Now focus on the most effective thing you can do. Get back into the hobbies you once enjoyed. Get involved in volunteer work, social sports, or try a new hobby. The goal is to get back into the world where you can focus on events vs. focusing on the self. When we’re depressed it’s incredibly hard to focus on the outside world, due to feeling consumed by sadness. As you change your behavior you will start to notice you are experiencing new thoughts and feelings.
After you’ve processed the loss focus next on healing. Ask yourself what was the worst part of the breakup or the relationship? Learn from the mistakes and problem-solve how you would handle the same situation if it occurred in the future. The next step is my favorite: create meaning. This takes some objectivity but it’s an important thing to do. Perhaps when you were with your ex you adopted a puppy together that you now love more than life itself. Or maybe your ex introduced you to French impressionism, haute couture, wine, punk rock music, or Italian motorcycles; all things you may not have been exposed to otherwise. Maybe it’s that you never knew you could have such strong emotions for another person, but now you know you can experience that connection and know what to look for in someone else. There’s a lot we can learn about ourselves from a relationship while continuing to move forward. Lastly, there’s forgiveness. Forgiving someone can take a long time as well as some pride-swallowing if we feel slighted or hurt. Letting go of anger and sadness through forgiveness can only enhance one’s life in the present. Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. This is one of my favorite analogies about the self-destructive nature of anger and particularly hatred. Remember, just because you forgive someone, does not mean that you accept or approve of their behavior; it’s just a sign that you’re ready to let go and move on.
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Ex or No Ex?
The last step is re-introducing your ex into your life. Do you want to? What are the pros and cons of being friends with them? Is this possible? If they start dating someone new, how will you react to this? The latter question is an excellent way to gauge if you are “over” this person and how many old emotions could possibly be attached. It’s normal to have feelings of sadness, attraction, yearning, or detachment with your ex. It can be very specific to the person and situation. Ideally you will figure out what your boundaries are going to be with your ex before contacting them, what your goal is when re-connecting with them, and have a plan to help create these boundaries/goals. For example, if I want to be friends with my ex, I’d check in with them and see how they still felt towards me. If they don’t feel capable of a casual friendship- then I’d give them more time to grieve the loss. If they are ready for a friendship, then test the waters by spending time with them by doing something casual (coffee, hike, ect…). Be sure to watch your body language and verbal cues (i.e. don’t use words like babe, hon, or other terms of endearment). Some people can be friends after a relationship and some cannot. There is no wrong way. Just make sure your behavior matches your boundaries/goals.
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No two people are the same and no situation is identical. The best way to survive a break up is to process the loss in a healthy way, be open to the lessons of the failed relationship, and realize that the sun will eventually shine again. Heartache can leave us feeling lost in the world; I hope these steps can help you get on your feet and create hope for the future.