Breakups are tough. In fact, all relationship endings can evoke feelings of grief and loss, disappointment, guilt, or anger. But a breakup doesn’t have to mean you’re broken. Here are some tips, inspired by DBT, for surviving a relationship ending.
Recognize the power of time: They say, “Time heals all wounds,” and for a large part, that’s true. Time really does heal. In fact, the passage of time seems to be the most critical factor that gets people through a relationship breakup. While this might not appeal to the impatient set, it does help to know that there will be reduced suffering over time.
How you use this time is an important factor. Replaying what went wrong or stalking your ex on social media won’t help you recover (see below). Instead, your time is more effectively spent processing your emotions, engaging in activities you enjoy, and connecting with loved ones and supports.
Allow yourself to feel: Sometimes, we try to avoid or suppress our emotions as a way to move away from uncomfortable experiences. But ultimately, this doesn’t work, with feelings resurfacing later on and sometimes even more intensely than before. So while some of these feelings are painful and uncomfortable, it’s important to allow yourself to feel them. Sure, you can modulate your emotions and use skills to distract and self-soothe when the intensity gets too high, but it’s important not to block your emotions completely. This will inevitably backfire. When you’re experiencing an emotion, acknowledge it as such (e.g., “I’m experiencing a wave of sadness”). Lean into the emotion. Know that all emotions come and go.
Focus on radical acceptance: A great deal of our suffering in life comes from refusing to accept reality. We fight against what is, instead hoping for how we want things to be. While pain in life is unavoidable, we can reduce our suffering by allowing reality to be as it is. This means avoiding thinking that things “should” be a certain way, it means acknowledging what is, and it means leaning into acceptance with our entire beings. Radical acceptance of a breakup involves acknowledging that the relationship has ended and accepting this fact completely with your mind, body, and spirit. Of note, acceptance doesn’t mean you have to like or approve of something; it just means that you acknowledge that it’s happening.
Find community: Lean on your supports post break-up. While a relationship ending is a big loss, you are not alone. If you don’t have ready-made community, see if you can find it now. Is there a group or meet-up you can join? How about taking a class or joining a club in order to meet new people? Is there a way you can access folks who are going through similar struggles? Sometimes, it helps to know we’re not the only people experiencing a difficulty, and we can also learn coping skills and strategies from others.
Practice opposite action for love: In DBT, one of the skills we teach to regulate our emotions is Opposite Action. This skill involves acting opposite to what your emotions “want” you to do. When we’re feeling love – which isn’t especially useful once a relationship has ended – we might try to see or spend time with the person, fantasize about them, follow them on social media, recall all of the magical times with them – all of which doesn’t help us heal from a relationship breakup. If you find yourself tempted to do these things, you can act opposite to these urges by avoiding the person, reminding yourself of a more balanced view of the relationship (including why it ended), and staying away from any content that reminds you of your ex.
Again, breakups are challenging, and there’s often a difficult but necessary process of grieving and/or reimagining your life without your partner. Hopefully, this guide can help you cope with a relationship breakup in a more effective and productive way.