How to Get Over a Tough Breakup

by Brenna Holeman
Photo by Mark Pan4ratte on Unsplash

It doesn’t matter if you were together for 30 years, five years, or even a few months, let’s face it: breakups are terrible. In fact, a tough breakup is often cited as one of the most stressful things you’ll ever go through in life.

If you’re reading this, you might have gone through a breakup recently, or are still reeling from a previous breakup, to which I say: I know how you feel. If you take nothing else away from this article, I want you to know that you are not alone, and I want you to know that it is absolutely OK to be as confused, angry, hurt, and sad as you are right now.

Breakups happen for all different reasons, and in all different ways. Whether you’re the one who instigated the breakup or not, getting over a tough breakup can feel like a daunting task. And I get it: breakups can leave you feeling hopeless, lost, and unlovable. I know you might be asking yourself, when will I feel better after a breakup? While there is no magic answer to that question, what I can tell you is that, one day, you will feel better.

There have been numerous studies done that show that romantic love is similar to an addiction. So it makes sense that we hurt so much after a breakup: our bodies and minds are literally going through withdrawal symptoms. A bad breakup can indeed cause physical pain; it’s called a broken heart for a reason, as we do indeed feel broken and lost, often unable to sleep, eat, or function properly. We might also find ourselves unable to stop thinking about someone.

As someone who has suffered her fair share of difficult breakups – my last serious relationship ended when my then-partner dumped me while I was pregnant with his child – I can tell you that there are few things in the world that are as energy-draining, as mind-numbing, or as hard to get through. What I’d love to do right now is give you a big hug and tell you it’s going to be OK. Barring that, here are a few things you can do to help yourself through a difficult breakup.

How to Get Over a Tough Breakup

Let Yourself Feel

Breakups are awful. Unless both parties mutually agree that it’s best to end things – which, let’s face it, is extremely rare – 99% of the time, breakups make you feel terrible. Even if you saw it coming, or even if you were the one who instigated it, a breakup still has the ability to ruin you for weeks, months, even a year or more.

What you need to do now is feel all of your feelings. Let it all out. Feel sad. Feel angry. Cry. Scream into the pillow. Despite what we’ve so often been told in society, we can’t just bottle up our feelings in the hopes that that will make everything OK. In order to properly heal, you need to let yourself go through the wide range of emotions that comes with a messy breakup.

Because no matter how long you were together, a breakup brings grief. Regardless of whether you were together for ten years or only a few months, you’re probably grieving both the companionship you felt from that person as well as your future dreams for the relationship. You might also be grieving the loss of who you hoped this partner might be one day, of the potential for the relationship.

If we look at the stages of grief, denial is the first stage. Of course we might be in denial for the first few days or weeks or even months after a breakup; the breakup might not make sense to you, especially if it was out of the blue or something very upsetting happened (such as you found out your partner was cheating on you). It might feel safer to go about your day pretending that the loss didn’t happen, that everything is OK.

Photo by Cristian Escobar on Unsplash

Once reality sinks in that the breakup did indeed happen, and that this person is no longer a consistent person in your life, that’s when the second stage of grief can set in: anger. You might feel rage, bitterness, resentment, a whole host of feelings. You might also feel incredibly angry about how the breakup happened; maybe someone ghosted you, or didn’t give you a very good reason for the breakup, or you felt completely blindsided.

Next comes the bargaining stage. This is when you might start thinking, “what if” or “if only”. “If only I had been more attentive to him,” or “What if I had brought her more flowers,” and so on. We drive ourselves bonkers thinking about “if only” we had said this or done that.

And after bargaining comes sadness. Sadness is one of the quietest emotions, yet perhaps also the most all-consuming. This is perhaps when you might start thinking that you’ll never meet another person like them, or that you’ll be single forever.

Finally, there is acceptance. Acceptance is often looked at as a positive emotion, but in reality, it may also just mean that you’ve accepted the breakup. Acceptance of the breakup may take only a few days, or it may take much, much longer than that. Once we accept the breakup, however, it does make it easier to start healing.

Regardless of what you’re feeling – anger, sadness, frustration, loneliness, and everything in between – know that it is totally normal to feel this way. You are not “crazy”, nor are you overreacting. Remember: we need to feel all of our feelings in order to heal. As tempting as it may be to push all of those emotions aside or bottle them up, we need to let them out in order to begin to move on.

Bottom line: emotions are not a bad thing. Emotions are a normal human reaction and we need to process them in order to become stronger.

Photo by Verne Ho on Unsplash

Go No-Contact with your Ex

Oof. I know. This one sucks, but it’s necessary; unless you are co-parenting or in some other situation where you have to see or speak to that person, you must try to go no-contact as soon as possible. And no, seeing them to return a sweater or texting them because you heard their favourite band is coming out with a new album doesn’t count as “having” to see or speak to them.

I know you probably don’t want to hear this, but it’s true: going no-contact with an ex is the fastest and most effective way to start your healing process and get over a tough breakup. Studies have shown that those who keep in contact with exes before giving themselves a chance to heal have higher feelings of heartbreak, depression, jealousy, obsession, and grief, and that they are less likely to meet new partners for a longer period of time. Yikes.

Remember what I said about romantic love being an addiction? Well, going no-contact with an ex is similar to going cold turkey, which can sometimes be the kick in the pants that some of us need. And not to minimize or patronize addiction, but you wouldn’t think that someone with a gambling addiction was healing if they still gambled just a little bit here and there, would you? No. You’d probably say that someone with a gambling addition should stop gambling all together.

So as difficult as it is, and no matter who instigated the breakup, you can’t text them. You can’t call them. You can’t go to their favourite coffeeshop to try to bump into them. And for the love of all that is holy, please do not hang out with them or hook up with them. Trust me, breakup sex only leads to more misery. While it is so appealing to get back with an ex, especially in a moment of weakness or loneliness, there is an extremely high chance that all of the issues that arose the first time around will immediately come back between the two of you.

If you were the one broken up with, staying in contact with your ex will only result in more confusion and less time and space to heal properly. If you were the one who did the breaking up, it is not fair to your ex to give them mixed messages by staying in contact. Either way, you have to try to adjust to life without your ex, and if you keep contacting them, that is next to impossible.

Photo by Dave Webb on Unsplash

I actually call my no-contact method a “scorched earth” method, in that I erase all signs of them from my phone: I delete their number, delete them (and sometimes block them) on social media, and often even delete texts. Yes, this sounds dramatic, but this gives me no chance of reading old text messages, looking through their photos, and so on, all of which prevent me from healing. I do tell them that I won’t be speaking to them anymore, and I ask them not to contact me (so they shouldn’t be surprised that I’ve deleted them).

Does that feel too dramatic for you? Try deleting their number but writing it down somewhere. Archive their texts. Mute them on social media and/or prevent them from seeing your Instagram stories (there’s nothing worse than checking your “viewed” list over and over again to see if they’ve seen your story, trust me).

And yes, this is fucking hard, especially if you still have feelings for that person. I get it! We all think that we might get back together with them (at least, if we’re the ones broken up with). It’s so hard to go no-contact with someone who has been your closest friend and confidante for a significant chunk of your life, but I’m not saying that this has to be a forever thing. I do believe that exes can be friends… but only after you have both done a ton of healing. In fact, in order to be friends with an ex, I believe that you both would have to feel 100% happy for the other person if they started dating someone new. Until then? Nope. You can’t be friends.

I know it seems impossible, but if you truly want to move on from a tough breakup, you have to go no-contact with your ex.

Photo by Paola Chaaya on Unsplash

Give Yourself Grace

If you are beating yourself up right now, please try to stop. You are not an idiot. You are not stupid. You are not worthless or unlovable. It is totally normal to be feeling everything that you’re feeling right now; a tough breakup is a huge blow, often one of the hardest that we ever have to go through in life.

Always remember to give yourself grace. This is a tough enough time in your life; you don’t need to beat yourself up for feeling upset about something that is indeed upsetting. Processing breakups take time, and we need to go through a ton of emotions before we properly heal. There’s nothing wrong with that, and nothing wrong with you for feeling the way you do.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Know That You Are Worthy of Love

I have felt unlovable for so much of my life. I have felt so unworthy of love. I have felt like I deserved all of the bad things that have happened to me, that I deserved to be cheated on and treated like shit and even deserved to be dumped while pregnant.

But today, writing this, I am able to tell myself that none of that is true. I am loveable. I am worthy of love. And I did not deserve to have those horrible things happen to me.

During and after a breakup, it is common to feel like you will never be loved again, or that you are somehow unworthy or undeserving of true love. But it’s important to remember that people break up. People break up all the time, in fact. And just because you are experiencing a breakup doesn’t mean that you won’t one day find a beautiful love, a love that is so much better than you could have ever imagined.

I’ve started telling myself this: if I could love someone that much who wasn’t right for me, just imagine how amazing it will be when I find someone who is.

what is intermittent reinforcement in a relationship

Get Off of Social Media

Social media can be a wonderful thing. It can bring people together, it can grow businesses, it can teach you a lot about a lot of things. But it can also be AWFUL if you are trying to get over someone, especially if you find yourself getting obsessed with their online presence.

You might find yourself constantly checking to see if they viewed your story on Instagram. Or maybe you’ll obsess over what they did or didn’t post to their own profile (“do they look happy in that photo? Are they on a date?!”). You might start overthinking every little thing, even going so far as checking their following list to see if they’ve suddenly followed someone new. You might hem and haw about whether or not you should delete the photos of the two of you together, or you might be devastated to see that they did indeed delete their own photos of the two of you.

I know. It’s exhausting.

My suggestion is to get off social media for a little bit. Use that time that you’d normally spend scrolling to go outside, write in a journal, talk with a friend, and so on. And if you’re feeling strong enough, delete them off of social media. I know it seems dramatic and harsh, but this is for your own mental health.

Want even more proof that keeping tabs on your ex on social media is toxic after a breakup? A study done of 464 participants who obsessed over their exes on Facebook found “that Facebook surveillance [of an ex] was associated with greater current distress over the breakup, more negative feelings, sexual desire, and longing for the ex-partner, and lower personal growth.” Again… yikes.

As tempting as it can be to keep checking their profile, try to get the strength to delete them off of social media (as well as their friends and family). Or, at the very least, put down the phone.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez 🇨🇦 on Unsplash

Indulge a Little

It’s a cliche, yes, but why not get the huge tub of ice cream and stay in your pyjamas all day? If that’s what you need to do, do it. Don’t beat yourself up for wanting to indulge a little. Buy your favourite food, binge your favourite show, stay in bed all day if you want.

The key here, though, is the phrase “a little”. You don’t want to fall into an unhealthy pattern; you still need to eventually get up, go to work, eat food that will help your body thrive, and so on. Similarly, try not to drink or use other substances too much when going through a breakup. It may be tempting to drown your sorrows – and hey, a night out with friends to get your mind off of things never hurts – but try not to lean on those things to distract you. That will only lead to unhealthy behaviours and will prevent you from healing fully.

Photo by Maddi Bazzocco on Unsplash

Remember Why You Broke Up in the First Place

Exes are exes for a reason. As difficult as that can be to hear, it’s true. There’s a reason – or multiple reasons – that you’re not with this person anymore. It is so easy to only remember the good parts of a relationship; the cream rises to the top, as it were, and all of the bad parts of the relationship get pushed down. But when you’re reeling from a breakup, it’s helpful to keep reminding yourself of all of the things that weren’t great in the relationship, and all of the reasons the relationship ended.

Maybe you were fighting all the time. Maybe you felt anxious all the time, like you were never sure that they really loved you. Maybe you disagreed about your future, whether that be career paths or kids or marriage or moving somewhere new. Maybe they were really jealous, or they intentionally tried to make you jealous. Maybe they were a terrible drunk. The list goes on and on, because let’s face it: none of us are perfect.

And maybe, just maybe, the only reason you can think of is that they didn’t want to be with you. Maybe you were blindsided, and you still don’t really know why you broke up. But them saying that they don’t want to be with you should be the biggest reason of all. Remember: you are worthy of love, and you are worthy of someone who wants to be with you.

Start Writing

Even if you’re not a writer, start writing.

Write down all of the things above, all of the reasons the relationship would never have lasted, all of the things you didn’t really like about your ex. Be as petty as you need to be; maybe it really annoyed you how they snored at night, or how they made fun of your coffee order at Starbucks. Seriously! Make it as detailed as you need it to be.

Write them a letter (one you will never send, of course). Write out all of your frustrations and how angry you are with them. Tell them everything you wish you could have said to them.

Write yourself a letter. Write about how you’re feeling and make yourself a promise that you’ll feel better one day. Write about how worthy and deserving you are of a loving, consistent partner, one that provides reciprocity and respect.

Just start writing. It’s known to be cathartic for a reason (case in point: this entire blog, hah).

Photo by lilartsy on Unsplash

Take the Person Off of the Pedestal

I get it. I am SO guilty of this. I put just about everyone on a pedestal whether they deserve it or not. I tend to do this with men when I first start dating a person; without knowing anything about them, I idealize who they are (which is an article unto itself). I often do the same when we break up, only focusing on all of the apparently amazing qualities they possess without considering any of their not-so-amazing qualities.

This is also when we often think, “I’ll never meet someone like them again!” or “I’ll never feel this way about anyone else every again!” And here’s where I will say something that might be a little unexpected: I hope you don’t meet someone like them again. I hope you don’t feel that way about anyone ever again.

Because I hope you meet someone even better for you. I hope you feel so much better about someone one day. I don’t want you to be with someone who makes you feel this heartbreak ever again.

When we break up with someone, we tend to only focus on the good things about the relationship, and all the negative things conveniently get forgotten or brushed over. Remember the bad times, too, and remember the things you didn’t like about this person.

Another common thing to do after a breakup is to focus on your ex’s potential, not their actual qualities. This is especially common if you didn’t date that long; you start imagining how amazing the relationship could have been if only you stayed together.

Again, no matter how many amazing qualities you think this person may have, exes are exes for a reason. There was something that broke the two of you up. There was something bigger than all of those amazing qualities. As tough as that can be to realize, it’s an important and necessary thing to try to remember.

Once we take them off the pedestal, it’s easier to accept that they weren’t the perfect person for us. If they were, we’d still be together. This helps us accept the breakup and start to focus on healing.

Photo by DESIGNECOLOGIST on Unsplash

Talk to People

It is so important to talk to people after a breakup. Again, bottling things up is never going to be a healthy way to get over something; the more we push our emotions down, the more they have a tendency to show up as deeper traumas later on in life. Talk things out with a trusted person in your life, be that a friend or family member. Almost everyone in your life will have experienced a breakup of some kind, and most people are empathetic to heartache.

If it’s affordable and accessible for you, I also highly recommend therapy. There is absolutely no shame in therapy; we go to the gym to keep our bodies healthy, so why not go to a therapist to keep our minds healthy? A therapist can help you work through some of your emotions, give you some clarity, and offer suggestions on how to work through a tough breakup.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Make Plans with Friends

Now is the time to lean into your friendships. Get in touch with that long-distance friend for a FaceTime. Ask some colleagues if they’d like to get a drink after work. Go bowling with your closest friends on a random Tuesday. And while I know it’ll be tempting to talk about your breakup for the entire hangout, try to talk about other things, too, including asking about your friends and what they’re up to.

No matter what, surrounding yourself with other people is a great way to get out of the house and feel something other than your heartbreak for a while. Even an hour or two in someone else’s company can be very healing.

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

Get Outside

There is something so healing about being in nature. It’s easy to want to stay curled up in bed, not facing the outside world. And while those days are important, too, I urge you to get outside whenever you can: go for a walk, get a coffee and sit in the park, rake the leaves or do some yard work. However you can get outside and breathe in fresh air, do it once in a while. It will soothe you, even if it’s just for a few moments.

Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

Remember to Take Care of Yourself

It’s amazing that we can give so much love and care to other people and yet sometimes forget to take care of ourselves. If your best friend was going through a tough breakup, wouldn’t you want them to sleep, eat, bathe, go for walks, and take good care of themselves? Of course you would. Treat yourself the same way; try to take care of yourself as best as possible by eating nourishing food, showering, keeping your house clean, moving your body, and so on.

I get it. When we’re in the depths of despair, the last thing we feel like doing is mopping the floor or cooking a meal or taking a shower. Set yourself the smallest goals for the day: “today I will eat some vegetables”, for example, or “today I will fold the laundry.” And if you don’t achieve that goal, that’s OK. There’s always tomorrow. But I promise that you will feel a tiny bit better if you try to take care of yourself as best as possible.

Photo by Conscious Design on Unsplash

Do the Things You Love

Before you started dating your ex, what did you love to do? Did the relationship take some of your time away from that passion or hobby? While it may take some time to return to the things you and your ex did together – for example, if you always went curling together, it might be too painful to go curling without them – now is a good time to remember the things you love doing in life and try to fit them into your schedule again.

This can also be a fun time to do the thing you’ve always wanted to try. Maybe you have always wanted to learn guitar, start jogging, or take an art class. Try it out!

Photo by Andy Kelly on Unsplash

Don’t Start Dating Right Away

“The best way to get over someone is to get under someone else.” We’ve all heard that, right? Well, I am definitely not a fan of this one. Despite what your friends might say, you should not rush into dating or hooking up with someone new after a breakup. There are many reasons for this, mainly that a) you’re not fully healed and b) you’re now bringing another person into all of this, potentially hurting their feelings along the way.

So when should you start dating after a breakup? Despite what I just said, I don’t actually think that you have to be fully healed in order to date again, but you should feel that you have moved on enough from your ex that you won’t bring all of that trauma into a new relationship. It’s not fair to punish someone in your present for what someone in your past did to you, if that makes sense.

Whenever you start to date again, it’s important to be as honest and as vulnerable as possible. I strongly believe in taking it slow in all dating scenarios, but especially if you’re still feeling slightly raw from a breakup. It can be so exciting to immediately jump right into a relationship and have someone to text and hang out with all the time, but you are most likely still filling a void left from your ex. Take your time in order to make sure you’re ready, and so that the new relationship actually has a fighting chance.

As someone who has a knack for meeting men who are still in love with their exes, take it from me: you don’t want to lead someone on only to tell them after a few dates or hookups that you’re actually not ready for a relationship. That’s a shitty thing to do to somebody, to get their hopes up or have them start to like you only to cut them down because you rushed into things before you knew you were truly ready. Only date if you are actually looking forward to meeting someone new and actually excited about a future with someone else, not because you’re trying to fill a void left by your ex.

And just a reminder: you will date again. You are not destined to spend the rest of your life alone.

Start Planning a New Future

One of the hardest parts of moving on from a tough breakup is realizing that all of the plans you made with your ex will never come to fruition. Maybe you planned to move in together, planned a big trip, planned kids, planned marriage. It can be such a hard pill to swallow when you realize those things will never happen.

With some time, however, it’ll be a healing process for you to start planning a new future, one for yourself. Take that trip you’ve always wanted to take. Start the new hobby you always dreamed of. Imagine that the possibilities are endless; now is the time to truly change your life and become the person you’ve always wanted to be.

It might seem impossible to imagine right now, but a breakup can actually be a fresh start on life.

Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

Give it Time

Ugh. I know. “Time heals all wounds” and all that. Here’s the thing: you might always carry the scar of this breakup with you. That’s not a bad thing; humans go through a lot of shit, and it’s only natural that we all carry a bit of baggage with us through life. That’s what makes us real. That’s what teaches us some of the most important lessons in life.

And sometimes, even if we’re over the person, we may not be over the hurt. For example, I haven’t had feelings for my most recent ex since we were actually together. But being dumped while pregnant? That will stay with me forever.

There’s no crystal ball that will tell us how long it’ll take to get over our ex. It could be weeks or months, or even a year. But one day you’ll realize that you didn’t think about them all day, or you’ll be able to hear a certain song without tearing up. One day you’ll find yourself laughing again, your old, genuine laugh. One day you’ll have a crush on someone else. And little by little, over time, you’ll heal. You’ll feel stronger. And you will get through this.

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

To conclude, I’d like to share a more personal story here. My worst breakup – as in, the one I struggled the most to get over – was not the one after a years-long relationship. It was not the one after living together. It wasn’t even the one where I got dumped while pregnant! Nope, it was actually one of my shortest relationships, only six months or so.

I put this guy – let’s call him Scott – on the BIGGEST pedestal. He could do no wrong. And ohhh. He was so handsome. He had the most amazing accent. We’d talk for hours and hours, all through the night, and our chemistry was some of the most intense I’ve ever felt. He was adventurous and smart, witty and engaging. He would keep his eyes focused on me the whole time we talked. He had the best laugh. I liked him so, so, so much.

So when he came over to my apartment one sunny afternoon, took my hands in his, and told me he wanted to break up with me, I literally felt my heart fall out of my chest. I hadn’t seen it coming; in fact, I thought things were going really well between us. He said that, despite liking me a lot, he just didn’t feel that “lightning bolt” that told him we were meant to be together longterm.

To put it bluntly, I was fucking devastated. I even took a week off of work to fly home and be with my mom.

I didn’t get over Scott for a very long time – years, in fact. And that’s for two reasons: one, we kept in touch and he would string me along, including coming over to my apartment occasionally to make out and listen to music (see? Go no-contact!!). And two, I keep him right up there on the pedestal. I compared every guy I met to him for years.

All these years later, in retrospect, I can see that I did so many things that actively prevented me from getting over the breakup.

I kept in contact with him, including hooking up with him after he ended things. I continued to think that he was the most amazing guy I’d ever met, ignoring his flaws and ignoring the biggest red flag of all: that he didn’t want to be with me. I didn’t give myself any grace whatsoever, and I believed that I was totally unlovable (and that only if I got Scott back would I ever feel lovable again). I stayed home all the time, ignoring my hobbies, passions, and friends, completely withdrawing into myself. I immediately tried dating apps, trying to distract myself, yet I compared everyone to him. I drank too much, slept all day, and stayed up all night, eating terrible food. The list goes on and on and on.

Photo by Felicia Buitenwerf on Unsplash

It took me a long time to get over Scott, and I believe that I would have gotten over him a lot faster if I had followed some of the advice in this article. And today, yes, I still think about him from time to time. But now, he’s just a guy I dated. I’ve been able to take him off the pedestal and recognize the qualities I liked about him and about us together, but I’ve also been able to identify all the things that weren’t working in that relationship. Today, the tough breakup feels more like a lesson than a wound.

I wish I could wave a magic wand and take away the pain you’re feeling from your breakup. But please trust me when I say it really will get better one day. Remember: when we’re in the valleys of our lives, it’s impossible to see the tops of the mountains. But with each step we take, every tiny step, we get that much closer to getting out of the valley.

Have you ever experienced a tough breakup? How did you get over it?

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Lee October 3, 2023 - 11:04 pm

I really appreciate the time and thought you obviously put into this. I totally agree with you regarding the no contact thing…it was only when I went no contact with my ex that I actually started to heal. Thanks for another great article, I love when you write about dating!

Brenna Holeman October 26, 2023 - 8:55 pm

Thank you so much Lee, I’m so glad that you enjoyed the article 🙂

Zalie October 4, 2023 - 1:32 pm

Thank you for always sharing yourself with us all so openly and honestly. I am a really looking forward to hearing more of your stories sister- I miss your writing!

Brenna Holeman October 26, 2023 - 8:55 pm

Aw, thank you so much, sister!! I love you xoxo


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