Your trusty guide to a healthy breakup
When a relationship ends, everybody gets hurt. There are plenty of quality songs that attest to this fact. Deciding to break up with someone (and actually doing it) can be agonizing and guilt-inducing to the nth degree, particularly if you still care about your soon-to-be-ex. And if you’re on the receiving end of a breakup (especially one that comes as a surprise), the whole ordeal is apt to break your heart into a million tiny pieces.
Whether you're the dumper or the dumpee, it’s very easy to experience a breakup as a ‘negative’ life event. A study in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that it takes roughly 11 weeks to recover post-breakup, but for many it takes far longer (like, years).
In spite of all this, however, there is such a thing as a healthy breakup. Besides, who said pain couldn’t be good for you sometimes?
What is a heathy breakup, exactly?
Love and life coach Nicole Boyar has a real handle on answering this question. “There are three main ingredients that make a breakup healthy: deep reflection, good communication, and most of all, lots of self-love,” she says. “In order for a breakup to be healthy, you’ve got to have space to process your emotions–both with the other person and even more importantly, with yourself. Explore what you’re feeling and why. Ask yourself questions. And most importantly, don’t judge yourself or your feelings.” She goes on to explore how, no matter how ‘healthy,’ amicable, or mutual a breakup is, it's normal to experience a rollercoaster of emotions. “You may feel deep loss, confusion, shock, withdrawal…what determines if the breakup is healthy or not, is how you process these emotions.”
In case you’re scratching your head trying to figure out how best to process the worst emotional heartbreak in your life, Boyar paints a picture of what (to try) not to do. “If you find yourself acting out in any way–numbing, distracting, or busying yourself–you are entering unhealthy territory. This could look like trying to hurt the other person with your words or actions, drinking or using substances to numb your emotions, looking for a rebound to distract yourself, or anything else you may be doing to avoid feeling your feelings. These behaviors are quicksand, so if you catch yourself doing them, get yourself back on track.”
While getting yourself “back on track” probably sounds much easier said than done, recognizing potentially unhealthy behaviors is half the battle, my friends.
How to break up with someone
Be quick, clear, firm, and kind. Don’t be vague or soft in an effort to spare their feelings, because it will only make it worse by confusing the whole affair. To help you communicate clearly, it can be helpful to first sit down and identify why it is you want to end things, as well as how you want to express this to the other person. Maybe it was a specific thing they did or didn’t do; an accumulation of unsolvable issues; or just a general yet unshakeable feeling. Writing stuff down can help you keep track of your emotions—so can practicing the conversation with an objective friend. Overall, try to acknowledge and validate the positive aspects of the relationship rather than end things by pointing fingers or by ghosting a partner. Important: although the focus may be on sparing the other person's feelings, you will go through your own grief. Help yourself through it by not blaming yourself.
How do I deal with being broken up with?
Since being on the butt end of a breakup can feel like death warmed over, it’s all the more important to be kind and gentle and patient with yourself. Breathe. Take it in before you react. Or: don’t react right away if you're not ready. The other person had time to mull it over—so take yours before you respond with questions or just…feelings. Ask for time to process the breakup and express that you'd like to talk at a later date, when you're ready. This way, you get the time, space, and privacy to cope with raw emotions—no matter what they may be. Post breakup, although every cell in your body may be telling you to isolate and hide, you may want to call a family member or friend. Sometimes (not always), talking to someone you feel comfortable with can help you move through even the most difficult of emotions.
Maybe you’ve been cheated on or are on terrible terms for other reasons. Maybe you did the cheating. Maybe you've been dating a narcissist, or some other kind of abuser. It’s extra normal for there to be a ton of anger floating around in such cases (among other emotions). That anger needs to be processed and released so it doesn't become full-blown violent rage. PSA: anger, like other emotions, is healthy. Only when it's repressed, bottled up, and stagnant does it become something like a sickness. The trick is to find a way to channel it so you can let it go. When we don't release our anger, it typically ends up manifesting in extraordinarily messy and undignified ways. Ever broken a window, set somebody’s belongings on fire, or tried your hand at public humiliation? Maybe you dragged their name through the mud on Facebook. How did that go? ‘Nuff said. Although you may be justified in your unbridled rage, sometimes taking the high road is more conducive to your own healing.
Breakup dos and don’ts
Whether you’re the dumper or the dumpee, consider the following dos and don’ts. Some apply to one end of the experience over the other, while some go both ways.
- Do it in person whenever possible. And in private rather than in public. Y’know, so your partner can react emotionally if need be. Avoid breaking up in your own home so that when the conversation is over, your partner won’t have to be the one to make their way home. Note: if you fear for your safety, there's no good reason to stick to the in-person rule.
- Be honest. It will hurt your partner more if you don’t acknowledge the real reasons for ending things. Avoid vagueness. That said, there’s no reason to be brutal about it either.
- Don’t console your partner. Much as you may want to, you can’t support your ex through the breakup. This includes breakup sex—resist! Getting wrapped up in one another will only confuse what’s happening.
- Avoid placing blame. It’s very possible that one person did something that sent the whole house of cards fluttering cruelly to the floor. Nonetheless, do your best to hear the other person out without defending yourself, or pointing fingers, as this will likely devolve quickly into a fight. If you’re at the breakup phase, you can leave fights in the past.
- Grieve your loss. Take the time and space you need to get over the death of your relationship. Don't fight it if you feel vulnerable. Cry your eyes out. Rip a pillow to shreds. Indulge in a few creature comforts if that helps.
- Make a clean break. Don’t offer false hope or leave the relationship open-ended. Show respect for your partner’s feelings by cutting off contact. Keeping in touch, or checking what your ex is up to on Facebook will only prolong the pain.
- Do you. Do what you love, treat yo’self, eat well, sleep well, reconnect with friends. Cliché as it may sound, every ending is an opportunity for a new beginning.
- Socialize—in moderation. Spending time with family and friends can be life-saving, but avoid obsessive analyzing if you can. Also: though it may be tempting to get your rebound on Tinder while it’s hot and fresh, not dating again till you’re actually excited by the idea may help expedite that heart-healing.
- Don’t try to be friends. Unless time has passed and you’ve both moved on. Transitioning to friends too soon can cause uncertainty and more pain.
Ultimately a ‘healthy’ breakup enables both parties to eventually look back on the breakup (and the relationship) with dignity, clarity, and resolute reflection. Getting there involves prioritizing your emotional health for as long as it takes. Although many people see breakups as failures, the only measure of “success” is how much you learned and grew as a human being. No matter what went down or who ultimately called it quits, really feeling your feelings is the only key to healing and moving on, baby. <3