Time heals all wounds, sure, but you didn’t come here for advice like that.
Today I’ll be sharing with you the unconventional 7-step journey I’ve developed after several breakups that can help you move on from your ex once and for all.
Why does it hurt so much when you break up with someone?
A break-up is painful for one very simple reason:
Someone is out of our life who’s become an integral part of it.
In fact, research shows that breaking up with someone is like losing a close relative. According to Psychology Today:
When a breakup happens, it can feel like an opaque curtain has descended around you, separating you from the rest of the world. You move around as if in a bubble. Even the most familiar things—scenery near where you live, the voices of people you know—seem alien and far away. Even the brains of people grieving the end of a relationship look like the brains of people experiencing a death. (emphasis my own)
A breakup is the ultimate rejection—and no one likes rejection.
When you think about it, social rejection is painful because early on in human history to be rejected from the tribe meant certain death.
In today’s environment, rejection doesn’t carry with it the same risks, but our brains haven’t evolved to keep up.
The physical pain of rejection: Why we experience heartbreak
A study conducted by the University of Amsterdam looked at what happens when we experience an unexpected rejection—the type of rejection like getting dumped.
Normally, the body’s nervous system goes into flight or fight mode when it reacts to a threat.
Our heartbeat quickens, breathing becomes more intense, and more blood gets sent to our vital organs.
In the presence of danger, we are prepared to fight.
This is not what happens when you’re dumped.
The study participants experienced a sudden response of their nervous system. What does this mean?
- The vagus nerve sends a signal to the heart and stomach.
- The butterflies we feel in our stomach are the contractions of our digestive muscles.
- Our airways constrict, making it harder to breathe.
- Our heart rate slows down so much that it literally feels like our heart is breaking.
The more unexpected the dumping, the more severe this reaction is, and the greater the physical pain.
The more you feel like your world is falling apart, the more you feel that your soul is breaking and that you’ll never be whole again.
7 practical ways to get over a breakup
The last time I broke up with someone was in 2007 after a 4-year relationship. I didn’t follow this protocol and the results were predictably disastrous, especially because booze was involved.
In fact, memories of that tragic experience and the shitty relationship I rushed into afterward is what prompted the development of this guide.
Maybe you’ve already been dumped, and you still haven’t gotten over it.
Maybe you’re still experiencing the regret of breaking up with someone, and are convinced you made a mistake.
Whatever the reason is for you being here, these 7 post-breakup tips will help you move on.
Leave with dignity
So you just discovered that it’s not going to work out. Your first reaction is likely volatile. You want to scream, shout, call names, crash an airplane.
Handle the situation with class and dignity. This isn’t to make the other person feel a certain way. They’ve made their choice, and you aren’t it.
It’s not malicious. It’s a simple case of choosing their desires over yours.
The benefit of behaving with dignity is that it can actually influence how you feel. While we smile in response to feeling good, it’s been proven in multiple studies that the inverse works just as well. You can change your mood by smiling.
Smiling lifts your mood, lowers your blood pressure, and boosts your immune system.
Even a forced smile in the face of tragedy can help you maintain your emotional poise and more quickly recover from something as devastating as a breakup.
“It would appear that the way we feel emotions isn’t just restricted to our brain—there are parts of our bodies that help and reinforce the feelings we’re having,” says Michael Lewis, a co-author of the study. “It’s like a feedback loop.”
Also, keeping your cool makes you a stronger person. If you later decide to be friends, it increases the possibility of that happening. Above all, it allows you to retain your personal power.
A wise man once said, “no one is responsible for how we feel except ourselves.”
You are the only one who decides how you feel about anything.
Take tylenol to ease the pain of breaking up
The pain from a breakup is real. So real, in fact, that taking Tylenol (acetaminophen) helps to alleviate it.
A 2010 research study found that acetaminophen can reduce physical and neural responses associated with the pain of social rejection, whether in romantic relationships, friendships or otherwise.
In two experiments, participants took acetaminophen or placebo daily for 3 weeks. Doses of acetaminophen reduced reports of social pain on a daily basis […] acetaminophen reduces behavioral and neural responses associated with the pain of social rejection, demonstrating substantial overlap between social and physical pain.
While this is a case of treating the symptom rather than the disease, it’s a quick dose that can make it easier to deal with the initial blowback from an unexpected breakup.
The road to recovering from a break up is already long and hard. There’s no reason to unnecessarily endure extra suffering.
Use technology to end the relationship
Many people hate the idea of breaking up over email or text, and they give many reasons why, but it’s all nonsense.
The real reason people make a big deal about breaking up from a distance is control.
Heartbreak makes us believe that crying, pleading, yelling and threatening will make the other person reconsider their position.
It’s perfectly natural to feel this way, but that doesn’t mean you have to act on it.
What’s the difference between breaking up in person and breaking up online?
Is it really that much better to get into a messy ordeal in person?
Once you understand the science of breaking up and what your body and mind go through, it doesn’t make a difference.
We set up so many dates via phone and text (and cancel quite a few too) that cutting off a relationship that way shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.
I should note here that there are obviously some relationships where this isn’t applicable.
If you live with someone, or you’re married to them, then you have to handle things in person. If you’ve taken more than a year of their time, you “owe it” to them.
But for those of you second-guessing yourselves after falling head-over-heels for someone on Tinder 6 months ago, you shouldn’t feel like you have to do it in person.
Bury the past to deal with the break-up
You don’t have to burn down the house you shared, but you should get rid of anything your ex gave you. The sight of those things or pictures of you two together will cause pain.
A breakup is a painful and traumatic experience. Your goal is to get over it as quickly as possible.
When you relive good memories, you’ll be forced to deal with the fact that you no longer get to experience them.
While it’s impossible to erase internal memories, it is not impossible to get rid of external reminders and triggers. You’re effectively trying to erase all signs this person was ever in your life.
The longer you can go without an external reminder, the more easily you’ll heal from the trauma.
Think of it like a scab over a wound. If you keep picking the scab off, it will take longer for the wound to heal.
Furthermore, when it heals, it will leave a scar. Reminders of the past are the psychological equivalent of ripping the scab off.
Jewelry, games, pictures, clothing, underwear and the like. Put all that shit in a coffin and bury it for 8 to 12 months. By that time, you may decide you want it. Or you can leave the past buried.
Either way, you have to systematically remove any reminder of the person from your life until you’re able to deal with them without the intense, parasympathetic reaction.
Don’t have sex with your ex
Sleeping with an ex-partner right after a relationship ends might be the worst thing you can do during the post-breakup healing process.
The deeper you loved them, the more negative emotions this will make you feel about yourself.
For starters, your brain will think you’re still in a relationship. You’ll expect the relationship treatment, but get casual treatment instead. You can’t meet quality people because your ex will take priority.
You’ll never be able to find love.
Instead of meeting new people, you’re worried about your past relationship. This causes irrational jealousy. You won’t give a new person your full attention. Instead, you are living in the past.
This can happen without post-relationship hooking up, but it’s impossible to overcome if physical contact continues.
Don’t ask about your ex
Don’t get your private-eye on and spy on their social media accounts.
Don’t ask anyone how they’re doing or who they’re seeing now.
None of these helps the healing process.
Just let them exist in their world. You will greatly reduce the time spent in the depressing dregs of recovery.
Treat them as if they are effectively dead.
Give your heart time to heal
It takes a lot more time than you realize to truly move on from your ex. A LOT MORE.
How long, exactly?
A 2009 study revealed that it takes an average of 18 months for you to completely get over a person.
What exactly does it mean to be completely over a person?
Generally speaking, you’re completely over someone when you can be in their presence with no change in your emotion—positive or negative. What we fail to realize is that getting over someone is more than just getting into another relationship.
The ultimate goal is emotional neutrality.
You’re neutral when thinking about the former lover or seeing them causes no reaction. To be fair, many people never reach this stage. If you were in a serious relationship, don’t think you’ll be there in 3, 6, or even 12 months.
Maybe you will, but if you’re like most people, you won’t be. Give yourself time.
Don’t let a break up determine your self-worth
It’s easy to take rejection as an assessment of your character. There may be things to learn from your last relationship, but as long as you committed to improving, then you don’t need to beat yourself up.
You were just the wrong person. Even if they were the right person when you got with them, we all grow and change.
Sometimes these changes bring us closer together. Sometimes they drive us apart.
Either way, these changes are the only constant in a relationship.
A relationship can only last as long as two people are going in the same direction at approximately the same speed.
If you are going a different way at a different speed, then one of you has to be willing to adjust course. This doesn’t always happen, and it’s not personal when it does. It’s just their decision.
Though it may be hard to not see this as an evaluation of your character, just remember that you’ll eventually find someone better suited for you than that person.
Recap of how to get over someone and move on from a breakup
- Break up with dignity
- Take Tylenol to soothe your broken heart (little-known secret)
- Use technology to keep distance when the relationship ends
- Bury everything about your old relationship
- Don’t sleep with your ex-partner
- Don’t ask about your ex
- Give your broken heart the amount of time it needs to heal
I’m not a relationship expert, but my philosophy on breaking up—and I’ve got more experience than I’d like to admit on both ends of the spectrum—has served myself and others well.
It can be summed up as follows: step out, move on, don’t look back—and don’t get on your back.
If you do this, then it won’t take a lot of time before you’re happier in the next relationship.