Breakups and divorces are painful. Whether your breakup was mutual, because you both decided it was time to end it, or one-sided, and either you or your partner felt the need to say goodbye, it’s a difficult and sad journey. The guidelines here can help you negotiate the journey through the breakup and grief, help you deal with every aspect of a breakup, and even what to do to try to turn it around to thriving again.

The Pain of Loss

None of us likes to think about it, but any time we love, we are risking the loss of that love. If the relationship affected you deeply, or the breakup triggers an old abandonment issue, it may be really tough to let go. It can be very difficult to face the loss, so it’s easy to get caught up in fantasy and dreaming that your ex will come back.

When your world is turned upside-down by a breakup, you can lose more than your partner - you can also lose the place where you live, income, pets and possessions which were shared. Some friends may also choose between you and your ex, which can be painful.  Even if your relationship had problems, or you were the one who wanted out, you still will have grief over the dreams and hopes which have died with the relationship. The overwhelming feeling of loss can be confusing and difficult to understand.

The following tips will help you move through these feelings and begin to focus on the future.

If you don’t want to deal with the grief and loss, you might do self-destructive things, like clinging to a lost relationship and refusing to move on, becoming addicted to a substance or spending or gambling, or turning the anger inward into depression.

What to do if you’re broken up with:

DO put it in perspective
If you’re dumped, it hurts, but count your lucky stars. You don’t have a relationship if the other person’s not really interested.

DO understand that there were problems already
It’s never easy to find out that your relationship, long or short, is over. Once bonded, even if the relationship is terrible, both men and women have trouble breaking away. So if you’re left, the other person really wanted out.

DON’T idealize a bad relationship:
In counseling people who got left, every client realized the warning signs that were ignored early in the relationship. Don’t pick out the few good moments you remember and ignore what wasn’t working.

DO try to learn from the experience
After the initial upset, review the dynamics of the relationship and analyze what went wrong, what you could have done differently, and what you learned. There’s no need to give yourself a hard time about it, just process the information, so you don’t repeat mistakes.

DON’T expect closure from the ex
It is lovely when two civilized grown-ups can dissect what happened in the relationship, tell the truth, ask for forgiveness and absolve each other. But this usually happens years later.  Closure requires getting truthful answers to your questions about what happened—to understand why. After a breakup, both of you are upset, hurt, and guilty and probably won’t be telling the truth, even if you understand it. Neither of you really wants to hear the truth this soon. Longing to talk “just once more” to your ex is just asking for pain.

One thing that can make the pain worse is to indulge in a lot of drama. Suffering more than you need to, clinging to the past, and going over and over the details of the relationship looking for what you did wrong will keep you in misery far longer.

Drama is great for the stage, movies and TV, because it’s very absorbing to watch, but it’s not a good thing for love and relationships. Breakups can be dramatic. Being told you’re no longer loved is clearly upsetting.

However, a broken relationship is not the most dramatic thing that will ever happen in most people’s lives, and it’s important to keep your feelings and the expression of those feelings, within bounds. Anxiety attacks, rage, jealousy and the desire to flee are all the reactions of a small child who is terrified, overwhelmed or abused, not an adult who has been disappointed and hurt. The following tips will help you move past the drama and get on with letting go.

How to Get Over the Drama

1.  Swear off guilt: Guilt is like time payments you can keep suffering forever. Instead, do the grieving you need to do, figure out how you helped create the problems (or stayed around for them) and decide to change what didn’t work before. Grieve all you need, but don’t exaggerate your feelings.

2.  Don’t assign blame: If you blame your ex, you’ll eventually turn that blame on yourself. So, instead of blaming, find some more neutral things to say “We saw things differently” “We had some good years, then things changed.” Don’t blame yourself or your ex. Later, when you’re over the worst of the grief, you can analyze who did what right or wrong, but keep in mind it takes two to make a relationship work, and two to ruin it. Just deal with the grief, and be as respectful as you can. If there’s another woman or man involved, don’t blame him or her either. Everyone’s just trying to survive this difficult situation, including you.

3. Don’t be in denial: Don’t indulge in getting drunk or stoned, or have a shopping binge or rage around in order to avoid feeling the loss. Accept your loss for what it is. Don’t weave fantasies of your ex coming back, contrite. You need to grieve, so write about your feelings, and talk about them to a therapist or friends who will listen. This relationship is over.

If your ex comes back, you’ll need to begin something new and different.

4. Don’t isolate: Hiding out in your bedroom or your apartment will just make things worse.  It’s not a good time to party, but it is a good time to be with caring friends and family, one or two at a time. This is a good time to remember how much other people love.

Change Focus

Focus on re-building your life. Drama is not practical  it’s a negative fantasy. Focus on the practical things you need to do and think. Get your emotional, personal and financial life together as soon as you can.

Think about all the things you’ve been freed up to do, and do some of them. Try things you would never have done before, or things you’ve always wanted to do. As Gatsby said "Living well is the best revenge." Use the energy from your anger and grief, and channel them into doing things just for you. Try out for that local theater, take dancing lessons or an art class, learn to scuba dive, plant a garden. All of those things will keep you focused on the present and the future, instead of the past.

How to Move On

1.  If you gave it your best shot, and you know it’s over, don’t waste time in resentment and anger, it’s self-destructive. Let go. Do your grieving, cry, journal, and talk about alone, or with a trusted friend. Have a “letting go” ceremony with close friends, and say goodbye to your married life. Put reminders away for a while.

2. Don’t hesitate to get therapy to help you through this transition, so you can grieve what’s lost (even if you’re the one who left, you’ve lost your hopes and dreams for this marriage) and move your focus on to building a good life in your new circumstance. A professional viewpoint will help you move from past to present, and plan for the future.

3. If it’s a divorce, take care of yourself financially: a good lawyer can help you fight for your rights. You’ll feel a lot less resentment if you get your fair share of the assets.

4.  This is an important time to have your friends or family around you, you need support. Don’t isolate. You don’t have to go right out and date again (go slow with that) but you should have a social life with friends and family. Even if you don’t think you feel ready to see people, see your closest friends and spend time with them. They’ll help you heal, and remind you that you still have people who love you.

The journey is not an easy one, but when you work through your grief and pain, the benefits you get will help you make a better future. Eventually you will have survived and healed, and be willing to take another chance.

The promise of happiness is strong enough that the risk is worth it.

© 2015 Tina B. Tessina adapted from the forthcoming Dr. Romance’s Guide to Dating in the Digital Age.

Author Bio: Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 35 years’ experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, Dr. Romance’s Guide to Dating in the Digital Age; The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty; Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences and her newest, The Real 13th Step.  She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog, and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter.

Online, she’s known as “Dr. Romance.” Dr. Tessina appears frequently on radio, TV, video  and podcasts

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All material copyright ©2017 Tina Tessina. All rights reserved.