Maybe your ex really sucked. Maybe you caught them sending saucy pics to another lady, or maybe even a gentleman. Maybe her party girl extracurricular activities were too much to take. However, you reacted, responded, and had your own shortcomings. Be honest with yourself. We all do. Now that it has been a month, grab a journal and get reflective. Write down all of the things you did wrong. You never need to share this with your ex, or anyone for that matter. How did you communicate? React to their not so lovely behavior? Get your needs met? What could you have done better? Use this insight going forward when you are ready to open up your heart again.
By: Dr. Amie Harwick
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