Finding Meaning after Heartbreak: 4 Pieces of Advice for Surviving a Breakup

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A break-up with an intimate partner can turn your world upside down and make you want to swear off relationships.

Just because it was a choice, doesn’t make a divorce or break-up any less of a loss.

-Dr. Jason Holland, Lifespark

If you find yourself in this boat, before you open up the bag of cheese puffs, put on your fat-pants, and delete your dating profile forever, take a few minutes to read this piece. It will be worth your while.

Whether you just got dumped, mutually decided to separate, or initiated the split yourself, here are four suggestions for surviving a breakup and finding meaning in the wake of heartbreak:

1. Give yourself space to grieve.

Just because it was a choice, doesn’t make a divorce or break-up any less of a loss.

These days psychologists tend to think about loss a little differently than they did, say 40 years ago, when Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of loss (i.e., moving from denial, anger, bargaining, and depression to acceptance) dominated much of the conversation on the topic.

Today, loss is more often viewed as an ever-changing process that involves bouncing back-and-forth between two competing needs to: (a) Attend to the loss itself, perhaps by feeling and processing feelings related to it or trying to make sense of what happened, and (b) Build a renewed life, perhaps by investing in other relationships, interests, or pursuits that feel meaningful and important.

The basic idea is that neither of these “modes” is inherently good or bad, or better than the other. Rather, problems arise when we spend all of our time in one at the exclusion of the other. In other words, it might be counterproductive to spend all day hugging the tissue box and stalking your ex on social media. However, it can be equally destructive to devote a lot of mental energy trying to avoid thoughts and feelings related to the breakup.

So, what’s the takeaway? Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is that you’re honestly feeling after a breakup. Feelings are not your enemy. It’s how you relate to them that matters—more on that next. 

READ CASE EXAMPLE: Giving Ourselves Space to Grieve a Breakup: The Case of the Invisible Boyfriend

READ RELATED ARTICE: What if My Grief Doesn’t Fit into Five Stages? 5 Tips for Finding Meaning after Loss

2. Give yourself space to grow.

Just as it is important to give yourself space to grieve; it is also important to give yourself space to grow.

Though it may be hard to imagine at first, people who have gone through a major breakup often say that they’ve grown because of it. Some may have learned to be a better partner, express their needs more clearly, or clarify what they’re really looking for in a relationship.

It takes time to come to these personal revelations and there’s certainly no need to rush. However, taking time to slowly listen and learn from your feelings and reflections about the relationship can be useful.

We don’t typically think of it this way in everyday life; however, emotions may be viewed as messages sent from the self, addressed to the self, about the self. From this vantage point, feelings (even difficult ones) about a broken relationship may have something to teach us.

When you are ready, find time to allow such emotions to simply exist without recoiling from them or trying to immediately change them.

Ask yourself, what is it exactly that I am feeling right now? Is it hurt or shame over the past, or maybe worry about the future? And what would it take right now to reassure or soothe myself in this state? How might I do that for myself? What do these feelings have to say about what is most important for me to look for in a future partner (when ready)?

The answers to such questions may provide hints for areas of self-learning and growth.

READ RELATED ARTICLE: The Do-It-Yourselfers Guide to Making Positive Life Changes

3. Stay active and reward yourself.

If after a breakup it’s “your thing” to put on your pajamas and binge watch all of your favorite television shows, go for it! Do that for a few days if you need to. But try not to dwell there too long.

Too often we think about these things as occurring in only one direction. The reasoning often goes: I’m sitting around in my PJs all day because I feel so bad.

However, it works the other way around too, more often than you might think. Reversing the logic from before, we might then say: I feel so bad because I’m sitting around in my PJs all day.

The idea here is that if your day-to-day life is filled with marathon couch-surfing sessions, then there’s probably little opportunity for you to have new experiences that could (at least temporarily) help to snap you out of a mental funk.

Try making a list of 10 activities that you like. It could be something that gives you a sense of: (a) empowerment (e.g., going to kickboxing class), (b) meaning (e.g., reading an inspirational book), (c) pleasure (e.g., enjoying your favorite meal), (d) relaxation (e.g., going for a walk), or (e) gratitude (e.g., prayer or meditation).

For two weeks, make an intentional effort to do two activities on the list. It can’t happen on accident, though. It needs to be done with the specific purpose of carving out space to do something good for you.

If you’re “really busy” right now, that’s okay. These activities can take as little as 30 seconds (e.g., looking out the window and appreciating the view), if that’s all your busy life can allow.

The most important thing is that you are doing these activities with the specific intention of taking care of yourself.

4. Invest in Relationships.

There are no hard and fast rules about the “right” amount of time to take before getting involved romantically with someone else.

Some may feel perfectly comfortable getting back on the dating scene right away; whereas, others may need more time. Trust your instincts on what feels best for you.

However, just because you are taking some time before dating, doesn’t mean that you need to isolate yourself.

Relationships are powerful. Surround yourself with supportive people. Their validation and encouragement may be the best medicine for heartache.

Even if you don’t feel like talking about your ex, simply doing things you enjoy with other people can provide a much needed sense of connection after a breakup.

The Bottom Line:

Balance is the key. Give yourself time and space to grieve the loss of the relationship and consider what might be learned from the experience, even if it was a bad one. But don’t spend all of your time in the past. Make sure you are also engaged in meaningful activity and investing in the relationships that matter most to you.



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