You already know you need to move on with your life.
That much is clear.
But how are you meant to “move on” when your life feels completely destroyed?
And how are you supposed to “put the past behind you” like it was no big deal?
Well, that’s exactly what I’m going to share with you in today’s post.
Because over the last few months I’ve successfully moved on from a relationship I thought was the best thing that ever happened to me, and I’m going to describe exactly what worked for me.
Here we go…
1. This won’t be a quick, or easy process
According to research published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, it takes 11 weeks to feel better after a relationship ends.
However, another study found it takes about 18 months to heal after the end of a marriage.
The brutal truth is this:
Heartbreak is a grieving process – and it’s a unique experience for everyone. Love is a messy emotion, after all.
But you need to remember that there’s no set timing of when you “have” to get over someone.
There are different factors at play for the healing process- such as the length of the relationship, what you went through together as a couple, whether you had children, and the depth of the emotion you experienced.
The break-up can also be more difficult if you didn’t want it to end – which is what happened to me.
Millions of people have been through the pain of a break-up before, and they’ve successfully moved on to be a better, stronger human being.
I can vouch for that.
It’s a natural process that most people will go through at least once in their life.
But just like any other wound: Heartbreak heals with time – and you will eventually move on.
For me, it took about three months to fully move on. But if I knew what I knew now I’m sure it would be quicker.
This is precisely why I’ve written a book on the art of breaking up and getting over someone.
The bottom line is that if you know how to properly grieve, process your emotions and then focus on creating new sources of meaning, you can get over someone more quickly than moping around and feeling sorry for yourself (which is exactly what I did for far longer than I should have).
You just need to know the techniques, which I cover in greater depth in my book compared to this blog post. You can check out my book here.
So for now, keep this in mind:
While most advice you usually read about “getting over someone” will advise you to “go out with your friends” or “meet new people,” this isn’t the first thing you should do.
It certainly didn’t help me. I’d go out with my friends and be a total drainer. I wasn’t interested in meeting new people and drinking only made me feel worse the next day.
So instead of forcing yourself to “get out there” when your heart’s not in it, it’s important to accept that it’s not going to take a day to get over them. It will take time.
2. It’s perfectly okay to be hurting
Relationships are the foundation of everyone’s life. We’re all social creatures, and we rely on each other to get by.
Furthermore, we develop meaning through our relationships.
In the second part of Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl listed three different ways we can find meaning in life, and number 2 was “by experiencing something or encountering someone.”
When a relationship has ended, particularly one that was so important to your life, you lose a significant amount of meaning. You lose a part of yourself.
That’s why you might feel “empty” or “lost.” You even might think that there isn’t a purpose to life anymore.
Breakups can be seriously disorientating.
This is especially true for those who incorporate their relationships into their self-concepts – and have defined themselves by being a “pair.”
Without your “other half” – who are you?
According to psychologists, this is also due to the “self-expansion theory.”
This idea says that one of the best ways to achieve self-expansion is through a new romantic relationship.
This makes sense. When you’re first dating someone you can feel your world expand. You feel like you’re growing together. It makes life more meaningful and fun.
And research suggests that relationships that contribute to self-expansion are happier and more successful ones. It’s also a significant contributor to happiness.
But all of this makes a breakup that much more painful. If you’re relying on a relationship to self-expand, then the end of the relationship threatens to do the opposite.
I honestly felt like I lost a part of myself and I would never meet someone as good.
My life practically revolved around my girlfriend for five years. So when it disappears from you in an instant, it’s soul-crushing.
It’s five years wasted for building what?
But that’s precisely what needs to be accepted. Yes, you’ve lost a part of “you,” but it also means that you can build a better “you” once you’ve acknowledged that it’s gone.
This information isn’t meant to make you feel worse. It’s meant to point to a way out of the dark tunnel you’re experiencing right now.
Accept where you are right now and focus on restoring new meaning in life and your own self-concept.
When you try something new, or you do things you love, you’re helping you rebuild a new you that you feel you’ve lost.
So while it’s hurtful to accept that part of you is gone, once you’re able to accept it, you’ve opened up opportunities to find new meaning in life.
You’ve also learned a lot from this experience of getting over someone you loved. That’s guaranteed to hold you in good stead.
3. Feel the negative emotions and get them out of your system
This is the worst part: Facing your feelings and accepting that you’re feeling them.
But it’s vital that you take the time to face those thoughts and feelings so they can get out of your system. You don’t want them to drag you down when you ARE ready to get on with your life.
I avoided what I was feeling and pretended that everything was okay. But deep down, I was hurt.
And looking back, it wasn’t until I accepted how I was feeling that I started the process of moving on.
According to research, avoiding your emotions causes more pain in the long-term than facing them, and accepting them.
If you try to avoid the way you’re feeling and expect yourself to be “happy” and that is everything is fine, not only are you living a lie, but those negative emotions fester in the background.
The research suggests that emotional stress, like that from blocked emotions, has not only been linked to mental illness but also to physical problems like headaches, heart disease, insomnia, and autoimmune disorders.
I can relate to this because I was more stressed than usual. I hardly slept, and it was a struggle to get through a workday like I usually would.
Therefore, it’s much more adaptive for us to recognize the reality that we’re feeling pain.
And by accepting your emotional life, you’re affirming your full humanity.
By accepting who you are and what you’re experiencing, you don’t have to waste energy avoiding anything.
You can accept the emotion and then move on with your actions.
Negative emotions won’t kill you – they’re annoying but not dangerous – and accepting them is much less of a drag than the ongoing attempt to avoid them.
What’s more, according to Buddhist Master Pema Chodron, negative emotions are excellent teachers when we dare to face them:
“…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.” – Pema Chodron
The question is:
How can we learn to “accept” our feelings?
I’ve never been very good at dealing with my emotions, but a technique that helped me was a type of therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which was developed by Dr. Steven Hayes at the University of Nevada.
It’s a simple 4 step process you can do anytime. I’ve summarized the four key steps here. I also expand on it in my book and provide other techniques to accept your emotions and move on with your life. Check out the book here if you’re interested.
If you think you might like it, I also suggest googling Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and learning more about it.
Here are 4 steps for one of the techniques that I found helpful:
Step one: Identify the emotion
If you have more than one emotion, just pick one. If you don’t know what the emotion is, sit for a moment and pay attention to your physical sensations and thoughts. Give it a name and write it down on a piece of paper.
Step two: Give it some space
Close your eyes and imagine putting that emotion five feet in front of you. You’re going to put it outside of yourself and observe it.
Step three: Now that the emotion is outside of you, close your eyes and answer the following questions:
If your emotion had a size, what size would it be? If your emotion had a shape, what shape would it be? If your emotion had a color, what color would it be?
Once you’ve answered these questions, imagine putting the emotion out in front of you with the size, shape, and color. Just observe it and acknowledge it for what it is. When you’re ready, you can let the emotion return to its original place inside you.
Step four: Reflection
Once you’ve completed the exercise, you can take a moment to reflect on what you’ve noticed. Did you notice a change in your emotion when you got a little distance from it? Did the emotion feel different in some way once the exercise was finished?
This exercise may seem weird, but it helped me in understanding what I was feeling after the breakup.
Understanding my emotions made it easier for me to accept them, and eventually, let go of them.
4. What was the relationship like?
If you’re feeling depressed, you’re probably telling yourself things like, “he/she was perfect”, or “I’ll never find someone as good.”
That’s what I did. And looking back, I can’t believe how biased my brain was!
But now that I can reflect on the reality of the situation, I can tell you the truth:
No matter how much you’ve built them up in your mind, nobody’s perfect.
And if the relationship ended, then the relationship wasn’t perfect, either.
It’s time that you looked at the relationship objectively, rather than being biased about how “great” it was.
Ask yourself these four questions:
1) Were you really happy 100% of the time?
2) Did the relationship hinder your life in any way?
3) Were you happy before the relationship?
4) What annoyed you most about your partner?
Answer these questions truthfully and you’ll begin to realize that the relationship ending isn’t as bad as you thought it was.
You might even start to see that your life has opened up in many ways that weren’t previously possible.
Marilyn Monroe said it best:
“Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” – Marilyn Monroe
And keep in mind:
There’s a world out there for you to meet, and there are plenty of men or women who will make you happy in a relationship if you give them a chance.
It’s only your emotions that’s telling you different right now.
I thought I would never meet someone as good, but now I know that there are plenty of women that are just as good, and better.
5. Talk it out with someone who sees it from your perspective
When your heart is broken, the last thing you need is someone standing in front of you telling you all the reasons why the failed relationship is your fault.
Sure, some or all of the blame can fall to you another day, but for right now, you just need someone who is on your side and who won’t try to get you to make meaning of the experience or how you can learn from it just yet.
I had a friend who reminded me about all the things that I did wrong in the relationship. While some of it made sense, it wasn’t what I needed to hear at that time. It just made me feel worse.
Be careful with who you decide to talk it over with. Make sure they’re emotionally intelligent, positive and on your side.
And if you have friends that you and your partner are both friends with, you might want to reconsider hanging out with them for now.
Not only will it remind you of your ex-lover, but you can’t be certain which side they’ll take, either.
In my book on the art of breaking up, I talk about the different types of break-ups.
Whichever type of breakup you’re going through, it probably feels like this is the worst one there is.
If you were cheated on, you might well be thinking that you’d rather have been in a relationship that had died slowly rather than have to go through the sharp shock you’re feeling now.
If you were in a relationship that slowly fizzled out, you probably wish it had happened more quickly, and then you wouldn’t regret wasting so much time on it.
So to get more specific advice on the type of break-up you experienced, check out my book here.
6. Write down what you’re thinking and feeling
This is something that I’ve never done before, but I found that it helped.
I grabbed myself a notebook and started writing down my thoughts and feelings.
For the first time since the relationship ended, I felt like I had clarity on what I was thinking and feeling.
Writing helps your mind slow down and structure the information in your head.
It also felt therapeutic, like I was releasing my emotions by expressing them and understanding them.
Remember, part of the healing process of getting over someone you loved is to express, understand and delve deep into your differing emotions.
Journaling helps you express your painful feelings in a safe environment. No one is going to read what you write.
You might be angry, or sad. Whatever it is you’re feeling, let it out. Process those feelings.
If you’re wondering how you can begin journaling, try asking these three questions:
How am I feeling?
What am I doing?
What am I trying to change about my life?
These questions will give you insight into your emotions and prompt you to think about the future.
Writing down what you are going to change gives you the ultimate responsibility to change your life.
Understanding that you hold the cards for creating a great life is empowering. You don’t need to rely on other people for you to take responsibility for your life and shape where it’s headed.
7. Don’t go back to your partner, even if you have the choice
This only my opinion and it might not apply to every single case, but I believe that the best thing for you to do is not to go crawling back to them.
And this is coming from someone who has been through a breakup, and I’m glad that I continued my way through it.
Considering that you’re probably feeling depressed, an easy fix would be to try and get them back.
But what happens when you break up again in 6 months? It might hit you harder.
The relationship ended for a reason, and unless it’s obvious that this reason has been resolved or it definitely won’t happen again, then I think it’s better to move on with your life.
Delete them from social media (and don’t be tempted to snoop). Delete their number so you can’t drunk dial. Do whatever it takes to give your mind the space it needs to heal.
Seeing the person you’ve just broken up with is like picking a scab. It doesn’t help the wound heal, it just makes it more painful and more likely to scar.
Once you have space – real, proper, space – you’ll be able to appreciate the good things about not being with them.
You’ll have the freedom to live however you like. Even the best relationships involve some kind of compromise.
It can be truly delicious to taste that after a long time of having to consider someone else’s needs in all your decisions.
Most importantly, not seeing them means you get to see what life is like without them. Single life stops being a big, scary unknown. It becomes something that, little by little, you’re living, breathing and embracing.
Don’t want to live it? That’s tough. You are single now. Make it count.
8. Now you need to find new sources of meaning
I’m sure people have told you to “go out with your friends” and “have fun.” Solid advice, but it’s not going to help you restore new meaning in your life.
Right now you’ll go out with your usual friends, have a good time, and then go home and sleep by yourself and be reminded that you don’t have your ex-lover by your side.
One of the reasons we love being in love is because it provides us with a sense of meaning.
People who have recently got into a serious relationship, or who have recently married, often talk about the renewed sense of purpose and meaning they feel as a result.
But being in a relationship is not the only way to feel meaning. The reason we gain so much meaning from romantic relationships is that they give us a sense of belonging.
Back when all of us were hunter-gatherers, our sense of belonging was never in doubt.
We were part of a tribe, part of the place where we lived, part of the ecosystem. Now, that’s changed.
We have to find our own tribe. Many people live long distances from their family or are estranged from them.
We meet different groups of friends throughout our lives and have to work out who the ones we really click with are.
More of us never have children, and those of us who do, often have them much later in life than our parents and grandparents did.
That’s why a relationship has so much potential to offer us a sense of belonging and meaning. Our partner is someone who we can navigate the world with.
A good partnership can ground us and give us the strength to grow. But a relationship can also tear down our sense of meaning and belonging.
A relationship that feels wrong, will stop us from interacting with the world with authenticity.
Spending most of your time with someone who you don’t really love, and who doesn’t really love you, damages your ability to connect with others.
The former Second World War concentration camp inmate Viktor Frankl wrote a book called Man’s Search for Meaning.
In it, he talked about how even those reduced to the most desperate circumstances would seek out connection and belonging.
People who were almost starving would give away their last piece of bread and offer others comfort. Meaning motivates everything.
One of Frankl’s best-known quotes is “Our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude.”
That’s a vital thing to remember after a breakup. Breakups feel chaotic and impossible to control.
We feel like our emotions are getting ahead of us and that we can’t do anything to stop them.
What we fear our lives not being the lives we thought we would have. Frankl would say that we should find meaning in another way, by choosing to change our attitude.
Here are some ideas to build on your meaning in life:
1. Work on your friendships:
Much of the feeling of belonging that you crave from your main partnership can be had from friendships.
That includes both one-on-one friendships, and friendship groups. If you don’t have as many friends as you’d like, work towards gaining them.
Find things you love doing and meet people through them. Call up old friends you haven’t seen for ages.
Take a good friend out for a coffee and spend some time together, just the two of you.
2. Be part of your community:
This doesn’t have to mean charity work (though it could). It could just mean being conscious of the people around you.
Offer to take your neighbor’s parcels in, or to drop in and check on someone’s pet cat while they’re away.
3. Become a better listener.
There’s a lot to learn from other people. Listen with the intent to understand rather than trying to jump in with a response.
Most of your friends have probably been through a breakup before. They may have something valuable to teach you.
4. Stop comparing yourself to others.
You might be unnecessarily comparing yourself to other people, particularly those people in a happy relationship.
But there’s really no point in comparing yourself to others. Everyone has different circumstances. And you don’t really know what’s truly going on with someone else’s life and their relationships.
It’s better to practice compassion and assume we are all equal. Look inside yourself and forget the need to compare.
5. Connect to your own inner wisdom.
It’s tiring to always look to others for advice and what you should think. Sit quietly with yourself and understand what you really think and feel.
6. Let go of guilt.
Stop finding ways to prove that you’re not enough. Yes, you’re going through a breakup, but it doesn’t mean that you’re not good enough. Relationships end all the time for a variety of reasons.
It’s more likely that the relationship ending had nothing to do with you. Don’t let your mind sink into a cognitive bias that everything is your fault. Choose self-compassion instead.
9. Find your joy
Relationships, when they’re good, can bring great joy. It’s undoubtedly fun to wake up next to someone you love, to spend whole days hanging out, eating, drinking, talking and laughing together.
It’s hard not to mourn the loss of that enjoyment if your relationship breaks up. But those moments, as wonderful as they are, are just one way to experience joy.
Separate the desire you have to feel happy from the desire you have to be in a relationship. Take control of your own feelings.
If you allow yourself to believe that you won’t feel joyful any other way than in a relationship, you probably won’t.
One of the best ways to find new meaning in life is to do things you love and you’re passionate about.
So now let’s consider what makes you happy in life.
What makes you feel free? When are you at your best? When you’re traveling? With family? Working? Helping others?
Write down everything. These are the areas you can find new meaning.
For example, if you’re passionate about traveling, start organizing solo trips (or with friends) to places that you’ve always wanted to see.
If you haven’t got the budget for it, plan your money so that eventually you do have the finances to travel there.
And voila, already you have a purpose that you’re working towards.
If you enjoy helping others, consider new ways you can do that.
If you’re skilled at Maths, perhaps you could offer to teach kids Maths.
Be creative with how you can help others.
Whatever it is, find new activities that give yourself a purpose. Purpose is an essential cog in feeling happy.
(If you’re looking for an easy-to-follow framework to help you find your purpose in life and achieve your goals, check our eBook on how to be your own life coach here).
10. Appreciate yourself
When you’re in a long-term relationship, you don’t spend much time alone. So much so that you can forget who you truly are.
Here’s a technique that helped me:
I sat down and wrote a list of my top 10 biggest strengths. After all, self-doubt was creeping into my consciousness with thoughts like, “what am I without my ex-partner?”.
By understanding my strengths and what I have to offer, I was able to believe in myself again. It gave me confidence that many girls would be lucky to date me.
Also, another list that helped me was writing down things I’m appreciative for. This was important in understanding that there’s a lot in my life that I’m lucky to have.
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” —Oprah Winfrey
Once you finish these two lists, you’ll understand that you have a lot to give and a lot to be grateful for.
Whenever you’re feeling down, reread them.
(To learn more about self-love, check out my ultimate guide to loving yourself here).
11. Get out of your comfort zone
Let’s be honest, there’s not a lot of room for adventure and excitement in your comfort zone.
Understandably, your zest for life might have shrunk after he or she left you.
That’s what happened to me, but if you want to get that zest for life back, you need to do some new and scary things. Stretch your limits!
“The comfort zone is a psychological state in which one feels familiar, safe, at ease, and secure. You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Roy T. Bennett
It doesn’t have to be extreme. Even doing something that makes you a little nervous can be excellent for you.
So consider what makes you a little nervous and go about doing it.
For example, I’ve always been terrified of going up to groups of girls and starting a conversation.
So you know what I did? I went out with my friends and did exactly that.
By asking lame questions like, “Where are the best bars around here?” to a group of strangers, I was able to get my zest back by challenging myself and striking up a conversation with a bunch of randoms.
It was a great way of meeting new people as well.
And hey, when I approached groups of girls, I’m sure I was awkward, but in the end, I did it, and I felt nothing but excitement afterward.
Getting over someone you loved is never easy, but it’s important to realize that you’ll eventually get over them and you’ll be stronger for it.
By changing up your perspective and understanding that being single isn’t as bad as you thought, you’ll be able to participate in activities that expand your comfort zone and make you realize that there are a lot of possibilities and excitement ahead in your life, even without your partner.
Introducing my new book
To dive further into what I’ve discussed in this blog post, check out my book The Art of Breaking Up: How to Let Go of Someone You Loved.
In this book, I’ll show you exactly how to get over someone you loved as quickly and as successfully as possible.
First I’ll take you through the 5 different types of breakups – this gives you the chance to better understand why your relationship came to an end, and how the fallout is impacting you now.
Next, I’ll provide a path to help you figure out exactly why you’re feeling the way you are about your breakup.
I’ll show you how to truly see those feelings for what they really are, so you can accept them, and ultimately move on from them.
In the last stage of the book, I reveal to you why your best self is now waiting to be discovered.
I show you how to embrace being single, rediscover the profound meaning and simple joys in life, and ultimately find love again.
Now, this book is NOT a magic pill.
It’s a valuable tool to help you become one of those unique people who can accept, process and move on.
By implementing these practical tips and insights, you’ll not just free yourself from the mental chains of a distressing breakup, but you’ll most likely become a stronger, healthier, and happier person than ever before.