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One of the most torturous aspects of dating is when you think you’ve found Mr. Right, and then the relationship ends. Sometimes this happens abruptly, and other times it turns sour in a gradual and painful fashion. Either way, breakups hurt and can send your life into a whirlwind.
Your identity is now in flux, and you must come to terms with it so you can move forward with your life with a new purpose.
There’s no specific formula for overcoming a breakup, as grief is an ominous and perplexing phenomenon — one that every person must go through in their own way. That being said, this article will showcase various tips for making this transition a bit more tolerable, so you come out the other side with more resilience and resolve.
Based on principles from Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), the more you struggle against your emotional pain, the more prolonged and intensifying these feelings will become. By warding against denial and instead surrendering to the fact that this is your reality at this particular juncture in time, you can develop a new relationship with these painful thoughts and emotions based on compassion, openness, and kindness. There are lots of great books out there on ACT to learn more about this successful evidence-based practice.
Additionally, it’s important to remember that your relationship was just one aspect of your life. You’re multidimensional and have many other roles and responsibilities that make up your identity that you can nurture and utilize as resources to help get you through this difficult time.
We oftentimes think of grief in terms of the loss of a loved one to death. But we go through a grieving process when we go through any sort of loss, including a change or transition in our lives.
Several models describe phases and feelings you might go through as you adjust to and make meaning of your breakup, including periods of denial, anger, being overwhelmed, bargaining, depression, and eventual acceptance. Here’s an article from Psychology Today that explains one such stage model. Familiarize yourself with what you might experience to help normalize what you’re going through.
The only way out of grief is through it. Most people, when they go through painful experiences, want to stuff their feelings inside to avoid experiencing hurt. The Grief Recovery Institute states that many individuals will turn to “STERB,” or Short-Term, Energy-Relieving Behavior, to cope.
These are unhealthy, self-defeating behaviors — including alcohol and drugs, shopping, sex, gambling, food, etc. — people engage in to numb themselves from feeling pain. Turning to these vices can only serve to add more complications to your grief reaction, and then your problems become that much more amplified.
It has been widely established that stuffing feelings is correlated with a variety of medical and mental health conditions. Avoid this by facing your feelings head-on and experience them to the fullest to facilitate your grief process and promote forward momentum.
So how do you go about embracing your feelings as described in Tip #3? Open expression is the key. Sharing your story with a friend or joining a grief support group can be tremendous aids to your healing and can reduce isolation.
Writing has also been found to be instrumental to mental health and well-being. Some suggested exercises might be to take out a journal and write at the top of each page an emotion that you’re experiencing about your breakup. For example, one page might be devoted to anger, another to sadness, another to betrayal, etc. Every time you experience a given emotion related to your loss, go to the page of that emotion and write continuously about what you’re thinking and feeling letting the words flow uninhibitedly.
Or write your ex-boyfriend a letter THAT YOU DO NOT SEND that details how you felt about him, what the relationship meant to you, what the breakup means to you, what you’ll miss and not miss about him, what you learned about yourself as a result of having been in the relationship, and hopes you have for him and yourself. End the letter with a clear statement of goodbye and well wishes. You can then burn the letter, bury it, rip it up, etc.
Writing may not solve your problems, but it allows for unburdening of grief-related feelings that will help facilitate your healing and will be therapeutic for you in the long run.
It’s now the time for you to live the next chapter of your life story. You’ll want to spend this difficult time engaging in meaningful, productive activities. This isn’t just to stay busy — it’s to channel your energies toward outlets that will help build your life in positive ways. Who am I? What are my values? What are my passions and talents? What is my life purpose? By answering these questions, you’ll be able to direct a path for yourself toward personal growth that will help you develop a new sense of self in the aftermath of your breakup.
Stay connected with friends and family and bolster your support network. Volunteer for a charity or cause that’s meaningful to you — since helping others is always a great strategy for strengthening self-esteem and well-being and takes us away from self-absorption and pity. Develop your sense of spirituality, attend personal growth classes and events, and conduct a self-assessment of the strengths and weaknesses you bring to relationships. This way you can begin working on those areas that you’d like to develop further. Speaking with a therapist or coach can be very helpful as well to help you develop an action plan.
Breakups can be quite traumatic, and you’ll need time and patience as you work through your feelings and make meaning of your loss. But you will survive. You will come out on the other side more evolved and more dateable for your next partner because you put in the work and didn’t avoid facing what needed facing.
I would also recommend reading some of my favorite books that are specific to breakups for gay men: “When It’s Time to Leave Your Lover: A Guide for Gay Men” by Neil Kaminsky and “Moving On: The Gay Man’s Guide for Coping When a Relationship Ends” by Dann Hazel.