If music, art, movies, and personal experience are to be believed, breaking up is really hard to do. Unless you are one of those people who met someone in high school, fell in love and stayed that way for the rest of your lives, it's also something we all go through at one time or another. It's just one of those facts of life that sometimes people grow apart or even just realize they never should have been together in the first place.
Coping with the aftermath of a breakup can be brutal for a number of reasons. Our brains undergo chemical changes in a relationship and we produce chemicals that help us pair bond with our partners. These "happy chemicals", like serotonin, are what make you feel brighter when your partner is around and the lack of those chemicals plays a big part in making us feel crappy when they are no longer there. You're basically addicted to your partner and that gross feeling you get when you break up is a lot like withdrawal. Your body craves that hit and there is no way to get it.
Obviously, there is more to the situation than the crass, materialistic truth that brain chemicals play a huge roll in how we feel and act. I merely point it out to highlight the complexity of what is actually going on in and out of our relationships.
Really, the whys and hows of it all don't really mean shit when you feel like your whole world has ended- you just want to get over it and move on with your life. Well, luckily it's not as hard as it seems at first and if you adopt the right perspective it can even be a good thing!
The Stages Of Loss
A major breakup is a form of loss. Modern psychology has broken down the stages of grief we go through when we lose something important to us and nearly everyone goes through these stages on their way to finally being alright with that loss.
That is to say, if you want to get to the light at the end of the tunnel, you have to pass through these stages along the way. Here are the stages and how to cope with each one as they come to make a cleaner break of things.
Stage 1: Denial
This is the part of the breakup where you don't even truly acknowledge the fact that you and your guy are no longer a thing. You will likely tell yourself that this is just a hiccup and things could still work out. You will tell yourself little lies to convince yourself that everything is O.K. and you will likely try to contact your ex to try to reconcile things. Basically, your brain knows that things can never go back to the way they were before, but your heart is still clinging to a shred of hope that they will. This one time when you shouldn't listen to your heart because the heart lies in this stage.
The best way to cope with this stage of loss is to simply cut all those ties that you have to your partner that give you false hope. Clean your house of all that shit they left behind that reminds you of them, delete their number from your phone, delete their social media shit from your computer and phone, and generally do everything in your power to send the message to yourself that things are over and it's time to move on.
The sooner you get your heart and mind in agreement about what's going on, the sooner you can move on to the next stage and be one step closer to being fine with things.
Stage 2: Anger
Despite what psychology has to say about this, I tend to go back and forth into the anger phase throughout the whole process of grief. For me, it's kind of a rest stop between each phase. If you are a normal person who doesn't have anger issues, your anger will probably be mainly concentrated into a single phase you go through.
Once you fully realize what you have lost, a lot of shit starts to get stirred up inside you. Fear, anxiety, and bitterness all start to well up in your mind and those shitty feelings tend to add up to outright rage when combined.
The important thing to do here is to channel that rage into something productive. Anger is an intense motivator for a lot of people. If properly harnessed, you can use that anger to make some pretty awesome changes in your life.
Physical exertion is a common way for people to channel anger. A lot of people like to go to the gym, hop on the bike, and pedal their asses off as they stare into the middle distance. Personally, I like to channel my rage into artistic academic endeavors.
Some people rage-cycle, I prefer to rage-read. The important thing is that you find what works for you and do it, even if it's just screaming into the air until you feel better. You have to sit with that anger, digest it, and use it as fuel to propel you forward.
Stage 3: Bargaining
To me, this stage always feels like a total relapse into stage one. You begin to tell yourself that maybe things could still work out "if only...".
Spoiler alert: They can't and won't- That's why you're broken up!
Coping with this stage is a lot like coping with stage one. You have to stay firm on your communications ban and avoid getting maudlin and nostalgic about what you had or you run the risk of falling all the way back into full-on denial and starting the whole wretched process over again.
Think of this phase as a test of how well you did getting over your denial. You're likely to be on an emotional rollercoaster- jumping from sadness to anger and back again. Sit with those feelings, chew on them, and let them pass. It's like having a cold, it'll pass if you just take care of yourself.
The main thing to look out for here is that you don't spend time beating yourself up about what you could have done better, which is a defining feature of this phase. The fact of the matter is that you probably could have done things better and the same goes for your ex or you wouldn't have broken up.
The problem with this type of thinking is that neither of you did and this is what happened. Unless you have a time machine, you're just hurting yourself for no reason. Things are the way they are and they aren't going to change. Sound depressing? Good! Because depression is the next step toward being over it all!
Stage 4: Depression
Once you go through all of that bargaining and going over the things you could have done differently, you'll eventually come to the conclusion that no matter what you do or could have done, that shit is in the past. This is an understandably depressing place to reach.
I'm not gonna lie to you, this is easily the darkest, shittiest part of a breakup. People manifest their sadness in different ways, none of them pleasant. This is also one of the most dangerous phases we pass through in our grief because this period of hopelessness is fertile ground for suicidal ideation. This stage is often characterized by feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, self-abuse, and it's usually the point where our self-esteem is scraping rock bottom.
This is also a time when we have to be careful about not turning to substances to make ourselves feel better. One of the oldest stories in the world is that of a guy who crawled into a bottle after a savage heartbreak and never found their way back out again.
This is a stage that has a ton of pitfalls that could have you regressing to previous stages or even starting the whole process over again from the beginning. If you want to get through to the other, brighter side of this whole shitty mess, you need to take care of yourself.
Don't wallow in self-pity, as tempting as that can be. Get out there with your friends and do the things you like to do even if it feels impossible. You have to force yourself to live again or you risk spending the rest of your as life a depressed mess. Things could only spiral out of control from there.
The best thing you can do at this point is to surround yourself with non-toxic friends who can help keep your spirits lifted and who can remind you that you have value as a person. Keep plugging away at your hobbies, try to get out and experience life, and try to focus on the positive side of being single. It's not easy, but if you really make an effort to rise up out of the bullshit, you will eventually come to a point where you actually accept the things that have happened and move on.
Stage 5: Acceptance
While this stage isn't all sunshine and roses, they are clearly visible just over the horizon. This is the point where you have chewed and digested all those crappy feelings you've been going through and have finally reached a point where you know that there is no going back. You are (mostly) fine with it, and you can begin to see the experience as something more positive.
This is the stage where you start to forgive yourself and your ex for what happened and you begin to realize that it wasn't all bad. You had some amazing moments together and those moments aren't any less valuable now that they have passed and you've both moved on.
You will still feel sad from time to time, but you won't feel it as deeply and sharply as you did in the previous phases. You begin to adjust to the new normal and think about the bad shit less and less as days pass.
This is a good time to go out and try to meet new people. Hook up with a few guys and see what happens. Don't go looking for anything too serious quite yet, but don't be closed to the possibility that you could meet someone who knocks your socks off more than your previous partner ever did.
At this point, the future is wide open and nothing is holding you back. Take advantage of that fact and learn to live again! There are plenty of guys out there who would love to be with a guy just like you and will treat you the way you need to be treated.
Don't focus on what you've lost because you haven't lost anything- you've gained a chance to grow. Don't focus on what could have been- Look forward to what is coming.
Breakups are bullshit, but they happen. The main thing you need to worry about is taking stock of what you've gained from the relationship, throwing away the shit that's still dragging you down, and working through these phases so you can come out the other end a better person.