How Do You Get Over A Breakup? I Tried A Heartbreak Workbook & Here's What It Taught Me
I ended a three-year relationship this June, and though going through a breakup is always devastating, it was also freeing. While there were so many things I loved about the relationship, I had known for some time that it wasn't quite right and was holding me back from being my full self, as well as from finding a partner who truly saw and got me. Once I had the opportunity to start this next chapter in my life, I wanted help creating the most authentic life and relationships I could. That's when I learned about How's Your Heart?, a book and workbook by marriage and family therapist Esther Boykin, LMFT that helps you recover from a breakup and practice what she calls "heart-centered dating."
"Heartbreak is a universal experience that many of us avoid," Boykin tells Bustle. "However, it’s through our heartbreaks that we learn important lessons about who we are and what we need most in relationships. It’s easy to get stuck in a single emotion but allowing yourself to feel all the feelings — sadness, anger, shame, relief, etc. — is the only way to fully understand what went wrong and what you can take with you from the experience to help you when you’re ready to find love again."
I read and completed the exercises in How's Your Heart a few days after my breakup and followed its advice over the ensuing weeks. Here's what it taught me.
1. You Need To Start Dating Again To Be Ready To Date Again
You often hear people say they need to work on themselves before they can date again after a breakup. But Boykin points out that if the area you want to work on is relationships, you're going to need to get some real-life experience — and that means putting yourself back out into the ring before you may feel ready. "Everything you’re learning has to be experienced in the unpredictable chaos of human interaction," she writes. "You know how you want to react to disappointment, but what does it feel like to do that when disappointment actually happens?"
My initial plan after my breakup was to take time alone; I was afraid starting to date again right away could be a distraction from sitting with myself. But Boykin's advice changed my mind: Even if I didn't want to jump into anything serious, I could practice putting myself out there. So, I approached someone I was attracted to at a party. I ended up getting rejected, but to Boykin's point, that prompted me to address self-esteem issues so that I'll be more confident once I am ready for another relationship.
2. Your Friends Are Full Of Wisdom
Another suggestion in the workbook was to ask three people you know for their best dating advice. I chose to ask four just for extra wisdom. Their answers reminded me that we always have an amazing free resource for dating advice: our friends. Here's some of what I got, in case you're curious:
"Don’t take it so seriously: Everyone is going to be a d*ckbag some day or another so don’t get caught up in one *sshole move. When you have fun with it, you’ll have more fun with the experience than getting caught up if you thought he was taller or more successful, etc," my friend Melissa told me.
"Where you are right now is a reflection of where you were. Whatever you focus on now will predict what comes next. Being aware of your state of mind and being, in various degrees, will tell you where you’re at so you can adjust/align yourself according to your goals and desires. So perhaps my best dating advice is to learn how to open up to yourself, to be vulnerable and listen to yourself, your heart — if we know what it is that we want we can find satisfaction," my acupuncturist told me.
3. We All Have A Dating "Basement"
The workbook introduces a concept called the "basement," which is the minimum you require from a dating partner. Even if you're open to different kinds of relationships, it explains, everyone has something they would not settle for.
This concept was useful to me because I'm mainly interested in casual relationships for now, so I don't have a standard like "they need to be willing to commit to me," but I did realize that whatever the nature of the relationship, I want to feel special to the other person and have good communication about the relationship with them.
4. Dating Yourself Makes You Better At Dating Others
The assignment that I struggled with most involved taking yourself on a "date" every week and establishing a daily and weekly self-care ritual. I felt like I had too much to do to be able to take that time for myself.
However, when I did convince myself to follow the assignment, it paid off. Taking time to do things just because I like to do them, like taking a bath and writing in my favorite cafe, has made me feel like myself again, which in turn will make me able to bring my full self to future relationships.
5. Reflecting On Your Last Relationship Directs You Toward Your Next
The workbook had me answer questions about what qualities I bring to relationships, what kind of partner I am, and what I would not accept from a partner. As I was answering them, I realized that much of what I knew, I knew because of my last relationship.
I saw positive traits in myself that I hadn't seen before because my ex-partner had seen them. I knew what I didn't want based on where my past relationship went wrong. It may be painful to think about a relationship that's just ended, but we owe it to ourselves to reflect on what we've learned that we'll take to our next relationship.
"One of the things we discover through heartbreak is the ways in which we may have compromised ourselves or betrayed our own hearts in an effort to protect a bond that wasn’t good for us," Boykin says. "If there’s one lesson that’s crucial, it is to unpack the things you gave up and the parts of yourself you denied as the relationship was coming apart. It is those things that if you rediscover and really make time to honor, will help you find a deeper and more satisfying love next time around."
While I always learn something from each failed relationship, I'm glad I had the guidance to apply what I learned from this one and put myself back out there. Breakups are never easy, but they do mark the beginning of a new chapter — and that can be exciting if you make it.