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How to Cope After a Breakup: 3 Steps to Take


“I think we should just be friends.”
“It’s not you, it’s me.”
“I love you, but I’m just not
in love with you.”

These are only several of the myriad of cliché breakup lines that you see in movies or on TV sitcoms. In reality, these probably aren’t lines that most people experience during a breakup. But no matter the method, everyone can agree that breakups are really terrible. Whether you’re the one doing the breaking up or you’re on the receiving end of it, all kinds of emotions accompany the ending of a romantic relationship. Guilt, pain, insecurity, denial, rejection, anger, to name a few.

Research shows that being rejected activates many of the same brain regions as when you experience physical pain. That’s why you may feel not only emotional pain, but you may even physically hurt after a breakup.

You may feel obsessive. That’s because your brain is seeking the same dopamine rush that you got when you fell in love with this person. So you spend an unhealthy amount of time stalking their Instagram or Facebook pages to try to satisfy that need you feel to see them and be near to them.

You might find yourself wanting to do completely irrational things like “accidentally” text them and pretend that the text was meant for someone else or stalk that building on campus where you know they have class so that you can give them a piece of your mind.

There are a lot of ways that people attempt to cope with the many feelings that come after a breakup. Some ways are healthier than others. Here are three steps we recommend you take in order to deal with those feelings and move on in a positive and healthy way:

1. Grieve

It’s completely normal to feel sad after a break up. You invested yourself into that other person, and it’s difficult and painful to think about not having them play the same role in your life any more. Give yourself time to grieve that loss.

Process with friends

Get together with a couple close friends and talk and cry and eat ice cream and binge watch something light hearted on Netflix. It’s good for you to process what you’re feeling with trusted friends or family members or to journal about it. Don’t try to bottle up your emotions.

Take care of yourself

Just make sure that while you’re in this time of grieving, you take care of yourself. You can treat yourself to some occasional comfort foods like chocolate or mac and cheese, but binge eating or binge drinking is not healthy. Or maybe you don’t even feel like eating at all. No matter your appetite, you need to make sure you’re still getting adequate nutrition.

Don’t close yourself off

You may also be feeling like you don’t want to leave your house or dorm room (or maybe even your bed). While you may choose to allow yourself one “heart sick” day, you shouldn’t close yourself off to the outside world. Take a long walk outside to clear your head. Go to the gym and run it out on the treadmill. Find reasons to get ready – shower, put on makeup, wear something other than sweatpants – and do your normally scheduled things like going to work or class. Believe it or not, you will get past this time of feeling like you’re in a complete funk.

2. Heal

While you’re grieving, it’s also important to take steps that will help you to heal. This means, as hard as it may be, you should probably give each other space. While it may seem like if you could just see them or talk it out with them one more time, things could be different, that’s likely not the case.

But I need answers!

You may feel desperate to get answers about why they broke up with you or what you could have done differently to keep the split from happening, but this is not going to be beneficial. So don’t make attempts to see them or “accidentally” run into them in hopes of talking it out or making them feel guilty or thinking that if they see you they’ll realize what a mistake they’ve made.

Cut off contact

This also means resisting the urge to text or call your ex. Yes, you were used to texting each other all day every day when you were together, but now that you’re not, that’s not going to help either one of you move on.

Disconnect from social media temporarily. Stalking their Instagram or Facebook page multiple times per day is not going to make you feel better, it’s just going to stir up emotions that you don’t want to feel (anger, jealousy, sadness, pain, or maybe even wanting them back), and that’s not going to help your broken heart heal. And after a hiatus, if you can’t seem to kick the habit of visiting their pages on a regular basis, you will probably have to unfollow and unfriend too.

Oh, and unfortunately, “let’s still be friends” probably won’t work, at least not at first. If your friend groups still spend a lot of time together, this may mean bowing out of the group activities for the first few weeks after the breakup. Because seeing your ex is likely to make you experience more of those unwanted feelings.

Don’t dwell on it

While there is a time for grieving, continuing to obsess over the failed relationship is unhealthy. Don’t allow your mind to wander constantly to what went wrong or how terrible your ex was. This can lead to bitterness. Instead, try picking a set amount of time each day that you will allow yourself to think about the relationship or journal about it. Then if you catch yourself thinking about it outside of that set period the rest of the day, be deliberate in shifting your thoughts to something positive instead. As time progresses, you will hopefully find yourself needing less and less time!

Take the high road

Whether it was a friendly, mutual breakup or an ugly one, make the decision to take the high road. It may seem satisfying to talk smack about your ex to their friends or to share that secret of theirs that you had promised you never would, but in reality, these things only make you look worse. Your ex might be acting like a total jerk and may be telling lies about you, but unfortunately, you can’t control them. You can only control your behavior and your reactions, so make the choice to be the bigger person.

Resist the urge to rebound

Contrary to what your emotions or your hormones may be telling you, a rebound is not a good idea. You may think it will ease the pain you’re feeling or boost your confidence or make your ex jealous, but really it will only prolong the post-breakup healing process and hurt the person that you are rebounding with. So it’s really best for everyone involved if you just don’t even go there.

Live and laugh

Instead of doing some of these unhealthy things you may be tempted to do, get out and do something you enjoy doing. Was there a hobby that you didn’t do very much when you were in the relationship because you didn’t have time or it wasn’t something you both enjoyed? Pick that back up!

Another great way to heal is to laugh. Research shows that laughing can boost your mood and reduce depression. It may be the last thing you feel like doing, but maybe that cat jump fail video on YouTube could be just the medicine you need.

3. Reflect

Once you emerge from the initial awfulness of the first few weeks following a breakup, hopefully you’ll get to the point of being able to reflect on the relationship in a healthy way. Try to focus on the positives of the relationship rather than how it ended – especially if it ended badly. Hopefully you’ll be able to see that yes, you were with that person, you’re no longer with them, and that’s for the best because… (fill in the blank for your situation).

One study found that reflecting on your relationship – through journaling, talking to a friend, etc. – can help increase your confidence in yourself and can actually help you get over the breakup more quickly.

Some questions to reflect on

So, think through what you learned from the relationship – about yourself and about that other person. What can apply to your next relationship? What qualities about that person did you enjoy that you would look for in a future relationship? Were there any qualities they had that you would try to avoid?

What about yourself? Maybe you learned that your communication needs work or that you expect too much out of the other person. Think through and consider writing down three to five takeaways for your next relationship.

Valuable and unique

Through all this, however, don’t let your self worth decrease. It’s easy after a breakup to feel very insecure about yourself, thinking there is something wrong with you or that if you could only change this or that about yourself, your ex wouldn’t have left you. That’s simply not true. You are valuable and unique just the way you are. You deserve to be loved and cherished by the person who will appreciate those things that make you uniquely you and whose unique traits of their own will complement yours in a way that no one else’s can.

While it may seem now like you’ll never feel normal again, things will get better. Obviously, the longer your relationship was, the longer it will take to totally get over that person. But time really does heal all wounds. And in the mean time, we hope you take some of this advice to help you move on in a healthy way.

Valley Women’s Clinic is Here for You

If, after your breakup, you’re also worried about a potential unplanned pregnancy or an STI, Valley Women’s Clinic is here to help. All of our services are free and confidential, including pregnancy tests and testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea. Our client advocates can also offer a listening ear if you want to share your situation with someone. Request an appointment for our Blacksburg or Radford clinic.

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