Before We Proceed...
First of all, if you are still in the relationship, and thinking about whether or how to end it, this is probably not the right guide.
Check out Toxic Relationship Guide to see if anything rings true.
Secondly, this is not an over-the-top soppy 'we are here for you' guide. There is an element of sensitivity, but this guide is about helping you deal with a bad situation and come out on the other side better than you went in.
- We're wired for connection. When that connection is suddenly severed, our emotions and lizard brains go into prehistoric overdrive to find a mate again; Tinder and more free time for footy be damned.
- Often, the narrative we spin in our own heads about breakups will determine how we emerge out of them.
- There are many ways of helping one through a breakup, such as journalling, meditation and getting stuck into masculine activities.
Alone again (Naturally)
She – or he – is gone. It might have been sudden; or it could have been a long time coming. Perhaps you called it off. Maybe there was no good reason to break up other than differing priorities in life. No matter the reason, the period after a break up sucks, for all parties.
Though you may put on a brave face for your mates and family, you might feel pretty low. Like Paul Simon once sang, "losing love is like a window in your heart, everyone sees you're blown apart." Losing a loved one causes emotional pain such as grief and guilt. Even if you consider yourself a better stoic than Epictetus himself, you'll have a hard time containing your sadness or feelings of loss.
Why Does My Heart (feel so bad)?
A few things play into this, such as ego, but the main reason is evolution.
Immediately after a breakup your body goes into overdrive to make you get back with a mate. This stems from our drive to pro-create. Your system has developed over a long, long time, it doesn't give a shit about your reasons.
Unfortunately, the concept of “plenty of fish in the sea” is not really something your limbic system understands. So it hurts.
It's worth remembering that you're also coming down, and the LOVE chemicals in the brain such as vassopressin, oxytocin and phenylethylamine have been firing at different rates for the extent of your relationship. If you're feeling not you, that's perfectly normal – your levels aren't normal.
Things to remember in the first few days
Time to look in the mirror and face some hard truths. If you don’t this recovery could drag on for a lot longer. You might get a complex and you will carry your baggage into the next relationship.
A phrase one might tell oneself is ‘I got cheated on so now I don’t trust people.’ What this translates to is: ‘I got cheated on so now I think it is justifiable that I don’t trust people.’
So the above is a classic case of defining bias - using true facts to draw false conclusions. In other words, it’s smart sounding bullshit. This can probably fall into the category of ‘rejection’.
A few quickies to acknowledge
- Rejection sucks
- Anger is understandable
- You are hurt because you were vulnerable and now you feel betrayed
- Opening up is scary and hard to do as a guy
- Vulnerability is very difficult after being rejected
Ego bruising can come in many ways when a relationship ends. Most of these ideas are centred around you not being good enough, or as good as you thought, in the eyes of someone else.
It doesn’t have to be anyone's fault
The idea here is to shift your perspective away from fault. Yours or mine. His or hers etc. Sometimes people aren’t right for each other. Most time people aren’t right for each other.
Instead: realise that the relation wasn’t right. Irrespective of how it ended it just wasn’t the right combination of people. It isn’t your fault and it isn’t a personal attack.
Your partner was never yours to own
You can own a car, a piece of land, a thing. You can never own a person. You can support and mutually love and even label (i.e a girlfriend), but a person is always their own.
The ego damage of your partner being with someone else can be hurtful, this sense that you have lost them or your ownership of them.
This is entirely manufactured in your own mind. It isn’t tangible. These are external and uncontrollable.
People with whom you enjoy the time you spend together, the expectation of a future, or what a relationship should be is wrong. Good article on is here: The Gift of Being Unattached in a Relationship.
The 6 weeks later test
As suggested above, suffering shouldn’t push on past six weeks on average.
Time is passive however, what are the active reasons that moving on doesn’t happen?
According to Brandy Engler, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist specialising in relationships , there are a few key factors that largely influence the process.
- The story you tell yourself about the breakup
- The story you tell yourself about the future
- The story you tell yourself about yourself.
The story you tell yourself about the breakup
It will take longer to move on if you tell yourself you are the victim and your ex is the villain.
Irrespective of what happened, this is a two-dimensional view of a relationship. There are many more inputs that dictate the outcome of a relationship, not just the catalyst moment that brought-about the end of it.
According to Engler: “...most couples co-create their issues"... “most people lose sight of the nuances of how they failed each other and develop simplistic, all-or-nothing negative statements about each other.”
A deeper understanding of the truth of your relationship will help you move on faster and more permanently.
The story you tell yourself about the future
Issue: You worry you won’t find someone else who is up to the standard of your ex.
New perspective: Life is continuous. as you work on yourself and your goals, improving your ability to connect and be open, you will find a relationship that is better suited to you. And it'll be even better.
The story you tell yourself about yourself
Issue: Self Loathing - blaming yourself for anything and everything that went wrong including zooming in on any self perceived flaw you might have.
Solution: You need to accept yourself and your sense of self worth. We don’t mean this in the woo woo free love hippy way, we mean this in the scientifically proven way that helps prevent negative and depression cycles.
Meta meditation is the go here. The focus is on yourself. “I am good enough, I am a good person, etc.” This attitude will reduce the self destructive temptation prevalent after a breakup.
Who dumped who?
Usually this is an irrelevant and insensitive question. It is however important in the management of your recovery.
The thing to remember going into this is that it isn’t your fault. Even if you stuffed up, a universe of inputs go into what will affect a relationship that leads to the final catalyst of the breakup. If you had to ask your ex-partner about the 'why', there may be unconscious or emotional factors at play, which neither of you can fully articulate.
If you got dumped...
First things first, that sucks dude. Sorry to hear it.
The loss of love is a terrible thing, they lie who say that death is worse.
So what do you do?
The fundamental rule here is: respect their wishes.
Begging, pleading, holding on, and general instability is a turn-off and is not in your best interest. Trying to reason with someone to take you back is counter-intuitive and you'll only end up displaying a low level of self-worth, and push them further away.
The non-judgemental observer of self
Step out of your body and look at what you are doing. You are about to make yourself less attractive to a person who you are trying to convince should remain attracted to you.
That’s a sweeping statement but ask yourself this: Are these the qualities that made this person attracted to me in the first place?
The answer is no.
Jealousy, neediness and insecurity are not the reasons this person chose to be with you. It will never work in a healthy way. Even if you manage to convince your partner to stay in it, it won’t be like before. You convinced someone to stay in a relationship with you.
So what should I do?
Give them space. Let the heat cool off. Take some time to think about yourself. Spend time with friends, hit the gym, read a book or mediate. Invest this time in yourself. You will undoubtedly have more time so use it to better yourself.
If you did the dumping...
Most of the points above are applicable again, but there is another important one here that shouldn’t be overlooked.
It is a really, really hard thing to do, to end a relationship. Especially if your partner wants to stay in it, and work at it.
If you have broken up with someone who wanted to remain in the relationship, you might be exposed to this position. That is, you love and care about someone but have just had to make a really hard decision about what you think is best for both of you.
What should I do?
Using a misery timer or obsession appointment (more on that later) can dramatically affect your mood if you are constantly thinking about how sad and heartbroken you have made someone.
This is like meta meditation, which we spoke about before, which entails thinking about people smiling and happy and having all their suffering evaporate. This is clinically proven to improve your own mood. So think about the inverse, that is: if you are imaging someone sad, and broken, someone you care about, that will affect you mood in a negative way.
'It is what it is'
It's not your fault that the relationship didn’t work out. Let that go. Right now.
Yes there is always more that someone can do but really in the scheme of things, fundamentally who the people are will dictate whether the relationship is right from the beginning or not.
Remember, you are a good, yet flawed, man who is just trying their best.
It is not your fault exclusively that the relationship didn’t work out, regardless of whether or not it was your action that broke it off.
You have to remember that by making the hard call, you have given everyone another chance for a happier, more fulfilling relationship.
You made a mistake (and want to get back together)
This is a tricky one.
Things are different now that the relationship has finished. For you to restart, you need to be confident in a few things:
Have you taken enough time?
This is important. We are all sad after a breakup. Don’t confuse sadness as a message from your body that you want the relationship back. You will have sadness even if you made the right choice. Your memory will remember the good things, not the bad things, or even the reasons why you broke up in the first place.
You need to wait until the overwhelming sadness is gone, so you can think clearly through the following steps.
Do you know exactly why things didn't work out?
Do you know? Do you really know? Do you really, really (you get it?) know?
Reflect. Reflect some more. Ask your friends and family what they remember about it all. (Ask your mum. Mums usually just know.)
Are you absolutely confident that those issues are resolved, or can be fixed?
These things aren’t trivial even if the reason you broke up was. In a good relationship a trivial matter will remain trivial. If it was the reason you broke up, there is something lurking beneath it all.
This is the time you look at whether you believe the issue is no longer there (almost certainly not the case), or you and your partner are prepared to work at fixing the issue.
This should almost always end in a conversation with your partner. Talk about the dirty laundry. Talk about the worst parts of the relationship. Get into the mud and get your hands dirty.
If you are unsure, go back to writing, talking with a professional or friends.
Identity crisis and sense of self
A breakup feels like you've lost a huge part of your identity. BUT the flipside of this very phenomenon means you also stand to grow massively in the next chapter.
Self-expansion theory is term in psychology that refers to the 'growth of the self', which happens in new relationships. The new perspectives and experiences you bring into your life, ultimately broadening your view of the world, and making life more meaningful.
So if the beginning of the relationship is a reliable self-identity expansion mechanism. BUT the end of a relationship threatens to do the inverse – and shrinks the self-concept – according to this research.
The bad news? The more love there was (more expansion) the harder the breakup will be (contraction). A similar thing is reported in sports stars who have a career ending injury, or when a loved one dies.
In essence, you lose a significant part of yourself. That is why mourning is appropriate. When you share a life with someone. You begin to blur the lines. The more serious, the more blurry.
External: Social circles, things (think furniture, art work, mortgage)
Internal: Plans for the future, confidant, character traits (strength, organisation, adventurous etc).
De-blurring will always be hard. The clearer you can be about who you are, the less distressing it will be. So can you do it?
How to move on
Don't bury it, come to terms with it
A study found that guys don’t deal with breakups in the long term as well as women. They hurt less in the beginning by not facing their issues and therefore not dealing with them.
It’s very easy , especially as a guy, do just not deal with it. Kick the can down the road. We guarantee this is not resolving anything.
You need to embrace the fact that there is a human process of grieving here that is necessary and unavoidable. If you aren’t feeling you aren’t dealing, regardless of how quickly you rebound.
Write it out, or talk it out
If you need to declutter your head, which we all should do after a breakup, writing and talking are great ways to do it.
Lean on your mates, but not too much. Sometimes a breakup can really throw you for a loop in a way that stretches beyond the limits of what a friend can provide.
They aren’t professionals and it can be hard and draining on them.
These guys are professionals – LYSN. They get paid to help sort through the mud and the shit. Pay for the service, match with the perfect psychologist. Easy.
Writing is also a great way to delve into what's smashing around in your head. All the emotions in a breakup can be really confusing; anger, sadness, loneliness, feelings of rejection and uncertainty about the future.
Writing this out in words on a page can be incredibly clarifying and a great way to get on top of stress and anxiety.
Take care of your body
Yep, time to ascend the throne and become a super-shred lord.
Sometimes it can take something radical, like a breakup, to get people back into the gym. Elle Huerta, CEO and founder of Mend —an app designed to help you after a breakup—says endorphins from exercise fills the hole and helps you cope.
Something as simple as getting outside on your lunch break to go for a 10-minute stroll can help you feel happier, research shows.
Being fit and healthy will make you feel better, lift your moods, and make you more attractive. Letting this drop away in a relationship is a mistake and something you can be accountable for irrespective of whatever else went wrong.
Take control of your mood
You have a choice, sit and mope and cry and whatever or remember that you are alive and fit (if not currently, soon) and that life ain’t that bad.
If you can’t get your head around that idea, well, get a fucking grip. This happens to everyone at somepoint. Pull yourself together, accept you will be sad for a period but it will get better. Speak to a psychologist at LYSN and sort it out.
Meta meditation can help you mood-control. If you don’t know how to do it, there’s a section at the bottom of the Meditation and Mindfulness Guide. Go now and read it then come back. Also read gratitude journaling. Here’s a study on how its scientifically worth doing.
Take control of your time
Do stuff that you actually love. A lot of things fall away in a relationship. If you can’t think of things you love start seeing what you like. Go surfing, go to a kickboxing class, go to a dance class (if you’ve got the balls), join a footy team.
Set a misery timer
Yes, you are allowed to be sad; but there's a limit. You can sit in it, indulge in it. Be a sack, sit in the shower in the dark and listen to Dido and cry whatever you need to do. But you can only do it for 10-15 mins a day, in the beginning. Re-evaluate at the end of the week. Try get this number down to five minutes. Set an alarm, or keep a journal. Once that timer goes off you are done for the day.
Out of sight, out of mind
Social media is engineered to exploit our emotions. This usually comes in dopamine hits. However, seeing the carefully curated image of how 'hot' your ex looks now (relax, they don't) can be soul burning.
When you break up with someone, you should go no contact. To be respectful, tell your ex partner that you are going no contact, at least for a few months. You should:
- Block her on on Instagram
- Delete her on Facebook
- Delete her number (if appropriate)
If you can take some time for a scenery change, that will also be extremely helpful according to Brandy Engler.
This is an extension of the misery timer. Control the information you receive that will affect your emotions. This means deleting social media. I know this may seem like a really big move but it’s important. The last thing you want is the constant threat of a derailing Instagram post.
When and how it’s OK to move on
There’s no perfect time. There should be a maximum time though. For instance, you shouldn’t be morning a relationship for longer than you were in it…
If you aren’t starting to feel okay after six weeks, it is time to seek professional help to help you understand what is going on. Psychologists are available at LYSN.
This is probably the more important thing. Depending on how much respect remained after the relationship you should consider your actions and be prepared for them to find out. If you think you can go incognito in this world, think again.
- Don’t get with people who are friends with your ex – it will get back to them. Just don't.
- Don’t get straight on the dating apps if you think it will hurt their feelings (in the short term) – it will get back to them
- Don’t hook up with the person that your ex was jealous about you being on good terms with. It validates their jealousy.
Things to remember
Breakups aren’t always someones fault. Sometimes, no one is to blame. It can be simple as this: some people just aren't a perfect fit.
Don’t underestimate that statement. If you are the type of person who doesn’t have the want or the ability to endure a ‘meh’ relationship (which should be most people), then you are going to go through a bad breakup.
It is no ones fault. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about the person or them you, this is why breakups are hard.
You are a good person. You are just trying your best.
Being sad is OK, but not forever.