How To Get Over A Breakup: 9 Practical Steps To Heal Your Heart
Getting over a breakup is no easy feat. You can set yourself in the right direction, and get back on your feet sooner than you think.
Generation after generation, along with thousands of voices in the world of poetry, music, films, and art, illustrate that heartbreak is never easy. Even if a relationship ends on the best of terms, saying goodbye to someone you love is one of life’s most challenging experiences.
If you’re looking for guidance on how to get over a breakup, it’s important to be straightforward from the outset — this article won’t offer quick fixes or false promises. But it will show you how the end of something offers an opportunity for growth and self-discovery.
We’ll explore the way in which a breakup can lead to greater understanding, higher levels of self-awareness, better emotional regulation, and a clearer life direction. The tender ground of losing someone you love is ripe for learning. Here’s how to make the most of the opportunity.
The growth mindset
Before we fully dive in, a quick note on Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset, which we’ve previously explored in detail.
A growth mindset is an approach to life that looks to learn from all experiences. Although there is a lot of pain involved, and it’s possible things feel bleak for you right now, relationship experts know that the end is often the start of something new, and losing people can often provide an opportunity to learn more about yourself.
So, with this in mind, the rest of this article will cover how to get over a bad breakup with the mindset of personal development front and center. That’s not to say we’ll overlook the emotional pain — quite the opposite. We’ll also explore how to work with painful emotions, such as regret, anxiety, depression, or longing, so that full healing takes place.
How long does it take to get over a breakup?
There is no definitive rule on how long it takes to find peace. Look online, and you’ll find more than a great breakup playlist or breakup quotes. Some folks champion the benefits of the “three-week rule” of no contact, and some suggest that it generally takes half the duration of the relationship to truly move on (e.g., two years to heal from a four-year relationship).
So if you’re trying to learn how to get over a breakup fast, you may be approaching the issue from the wrong angle. As a general rule of thumb, the time you’ll likely begin feeling better about yourself is three months. Some studies suggest that the average amount of time, although divorces can take much longer to get over, at the 18-month mark.
In The Chimp Paradox, Professor Steve Peters recommends a period of three to six months to recover from what he calls an emotional injury:
“Everyone is aware that following a physical injury, such as a broken bone, there is a period of rehabilitation where you gradually increase your muscles again and return to full functioning. Emotional injury is just the same. When you have experienced a traumatic event, such as a loss or breakup of a relationship, you need to have a period of emotional rehabilitation.”
This rehabilitation period is the perfect time to be gentle and kind with yourself, by choosing self care type activities that ease the pain. This approach of tenderness can speed up the healing process, although the timing can’t be consciously controlled. “Accept that it takes time to get through emotional injury and don’t be harsh on yourself,” Peters adds, “return to normal functioning in your own time.”
Sometimes the first step is to be around those you love, like parents or friends and family. Anyone going through a split knows it can be tough on your self esteem. So take the time you need.
How do I stop hurting after a breakup?
Even if you spend your waking hours tirelessly reading, learning or engaging in self care, it won’t necessarily speed up your personal healing journey. Heartbreak doesn’t have a timeline, and it’s not straightforward.
I’ve gone through many breakups and faced all the conventional pains and longings. There’s the raw, on-the-verge-of-tears, hole-in-the-stomach feeling, which has to pass in order to return to some form of equilibrium. Then there’s the ruminations of what went wrong, the bargaining, the flashbacks, that can continue to surface even when the initial heartbreak has eased.
This all-consuming stage can feel unbearable, and patience and self-compassion are required. Pain is, on some level, unavoidable. Trying to erase grief, on an emotional, heart-based level, will only lead to suppression or other difficult feelings, such as anxiety, frustration, resentment, or anger.
The best option is to feel those feelings. The practice of mindfulness works with accepting difficult emotions by being present to them, not resisting or indulging in them. A mindful approach of acceptance can help handle the big emotions as they come.
I’d argue that there’s no such thing as fully getting over a breakup, at least when the relationship was meaningful. If you’ve got to know someone on a deep level, why would you want to “get over” them, or forget them? Isn’t the path of healing one where, eventually, you can look back with gratitude? Or see all the lessons learned?
Just as it makes sense to let go of any idea of a timeline, the whole process can be helped by exploring your expectations of “getting over” someone. Maybe you’ll miss your ex for a long time, and that’s okay. Maybe love will remain, whether it makes sense or not.
Most important is working through a genuine recovery process where you can start to feel like yourself again, and more than that, to recover a strengthened sense of self worth. Where the pain isn’t raw and all-encompassing, and the future looks bright. For that, let’s look at the 5 stages of a breakup.
What are the 5 Stages of a breakup?
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D., first introduced the stages of grief in her book, On Death and Dying (1969). These have since become a popular framework to provide understanding into the grief process. Although we typically associate grief with the death of a loved one, grief is, at its most basic level, the feeling of loss.
Handling this grief, then, is your challenge. Not only for what has been lost in terms of your ex — the routines and rituals you shared, the in-jokes, the closeness, the challenges faced and overcome — but also the loss of visions for the future, or plans you may have made.
Grief, then, is very real, and a breakup feels like a type of death. Accordingly, Kubler-Ross’ model can be applied to the 5 stages of a breakup. They are:
- Denial: This is the stage of false hope, and an unwillingness to fully accept the relationship has ended. You might begin to fantasize about the ways you and your partner will get back together.
- Anger: When the dawning of the end begins, anger can surface. You might feel angry towards your ex, or life in general for being unjust or unfair. You might also experience anger towards yourself — how could you put yourself in this position, making yourself so vulnerable?
- Bargaining: The sidekick to denial, bargaining is the stage where you begin to look for ways to get back what you lost. Maybe I can change, maybe the reasons this ended wasn’t such a big deal! This stage is one to be wary of as it can make you act outside of what is genuinely right, possibly at the expense of your needs.
- Depression: a difficult stage to deal with, this manifests as a lack of hope, a lack of energy, or a sadness that doesn’t seem to shift. The grief of the end of the relationship starts to crystalize, along with possible feelings of loneliness.
- Acceptance: finally, the elusive stage where peace is found! This isn’t an overnight process but slowly builds over time. Acceptance, though, is the beginning of the next chapter, and an indication the healing process is reaching its end.
It’s important to note these stages don’t operate as a clear framework or checklist. When I’ve gone through breakups in the past, I’ve used these stages as a tool for self-awareness. It can be reassuring to get an indication of where you’re at, along with a sense of the shared humanity of your situation. For me, it helped me feel less alone.
Note that this isn’t a clean, step-by-step process. You might oscillate between different stages. You might feel depressed, then go back to anger. You might experience denial shortly before acceptance. You might find acceptance, only to be triggered by something, and go back to the anger stage.
Be present with all that is, and brace for chaos and calm. The stages of a breakup are messy, raw, and often unpredictable.
How do you get over a person you still love?
It’s worthwhile noting that, sometimes, a relationship ends even when two people are still in love. Despite all the stories we’re told, sometimes, love alone isn’t enough. Perhaps circumstances have got in the way, and the relationship won’t work despite those powerful, underlying feelings.
When this is the case, the pain and the healing will feel similar to what has been mentioned above. However, the biggest challenge is acceptance. It’s easy to protest in such situations and to feel a sense of injustice. Why can’t it just work out? But sometimes, life doesn’t go as planned, and you never know what opportunities lie around the corner.
Acceptance involves letting go of any bargaining or a desire for things to be different. Acceptance also means accepting that you love this person, and that, even if you aren’t together, that love remains and it’s still true and it’s still beautiful. So hold onto it, nurture is preciousness, and trust your path will lead you to futures that are rewarding. One day, you’ll see why this particular relationship, with this particular person, didn’t work out. In that way, you can find a way to begin letting go of someone you love.
9 steps to healing after heartbreak
Now that we’ve explored some of the fallacies of breakup timeliness and expectations around healing, let’s look at the actionable steps to getting over a breakup.
Below are 9 steps to begin your healing process. Like the stages of grief, they may be more relevant at different times, but will give you tools to make the healing process easier.
1. Let go of the timeline
To reiterate a point made previously, the first step to get over a breakup is letting go of any mental timeline you might have. Although guidance can give a general outline of how long it might take, catch yourself whenever you fall into the trap of thinking “I’ll be okay by then,” or, on the opposite, “I won’t be okay by then.”
Work on the process itself, take each day as it comes, and let the heart work at its own pace, each beat at a time.
2. Feel your feelings
It’s surprising just how easily the mind can invalidate how you feel. A lot of mental activity can spring from a wounded heart. This is a clever mechanism to avoid how you’re actually feeling about your ex. Rather than lean into the pain, to allow it to be fully expressed, all sorts of storylines form — “I shouldn’t feel this way,” “I should be over it by now,” “I wish I would move on quicker.”
Whenever you notice these narratives, take a pause, focus on the breath, and instead connect to the underlying feeling. Emotions are mostly irrational and logical, so don’t try to judge them or rationalize them. For example, you might be more heartbroken than expected following a brief fling. Or, you might not feel as bad as you thought you would.
All feelings are welcome and right. So take time to feel into them. How do you experience them in the body? How can you honor them? Can you put aside time to connect to them, either through journaling or meditation?
3. Let go of blame
Whether two people drift apart or a relationship ends abruptly, it’s natural to look for blame. What caused the end? Is this the right decision? What could either of us have done differently, so that we’d stay together? Blame is tricky because it masquerades as something skillful, but ultimately, it keeps you stuck.
Blame manifests in numerous ways. If you’ve experienced a betrayal by your ex, for example, it’s easy to blame them and hold onto resentment. There are subtle forms of blame, too. You might fall into a trap of self-blame, looking at little moments where you could have acted differently. Or you may find fault with your partner — if only they listened more, we’d be together.
Blame is often a blanket for denial or anger. Explore the underlying emotion, and write down all the blame mechanisms you experience, as objectively as you can. Were these really the only reasons for the breakup? Or were there larger issues that weren’t being addressed?
4. Practice self-compassion
All the messiness that follows a breakup makes self-compassion one of the best ways to get over a breakup in a healthy way. Taking the example of blame above, self-compassion is the ability to meet yourself, kindly, and to accept the choices you’ve made.
Learn to talk to yourself as you would a friend. How would a best friend respond to the storylines your mind creates? Maybe there were mistakes, but you didn’t do them willingly, or you tried your best with the tools you had at the time. Equally, self-compassion creates space for non-judgment, allowing the ups and downs of heartbreak to run their natural course.
5. Let go of the fantasy
“The hardest part of getting over an ex is often not the loss of the actual person, but the loss of the fantasy of what you thought could happen,” Dr. Juliana Morris, marriage and relationship therapist, told Oprah. This is painfully true to my experience. Whether due to cultural conditioning, codependency, or a natural tendency to include your partner in your life, projecting a future is almost inevitable.
The challenge is how you manage this vision of the future. Remember, it’s a mental construct, a mirage made in the imagination. Do you mourn for images of the happily ever after? Or experiences you’d discussed sharing together? Or even future visions of how difficult it’d be without that person in your life?
Whenever I’ve gone through breakups and started being pulled into imaginary futures, I’ve tried to distill what the vision can tell me. Take, for example, a vision of traveling with your partner. At the core of this vision might be a craving for adventure. Can you find a desire to transform this vision into one of traveling alone, or looking for other ways to explore your adventurous side?
Sometimes future visions have to be seen for what they are, and let go. The best way to do this is to return to the present, and understand these fantasies are distracting you from where life is lived. Eventually, they lose their hold. And, in integrating this lesson, in future relationships, the role of future-planning will change — there’s nothing wrong with it, but becoming overly attached to specific outcomes can lead to disappointment or heartbreak.
6. Practice forgiveness
All breakups require forgiveness — towards your ex and yourself — to varying degrees. It’s a quirk of the mind that, following the end, you’re presented with memories of the relationship. Closely linked to self-blame, forgiveness is a way of accepting that things happened, but that you deserve to move on.
The way you didn’t show up as much as you’d like? The way your partner refused to acknowledge your needs? In all breakups, there will be plenty of material that can be held onto, creating a feeling of resentment or frustration that lives on with you. Ultimately, though, you can’t truly move past your ex until these moments have been forgiven.
Crucially, forgiveness is one of the practices that allow the heart to begin to heal, including…
7. Practice gratitude
How challenging extending gratitude is may vary depending on how the relationship ended. However, as a practice, gratitude is a powerful way to get over a breakup. It opens the heart, finds reasons to be grateful, and views the relationship through the lens of something gained, not something lost, even if what has been gained is the knowledge to set boundaries in future relationships.
This practice also helps to release any energetic blockages linked to the relationship, along with forgiveness. Even if it feels slightly forced, see if you can find reasons to be grateful — write a list, and come up with five experiences or things you’ve learned that you wouldn’t have without this person in your life.
Of course, if the relationship ends on good terms, this whole practice becomes much easier. I find gratitude as a powerful tonic for moments of heartbreak as if the gratitude itself nurtures and reassures sadness, making it much more bearable, much lighter.
8. Don’t mute love
It’s tempting to mute love when going through a breakup. By this, I mean suppressing feelings of love you have towards your ex, as if those feelings are no longer welcome now the relationship is over. But here’s the thing — the love you feel, and felt, any time during the relationship, came from you.
It’s easy to hand our power over to relationships, to look at them for happiness or fulfillment. But it’s also an illusion that the love you feel is exclusive to that person. I’ve noticed in breakups in the past, I’ve shut down those positive, heart-warming feelings, because there was a tenderness and a pain attached to them.
But what if you could hold onto that love? What if this relationship was a lesson in loving, and that all that person has done is give you a reason, and an excuse, to extend and radiate a part of you that is always within, relationship or no relationship? How then would your life change?
9. Focus on you: start the rebuild
As all the above steps are carried out, as and when appropriate, so the rebuild begins. The end of a relationship is a big, big change in life circumstances. It could mean moving out, changing where you live, finding a new circle of friends, or even moving to a new location.
The rebuild, those next steps required to start the next chapter, can never begin too early. Word of caution: that doesn’t mean rushing into quick decisions. Allow the initial heartbreak to settle so you can make choices with a clear head. But, allow yourself to imagine, to plan, to look for gems in the muddiness of loss, to begin exploring…
What comes next?
The period following a breakup, although incredibly difficult, also offers a window of opportunity. When floored and heartbroken, our minds naturally drift towards the existential questions of life, or at least we begin to question what’s most meaningful to us. In this state of surrender or receptivity, following the acceptance of a breakup, there is a chance to begin to work on a future of your choosing.
It’s easy to become lost in a relationship, and to neglect other areas of life. There can be a tendency, when feeling lonely, to immediately look for someone new.
But what would happen if you started to deepen your self-understanding? What would happen if you used this opportunity to nourish the relationship with yourself? What if, despite all the pain, the tears, the regret, the anxiety, this was a springboard to becoming a fuller, richer, happier version of yourself?
Finding meaning in the depths of heartbreak is an act of courage. Grief has to be felt. Healing has to take place. But never forget, the things that leave our lives offer space for something new, and there’s an abundance of unknown people, places, experiences, and insights ahead of you, waiting to be discovered.