Regardless of how or why a relationship ends, break-ups are difficult. Even months after a break-up, many people find themselves thinking about, ruminating on, or dare I say, downright obsessing over their ex. Healing takes time. While it isn’t healthy to overtly rush the process, there are several things you can do to help yourself genuinely move on.
Get Some Closure
Break-ups that lack formal closure (AKA ending without “that” uncomfortable face-to-face adult discussion) are often the hardest to recover from. They leave imaginations intensified, regrets stirred up, and eyes staring at phone screens. If you’re able to have one, realize that while it’s uncomfortable in the moment, they typically help in the long run. If that conversation isn’t possible, find a way to get closure for yourself without the other person. For me, I’ve found writing a short, singular letter (that never gets sent) to be healing. Say what you need to say, but once you’ve said it, be done and physically get rid of it. Rip it. Recycle it. Turn it into compost. You do you.
“Don’t Think of a Pink Elephant”
Have you ever heard the saying “don’t think of a pink elephant”? To summarize, the idea is that the more you try not to think about something, the more you actually think about it. Telling yourself to never think about your ex and beating yourself up when you do is counterproductive. At the same time, continuously feeding those thoughts is equally unhealthy. A helpful strategy is to set boundaries on those thoughts. For example, I might tell myself I have from 1-2 PM to think/talk/journal about my ex and our relationship. When I catch myself thinking about my ex outside of that timeframe, I pause the thoughts and remind myself I will revisit them during my scheduled time. The goal is to gradually decrease the duration and frequency of these sessions until you no longer need or even want them.
Acknowledge the Feelings, Not the Story
There gets to be a point when thinking about the break-up or what could have happened is unproductive. It happened. Maybe you made some mistakes, maybe you didn’t. At this point, the story is completely irrelevant. Let go of the details and become curious about the emotions underneath. What emotions are you feeling right now? How intense are they? What makes them more or less intense? No matter what comes up, your feelings are valid. Try to refrain from judgment—there's nothing inherently wrong with any emotion. It’s okay to feel pain. It’s okay to feel hopeful. It’s okay to feel seemingly conflicted, and it’s okay if those feelings change.
Close the Door, Then Walk Away
After taking the space to say what you need to say and feel all the feelings, you have to rechannel that heavy energy—or else, you’ll metaphorically sink. As hard as it sounds, get out and do something that lightens you. I find physical or social activities to be the most effective for me. In dialectical behavioral therapy, this skill is known as opposite emotion action. The goal is not to change or suppress the original emotion (even though that might happen), but to challenge how much power we give our emotions. Your feelings do not control you.
Focus on You
I’ve never been in a romantic relationship that didn’t involve some degree of voluntary sacrifice or compromise from both parties, be it time, money, or movie choice. Post-break-up, you have more freedom to make decisions regarding those things. Return to the sides of yourself that might have been neglected or overlooked during your relationship. Go back to the things you love, but realize those things might have changed. You aren’t the same as when you went into your relationship. Be open to new opportunities, goals, friendships, and hobbies. Create vision boards, journal, write goals, and do values cards.
The Follow/Unfollow Debate
It has to be mentioned. Some people continue to follow their exes on all social media platforms, some block their exes completely, and many are somewhere in between. I don’t think any choice is inherently right or wrong. What’s best varies for each individual and each relationship, and it can change over time. You know better than anyone else whether social media is hindering your ability to move on. There’s also a gray zone—maybe you unfollow them until you’ve moved on, maybe you mute their Snapchat stories but stay Facebook friends, et cetera. As a rule of thumb, I’d say if you have any inkling that you’re obsessing over an ex, you probably are, and taking a break from them on social media would be beneficial.