Heartbreak is the worst. The stereotype of a broken heart is always focused on the lonely-hearted, the poor innocent soul who has been axed by their ex. But performing the axing is no picnic either. First there's the realization that the relationship has to end, which is usually incredibly painful. Then there's the agonizing: how to do it, when to do it, what to say and do. Typically, though, the most difficult part happens after the relationship is over, when you have to move on and trust that you did the right thing, frequently in the face of extreme self-doubt (often triggered by intense bouts of missing your ex). There are going to be painful moments, instances of questioning yourself, questioning your relationship and, most likely, questioning life at large. The list of what not to do when you break up with someone is long and varied.
Some items on the agenda are obvious: Don't wallow in self-pity, don't drunk-dial your ex, don't try to make people feel sorry for you that you are wallowing in self-pity and drunk-dialed your ex last night. But it's more nuanced than that, says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., aka Dr. Romance, psychotherapist and author of Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences. Dr. Romance suggests filing these 11 things under what not to do after a breakup.
1. Don’t Cherish Your Hurt Feelings
Resentment, as they say, is like drinking poison and hoping your enemy dies: never productive. "If you gave it your best shot and you know it's over, don't waste time in resentment and anger," Dr. Romance tells Bustle, which she calls self-destructive behavior. These uncomfortable pangs are distractions from feeling the real emotions associated with grief that can be hard to face, but worth it. Don't avoid your grief, she says. "It will hold you back from finding a more fulfilling relationship." Talk about it with friends, cry, write, exercise, find a good shrink — just don't indulge in anger.
2. Don’t Indulge In Guilt
Just as unproductive as resentment is guilt, which Dr. Romance likens to time payments, which can go on and on: "You can keep suffering forever." Like most of the items on the to-not-do list, guilt is a diversion from feeling the grief associated with a breakup, which is never pleasant. "Do the grieving you need to do," Dr. Romance says, "figure out how you helped create the problems (or stayed around for them) and decide to change what didn't work before." Now is the time to let go of guilt, accept that it takes two for a relationship to go south, and move on.
3. Don't Assign Blame
"If you blame your ex, you'll eventually turn that blame on yourself," says Dr. Romance. This is all about reframing, she says: "Instead of blaming, find some more neutral things to say." On that list? "We saw things differently," she suggests, or, "We had some good years, then things changed." Regardless of who did what, blame is never cute on anyone. Even if your ex is with someone new — and even if that new someone had something to do with your decision to end the relationship — don't blame them. "Everyone's just trying to survive this difficult situation, including you and including your ex and everyone else."
4. Don’t Idealize A Relationship That Had Problems
Don't second-guess your decision. As Dr. Romance puts it, "Understand that there were problems already." Trust the person you were in the moment when you made the decision to end it. That doesn't make it any easier, she cautions: "It's never easy to find out that your relationship, long or short, is over." But it does make it easier to accept. As she points out, "Once bonded, even if the relationship is terrible, both men and women have trouble breaking away." If you took the uber-difficult action of ending it, you actually did want out, she says. Now that you're out, keep going.
5. Don’t Get Too Dramatic
"Put it in perspective," says Dr. Romance. "If you're disappointed, it hurts, but your life is not over." Quite the contrary: The end of a relationship is a serious opportunity for excitement and newness. "Look to your future and see what you can do to make it better," she says, and get busy. "Focus on finding activities and people to enrich your days, or even begin a new venture or interest." Whatever you do, do not under any circumstances start walking around telling everyone that you're now going to die alone with 10 cats. That just ain't gonna happen.
6. Don’t Forget To Analyze The Breakup
Even if you broke up with your ex, you had a part in the dissolution of your relationship. "Understand that you had some, but not total, control over what happened," says Dr. Romance. "Analyze what didn’t work in the relationship." This is not an exercise in self-flagellation, though (see No. 3 on this list). "Don't blame yourself for the things you couldn't control," she says. "Half of the responsibility belongs to your ex." And some of what went wrong is in your hands. Accept your part, so you can avoid those mistakes with your next love, which brings me to...
7. Don’t Repeat Your Mistakes
So it didn't work out. That can be devastating — unless you look at your breakup as a tool for finding who and what you really want in the future. Look at your split "as a learning experience," says Dr. Romance. "Every disappointment is a learning moment." When you start dating again, be sure to avoid the patterns of your last relationship. How to do that? "After the initial upset, review the dynamics of the relationship and analyze what went wrong, what you could have done better and what you learned," Dr. Romance advises. As usual, this is not an excuse to beat yourself up. "There's no need to give yourself a hard time about it," she says. "Just process the information, so you don't repeat mistakes."
8. Don't Be Self-Destructive
Everyone knows this, but a reminder doesn't hurt: "Don’t drown your sorrows in alcohol, badmouth your ex to everyone you know, sleep for days, hide out or isolate completely," Dr. Romance says. It's easy to feel out of control after a breakup, especially if you're adding fuel to the fire by indulging in such activities. Also wise to do after a breakup: Monitor your social media usage. "While a little alone time is good for reflection, isolation is a sign of depression." If you find yourself in that place, it's OK — but it's time to reach out and get help.
9. Don’t Get Stuck
Though one study found that women are more likely than men to take a breakup badly, it's also been found that women are more resilient after a breakup in the long run. Let yourself mourn, give yourself plenty of time to feel painful feelings of loss — and then, once you feel ready, put your energy into rebuilding your life, says Dr. Romance. "Get your emotional, personal and financial life together as soon as you can," she says. "Consider all the things you've been freed up to do, and do some of them. Try things you would never have done before, or things you've always wanted to do."
10. Don’t Isolate Yourself
"You don't have to go right out and date again," says Dr. Romance. "Go slow with that." But there's a lot of wiggle room between dating up a storm and isolating at home solo. "You should have a social life," she reminds. "Gather your loved ones around you — you need support." It can feel easier in the moment to bingewatch your days away, but that may only make you more misterable. Instead, connect with your nearests and dearests. "Even if you don't think you feel ready to see people, spend time your closest friends and family members. They'll help you heal, and remind you that you still have people who love you."
11. Don’t Do Nothing
Carpe diem and all that: "Do something useful and productive," Dr. Romance says. "That will fill your time and keep you from obsessing on your ex." It doesn't matter so much whose activities are — it just matters that you're doing something to fill your days. "Reading is very absorbing; it uses more of your brain than watching TV or listening to music, so it's a good way to take your mind off someone for a short period," says Dr. Romance. But if reading feels too quiet and overwhelming, focus on something you've always wanted to do. "Climb that hill, learn to snowboard or study Chinese. Take up the hobby you’ve admired, plant a herb garden, write the Great American Novel. Volunteer somewhere or join a new social group or sports activity."
In other words, don't think so much — do. "Take a trip if you can," she says. "See if you can visit your extended family or old friend in another town. It takes you away from reminders." The point is to stay forward-focused, whether you're learning Chinese or planting a garden. "All of those things will keep you focused on the present and the future, instead of the past," she says. Ultimately, you'll be happiest if you channel your attention into healthy living. "Living well is the best revenge," quotes Dr. Romance — one of my personal all-time favorite sayings.
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