9 Rules for Moving on After a Breakup, According to Relationship Experts
Here’s how to survive and conquer the post-relationship blues.
There’s no way around it: The end of a relationship is the worst. It’s hard, it’s emotionally draining, it’s stressful and, well, it’s heartbreaking. When you’re in the middle of crying fits, anxiety spells, and endless texts with your friends trying to understand what happened, it can feel impossible to survive a breakup. While everyone will process the experience differently, it’s important to learn how to move on after a relationship ends—not only for your emotional wellbeing, but also so you’re ready and open to meet someone else who’s a better match in the future.
Here, dating experts and therapists share the right ways to cope with a breakup and move forward, as well as the choices and behaviors to avoid that will only set you back. Take a deep breath, remember there will be brighter days ahead, and turn this advice into actionable steps. You can do this.
Similar to a death of a loved one, the end of a relationship requires mourning. As matchmaker and dating coach Julie Bekker explains, you’re letting go of someone you care for deeply and detaching from the idea of a future you once envisioned. You go from having another person ingrained into your everyday routine to suddenly missing them, which can cause intense feelings of sadness. It’s OK to take a period to grieve the end of a relationship.
“Let yourself suffer. Get it all out emotionally so you can move on. Have your breakdowns,” Bekker says. Take time to remember the good times, accept and celebrate them for what they were, and allow yourself to cry over it all. If you hold it in, you’ll delay the moving-on process.
Remember, there are two people in most relationships, and thus, two perspectives, two parties who made mistakes, two humans who didn’t match well enough to make it last. As tempting as it is to blame yourself (or your ex), these are not healthy ways to cope with a breakup. Matchmaker April Davis says to try to each hold yourself accountable and acknowledge wrongdoings—without playing the blame game.
“It’s normal to feel guilty or angry, but neither of you was ever perfect in your relationship,” Davis says. “Whether you broke up with them, or they broke up with you, you need to realize that despite the reasons you may list, what ultimately leads to a breakup is incompatibility.”
Try your best not to feed into ideas that you never deserved your ex or that they never deserved you. It was a two-way street, end of story, Davis reminds. Once you can face this, you can begin to face the fact that you will one day be happy without them.
This doesn’t mean packing up everything you own and moving across the country. And contrary to popular belief, a drastic haircut won’t cure your heartache. Instead, Brekker suggests that making subtle yet effective changes to your routine and environment can offer fresh perspective. Start small. For example, don’t frequent the places you used to go together—like restaurants, parks, or watering holes. “If you went for daily walks or jogs in the park together, go to another park for a while or take a different route,” she recommends.
As time passes, Brekker says you can start to return to areas and spots that remind you of your ex-partner, but that you should practice creating dissimilar associations. “It’s a classic case of human conditioning. To fall out of love, destroy all your associations,” she explains. So it’s not the ice cream shop where you first said “I love you”—it’s the ice cream shop that carries the best vegan flavors in town.
You can’t move on while following your ex’s every post on Facebook. You also can’t watch their Instagram stories and not feel a tug at your heart strings. One basic rule of a breakup, Davis says, is to disconnect on all social media platforms. Though it will be the hardest thing you’ll do, she also suggests removing their phone number so you aren’t tempted to text when you’re tipsy or in a particularly low moment. “The more distance you can create between you and your ex, the quicker you will be on your road to recovery,” she says. Continuing to reach out usually only leads to more hurt and emotional confusion.
Has there been an art class that you’ve always wanted to take? A solo outing that’s been on your bucket list forever? While you don't want to go overboard with new hobbies in a way that feels avoidant, now is the time to add fun things to look forward to to your calendar—events, classes, and outings with friends—says Shane Birkel, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and host of the “Couples Therapist Couch” podcast. As the saying goes, an idle mind can lead to all sorts of unnecessary anxiety, so staying busy can be a game changer after a breakup.
Every relationship can teach you something—if you let it. Brekker says part of the healing process post-breakup is working on self-love and compassion, along with looking fondly at the time you shared with this person. What areas went wrong? What did it teach you about what you want, and what doesn’t work for you? How can you be a better person and partner going forward? This prevents you from backtracking and romanticizing a couplehood that simply fizzled out or wasn’t healthy. “Keep reminding yourself of why you’re not together and you’ll start to be turned off by the idea of rekindling,” Brekker says. “It might help to keep track of all the reasons it didn’t work by writing them down and carrying that list around with you to look at when you inevitably start to miss him or her.”
As tempting as it may be, in most cases, it only sets back the healing process, says Davis. How come? You’ll feel connected to them afterward, creating confusing feelings of attachment and even jealousy, if you know they’ve started seeing other people. It could feel right in the moment, but within a day (or even a few hours), you’ll feel worse than before you gave in. “It takes time and effort, but you have to allow yourself the space to become whole again, to get to know yourself and build up your self-esteem,” Davis says. “Stay away from casual sex—you’ll thank yourself in the long run.”
Ideally, two civilized grown-ups can dissect what happened in the relationship, tell the truth, ask for forgiveness, and absolve each other, says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, a psychotherapist and author. While it does happen, it’s typically years after the relationship has ended. This is because closure requires getting truthful answers to your questions about what happened in an effort to understand why. But when you’re going through a heartache, it’s tough to get in that mental space. “After a breakup, both of you are upset, hurt, and guilty, and probably won't be telling the truth, even if you understand it. Neither of you really wants to hear the truth this soon,” Tessina says. “Longing to talk ‘just once more’ to your ex is just asking for pain.”
Just because you’re freshly single doesn’t mean you’re alone. In fact, Davis says now is the time to reach out to your closest friends and most supportive family members. When they offer to come over with a bottle of something strong and something delicious, let them. When they beg you to come out to a dance party on a Friday night, go. And when they don’t mind hearing you vent for a few hours, thank them after. “Accept help! It can come in different ways, and from unexpected people, but that person can help you cross that bridge you’re so afraid of,” she says.