After a breakup, you’ll be bombarded by advice. But is there any wisdom to these words?
- Time heals all wounds. It might, but does that do you any good when your wounds are fresh? “Most of us suffer while we heal and slowly rebuild the strength to move on,” says Greer. Although some days will be worse than others, you should feel progressively stronger. “If your guilt or sadness hasn’t lessened after three to six months, it could be helpful to talk to a professional,” she says.
- Get right back on the horse. Dating and revived self-esteem don’t seem to go together, but a 2014 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships showed otherwise. Researchers found that participants who were only briefly single recovered faster from breakups than did those who waited to pair off. According to Claudia Brumbaugh, an associate professor at Queens College, City University of New York, and one of the study’s authors, “Entering a romantic relationship made people feel desirable and therefore better about themselves.” Sure, some jerk dropped you. But this new stud picked you. Instant ego boost. Says Brumbaugh, “That groove of being in a relationship, even with someone else, is less jarring and results in greater happiness.”
- Write an unsent letter. A lot of dumpees feel compelled to write a letter that tells the ex off, then not send it. This can be useful if you have unfinished business and need to get things off your chest. A self-affirmation exercise—writing about your positive qualities, such as “I’m witty and a good listener”—is healthier than fixating on what’s wrong with your ex. “Affirmation is about what you bring to the table. This builds confidence,” says Guy Winch, Ph.D., the author of Emotional First Aid, ($14, amazon.com). If you must write a letter to your ex, focus on what he’s missing.
- Toss all mementos. “Getting rid of reminders helps you clear space for new memories,” says Henderson. According to a 2013 study from the University of California Santa Cruz and Lancaster University, a third of the recently broken-up subjects were “keepers”—people who couldn’t bring themselves to erase digital possessions, even though looking at old photographs, texts, and e-mails was upsetting. Two-thirds were “deleters,” who impulsively trashed some or all of these post-split. For keepers, the possessions hindered their recovery, while some deleters regretted their actions later on. If you’re inclined to toss things, be methodical: Do one device or album at a time, to avoid regrets.
What About Closure?
The ideal version of it: You and the ex tie up loose ends and move forward with open hearts and clear consciences. But it can just as easily be one person selfishly seeking forgiveness for being a schmuck—like when singer Adam Levine went on an apology tour last year, calling exes to say “sorry” for his bad-boyfriend behavior. “It’s nice to have closure,” says Irene S. Levine (no relation to Adam), “but it’s a mistake to think you’re entitled to it.” Greer adds, “Closure implies you’ve come to accept things as they are.” In fact, hoping for closure can prolong the agony. “You don’t need answers or apologies to heal. If you don’t have them and think you should, it may prevent healing,” says Nancy Berns, Ph.D., a sociologist and the author of Closure, ($21, bn.com). Gaining peace is learning to live with unanswered questions.