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How to Navigate a Breakup With The Love of Your Life

Updated on July 29, 2020
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Mona is a veteran writer, educator, and coach. She is presently affiliated with Enrich Magazine and Pressenza

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I’m starting out with this video to show you that when getting over a breakup, you aren’t alone. There are at least 100 others who are in the same situation

Getting over a breakup is like withdrawing from drug addiction

Researchers Helen Fisher and Lucy Brown say getting over a breakup is like the withdrawal pangs an addict experiences when quitting drugs. Fisher and Brown studied the brain scans of 15 young adults who recently had a breakup with someone they deeply loved. When the participants were shown pictures of their ex, the portion of the brain that lit up was the dopamine neurotransmitters -- the same part of the brain that lights up when you are withdrawing from drug addiction.

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However, knowledge is power. In this article, we’ll present the typical timeline of getting over a breakup, and discuss the five stages of grief that a person experiences when breaking up. With this knowledge, every time you feel overwhelming pain, you can compare your pain and inclinations to the timeline and the stages of grief. This will help you know you are in a space that every human being has been in when getting over an ex. With understanding, you can choose to break up in a way that’s civil and dignified. You can also take time for self-examination, without self-judgment. You can learn to fall in love with yourself all over again. You can also read self-help articles and books, and do exercises that will help you to know and understand yourself better. Beth Sonnenberg, LCSW says, “If you love yourself and enjoy your own company, then you can pick from a higher quality pool of potential partners”. That’s the most important part of navigating a breakup. You learn to level up your expectations of who your next partner will be.

The lyrics of this song talk about breaking up with dignity and civility.

Timeline

Below is the time map of breakups from a 2017 USA survey that was commissioned by Market Researchers OnePoll, and Yelp Eat 24:

  1. Crying in bed all day, and watching Netflix nonstop -- 4 days.

  2. Nights out with friends -- 2 days.

  3. Comfort food addiction --5 weeks.

  4. Not crying all the time -- 1 month and 12 days.

  5. Not talking about ex anymore -- 2 months.

  6. Not checking ex’s social media regularly -- 5 months for 1/10 respondents.

  7. Readiness to have healthy dates again -- 3 months and 11 days.

  8. Average healing process -- 6 months.

Why should we try to take the high road with our ex? Because if they were a good person, it would be easier for them to ask us back because we gave them space and time to miss us. If they are serial cheaters or toxic in some other way, we’re better off without them. Knowing this, if they ask us back we get the last laugh because we get to say no.


Grief

Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler Ross described the five stages of grief as; denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. Ross labeled these stages to describe grief after the death of a loved one. But coaches like Shelby Forsythia say that these stages also apply to pain post breakup, except that your ex is still alive.

Ross’s stages of grief don’t come in any set order, and the length of each stage varies with different circumstances of a breakup and one’s individuality. However, there are three signs that indicate progress, namely:

  1. You can acknowledge the good and bad sides of your ex.

  2. You acknowledge the good and bad sides of your ex-relationship.

  3. You know and recognize your self-worth.

Self confidence is a sign that you are making progress

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Stages of Grief

Denial. This gives some people time to process their overwhelming pain and provides self-protection, slowness, and hope. The person can process their sadness at their own comfortable pace. Hope also lets them function at work, home, or during their normal daily routines. WARNING: Despite this, beware of extended denial, when false hope becomes your enemy.

How to overcome extended denial:

(1) Journal your emotions, and list down evidence (if any) to prove that what you believe is true.

(2) Share your pain with a trusted friend and/or join a support group.

(3) Acknowledge that being in extended denial prevents you from moving on.

Anger. Anger and hatred for your ex make you feel powerful. You can blame your ex for everything. WARNING: Don’t stay angry too long. Extended anger can turn into bitterness, and indicates a lack of emotional intelligence. Instead, ask yourself, “What do I really want?” And DON’T mention your ex in the answer. Consider new goals like travel, learning a new skill, or volunteering for something. Then, do it.

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Bargaining. You accept the breakup but hope to negotiate your way back. Bargaining lets you postpone sadness, confusion, and helplessness. WARNING: Bargaining can lead to long-winded discussions with your ex that get you nowhere. Even worse, you may resort to begging. Or, you may reconcile with your ex, but break up over and over again, ending with regret that you prolonged the inevitable. With awareness of what you’re doing, you can work on leaving bargaining behind and proceeding to another stage of grief.

Depression. In contrast to the vociferousness of anger and bargaining, depression is anger turned inwards. It’s manifested as silent grief, frustration, sadness, crying, insomnia, and a loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy. WARNING: A study by The University of Maryland Medical Center said grief that lasts beyond two months may indicate major depression, especially if it inhibits your ability to perform the normal activities of daily life. Other signs are pacing, walking slowly, wringing hands, feeling worthless, being unable to function or make decisions, and suicidal thoughts, among others. If you are in major depression, you need professional help.

Acceptance. Ross says this is the final stage of grief. You accept the fact that your relationship is over, and you are ready to open up to a new relationship. Self-examination has helped you embrace yourself, your reality, and choose genuinely good people to associate with. When you fall in love again, don’t choose someone exactly like your ex. You would only be repeating the past with someone new. If this happens, it means you haven’t done enough self-examination. True acceptance is a huge step moving forward. You own your actions and are more mindful of the consequences of your deeds and your choices. You are happier than you were before.

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Things you should do immediately after a breakup

You are now armed with a scientific understanding of the pain of a breakup at its immediate aftermath. Plus, you are armed with a timeline of a breakup. Finally, armed with the stages of grief, you can measure your progress for the next six months.

By keeping all of the above in mind, you can:

  1. Be civil and dignified during the first two months post-breakup, despite the fact that this is when the pain is most intense.

  2. Temporary. Remind yourself that the extreme pain that you feel is temporary.

  3. No self-judgment. If despite the above two points, you still act out your pain in a way that is not what you’d normally do, you can, afterward, look at what you’ve done without judgment. We are only human, so we err at times.

  4. Mantra. However, we don’t want to make a series of errors, so instead of doing a series of crazy things because of the breakup, we can instead focus on making our mantra “three months, three months”. Every time we are in pain we can repeat our mantra and remember that scientifically, the worst will be over after three months.

Meanwhile, here's something for millennials

With all this in mind, here are some things we should consciously do at the most painful stages of a breakup:

  1. Cut clean. Block your ex’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and all other social media accounts from your computer. Also, remove their number from your phone. Furthermore, avoid all circumstances where you might possibly bump into your ex. And don’t engage in casual sex with your ex. The latter will only give you more pain later on. Give your ex space and time.

  2. Don’t insult them. Insults and pain are famously notorious bedmates. But no matter how much the person may deserve it, even if they are serial cheaters or abusive, don’t insult them. Instead, tell yourself they are so yesterday. By not insulting your ex you win both ways. If your ex was a bad person, they will feel miffed by your managing to navigate the breakup without going crazy. If your ex is a good person, it will be easier for them to ask you back because you never acted out your pain. Taking the high road also makes it hard for your ex to talk down about you to others.

  3. Take care of your health. Junk food is a mood enhancer and maybe for two days you can indulge yourself with it and a Netflix marathon. Also, don’t take drugs, and limit alcohol to social drinking. Eat nutritiously and exercise regularly. Exercise raises your endorphins, (happy hormones) and reduces the level of cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones) in your body. In this way, exercise elevates your mood.

  4. Be chill. Don’t list your ex’s flaws on Facebook. Don’t throw their things out the window. Don’t smash their car windows with a hammer. If they have someone new, don’t stand behind them and kick them. Avoid revenge, and stay away from even the remotest possible opportunity to indulge in drama.

  5. Give yourself time before dating again. Take time to process the breakup and analyze what went wrong. Read self-help books that tell you how to get to know yourself better. Take time to know and to fall in love with yourself, instead of jumping into the next convenient relationship. Learn from your mistakes, and learn from your pain. Tara Vossenkemper, a licensed couples therapist, says that jumping back into dating too soon will hurt more than help. When you feel ready, you can choose your next serious relationship mindfully. You can also survey a pool of higher quality options for the next person you want to bring into your life.

“Sometimes it takes a heartbreak to shake us awake and help us see we are worth so much more than what we're settling for.” ~ Mandy Hale, author, You Are Enough: Heartbreak, Healing.

What's the best thing you ever did after a breakup? I can tell you mine. After my very last breakup, I met the man I married. How about you? Please share your story with a comment.

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