No happy relationship ends in breakup. Unfortunately, it’s not actually the happiness of a relationship that defines how heartbroken you are after it ends. Heartbreak itself comes from the realization that whatever you had was so fundamentally broken it would make more sense just to not continue on at all. For all the downsides, though, breakups can be one of the most regenerative experiences we have if we use them in the right way. So here’s a list of some things you can do to turn heartbreak into healing. It won’t stop the pain, but maybe it’ll help give it some meaning.
1. Explore all the parts of you that got left behind.
No matter what your relationship was like, you inevitably changed in order to adapt to your partner. That isn’t a bad thing, but it does mean you now have many things to rediscover now that you’re single. In fact, you probably haven’t realized how much you’ve changed, but as time goes on you’ll start to see it. I laugh harder at TV shows now that I’m single. I don’t know why, because I never felt pressure to laugh less, but it’s undeniable: something about that relationship was holding me back from being totally free even when I was on my own.
Take joy in all the things you can do now. Even though it can be hard to see, for every single thing you can’t do single theres also things you can’t do when you’re in a relationship. And no, I’m not talking about the empty hookups and self destructive behavior so many “breakup guru’s” encourage their followers to take part in. Drinking yourself into a stupor or not showering for a week isn’t any okay just because you don’t have someone looking out for your best interests. In fact, it’s probably a sign that you need to learn to take care of yourself instead of depending on a significant other. What I’m talking about is the absence of the inevitable compromise that all human relationships employ. The things that were just a little too silly, or a little too annoying, for you to do with another human being occupying your life. Squealing when two characters who are just perfect for each other kiss on TV. Sleeping in your ugliest, most comfortable pajama’s. Not shaving. Never compromising on TV shows, restaurants, how late you want to stay up, if you want to go out. Let the freedom wash over you. One day you will find someone worth giving it up for, but that someone wasn’t him.
2. Find out what you want.
It’s not good to get too introspective during a breakup if you’re anything like me. I’m prone towards overthinking, and remaining healthy through a breakup means pulling myself out from the obsessive, downward spiraling thoughts. Still, regardless of if you tend to over or under-analyze your relationships, take a moment to put together a coherent list of lessons you’ve learned. Writing it down would probably be best. The main question: What do you want?
It ended because there was something lacking, or there was too much of something. Figure out all of it, and write it down so you know. Maybe he was never there for you, or he needed too much attention, or he didn’t want to introduce you to his friends, or he judged yours. Write it all down, and keep searching until you find the perfect words. In my case, he was never present. He wasn’t in my life enough, didn’t include me in his, and even when we were together sometimes he still didn’t seem to care. He didn’t even once chase after me when I withdrew, he never moved the relationship forward. I desperately need a partner in my life, not a child, which means someone who participates fully and for whatever reason he could never give that to me.
3. Figure out if what you want is in line with your future goals.
This is the part of the breakup where you might start to realize your own mistakes. And you definitely made them. A relationship can’t end between a perfect and imperfect person, because if you were perfect you would have been able to make up for his every mistake. Luckily, no one is perfect, so you can forgive yourself for your humanity. But now it’s time to look inside yourself.
Think for a moment about what you want in your future, the most important things. Do you want to travel? Where? For how long? What do you want to do there?
Do you want a career? How many more years in school do you have for it? When will you start? How long will it take you to get where you’re going?
Do you want a family? What kind? Do you want to have your own kids? How many? How far apart? When? Keep in mind that fertility starts significantly decreasing starting at 34, and you can’t fight biology. If you waste your 20s and 30s never taking love seriously, mother nature is going to take no sympathy on you when you finally find your husband at 40. She’s like the bitchy transcript lady at your high school who has a sign on her door that says “procrastination on your part doesn’t constitute an emergency on my part.” She’ll look at you, her judgmental eyes saying: So you wasted a decade on deadbeat guys but still thought a stable family was in your future? Well, you should know that’s not how it works. No body told you? Tough news, I have work to do.
If you want to live in 50 different countries before you’re 40 and never have kids you need to start booking those flights. If you want four children, each three years apart, that’s going to take a decade and biology is dictating your schedule, not you. If you only want one child, but are planning on seriously dating after you finish your residency, acknowledge that you’re only giving yourself a couple years to find the perfect partner, get married, get a house and start tying for a baby.
So you want a family but can’t stand to compromise? How are you going to ever handle marriage if you can’t handle dating? How are you going to love your children if the only love you know how to give is conditional? Realize that as life goes on you’re going to have more to do, not less. If you can’t work towards those goals right now, you probably will never be able to. So what do you need to do? Start working on fixing those deal breakers that shouldn’t actually be deal breakers for you! Go to therapy, work through your shit, and once you become someone capable of being in an adult relationship, you’re going to finally attract someone else who is.
4. Recognize that desire vs. ability doesn’t really matter.
What do I mean by this? A lot of times when we stay in a relationship that is somehow broken, it’s because we believe our partner can change. And of course, people will change. You know that because you yourself have done it. You’re probably an entirely new person from ten years ago. However, if behavior is compromising the health of a relationship, it has to be immediately talked about and then rectified in a timely manner. Now, maybe you haven’t learned to talk about your feelings and never told him about your problems. In that case, you need to work on that first and then come back once you’re able to do that. But even once you’ve reached the point where your able to talk through any issues you have, there’s still work to be done on you part. Once you’ve identified a problem, and proposed a solution, if the solution isn’t implemented one of two things are happening:
He doesn’t have the desire to change or he doesn’t have the ability to change.
So he never invites you out with his friends, even though it’s a mixed gender group and he couldn’t hide behind the ‘guys night’ excuse if he wanted to. You talk about it, and make it clear you need to be included in his life. He is sympathetic to your concerns. And yet week after week… He still doesn’t invite you out. Nothing has changed. Maybe he doesn’t have the social skills required to introduce someone new into his friend group. Maybe he’s embarrassed of you. Maybe he’s going through a hard time and just can’t give your relationship the attention it deserves. At the end of the day, the reason doesn’t matter. The bottom line is, he either can’t be the boyfriend you need, or he doesn’t care enough about you to try. If you’ve extensively talked about an issue, and given him far too much time, you’ll have to decide if this problem is something you can live with for the rest of your life because if he isn’t changing now, he won’t change later unless its for a reason outside of your relationship. Because clearly he believes your relationship can continue without consequence even if he never fixes the issue. If you stay in the relationship, you’re making sure that is true; essentially you’re telling him your okay with that behavior continuing because despite your nagging, you aren’t going to really push the issue.
Deciding what’s a deal breaker can be hard. Refer back to number three and think about how it will impact your future as a couple. If he can only stand to spend three days with you a week, could he ever be a father or husband? Probably not. Do you want to invest more time and energy into someone you have every reason to believe can never be a part of your longterm future? That’s up to you, but remember time is finite.
5. Remember the bad.
It’s not often that people encourage you to focus on the bad, but this is exactly what you’ll have to do to move on from a relationship simply because your brain is prewired to always have on rose colored glasses when looking at your past. When he’s gone, you’re going to find yourself missing the cuddling, and the deep conversation. You aren’t going to miss the fighting and the way he wouldn’t let you show any signs of affection in front of his friends. Focusing on the good is bad because it’s not true: if you had a good relationship, you would be together. If you had a good relationship, you wouldn’t have cried as much as you did. Focus on the bad, the truth of your relationship at it’s last moments instead of a fantasy of what it was like as a budding romance. Focus on how small he made you feel, how he couldn’t or wouldn’t love you fully. There are two men in your past: the one you fell in love with, and the one you broke up with. Don’t forget which one is the one walking around right now and which one never really existed in the first place.
Of course recovery will be a journey longer that 5 steps, but even when it comes to the end of a a relationship we must be willing to acknowledge our blessings. The end is a time for growth, change and strength. If you use your time properly, you’ll find yourself in a better place than before, in a shorter amount of time than you could imagine.