It’s crunch time, and the narrow road of our previous life has reached a crossroads. A crossroads, I might add, with an infinite amount of intersections. It can be overwhelming.
So what now?
#1 Erect Strong Boundaries
It isn’t arrogant to define how we choose to be treated in the wake of a breakup.
If the decision has been made to call it quits, with or without our consent, then we are fundamentally no longer responsible for juggling our ex’s insecurity or mixed signals. We have ourselves; our lives and our emotional well being to think of now.
The sooner we erect personal boundaries to fend of confusion and potential manipulation the better.
First thing’s first, decide under what conditions (if any) you are willing to communicate with your ex. Such as:
- Making sure your ex knows what is acceptable communication. If you want to reconcile, then make sure your ex can’t just reach out with pictures of their dog to lure you into a false sense of hope. If you are only interested in talking about “us”, then make sure that if the phone does ring, that’s what it’s going to be about.
- Demand respect by disregarding outbursts of insecurity that are aimed at bringing you down (anger, blame games, guilt, emotional blackmail, e.t.c). Opening yourself to confusion and hurt in the name of what you had will do neither of you any favors in the long haul. If you are afraid that not engaging with an ex, despite the hurtful tone, will lead them to disappear, recognize that their shenanigans have little to do with you, and everything to do with their ego, and catering to this insecurity isn’t improving your chances.
- Define the medium of contact as something comfortable to you. If hearing their voice is too painful, or too stressful, don’t be afraid to de-escalate the means of communication to something less personal, and more comfortable such as E-mail. Again, we are no longer responsible for juggling our ex’s insecurity! It can understandably be difficult to grasp this at the tail-end of co-dependency.
Admittedly, just because we insist on structuring out post-breakup communication the way we want it, doesn’t guarantee that our ex’s will listen. Which is why it is important that we…
#2 Lead By Example
Despite our own confusion and emotional back and forth, it is important to act consistently. Both out of respect for our exs, and because we fundamentally teach people how to treat us.
If we engage in mixed messages, then it is likely that our ex will feel that this sort of mind game is also acceptable (even if we told them it wasn’t).
Actions really do speak louder than words.
Yes, this is all easier said than done, and sometimes the urge to reach out can overwhelm us. It happens to the best of us. However, the more consistent we are, generally speaking, the more consistent our exs will also be.
Consistency doesn’t mean we can’t change our minds, it just means that we are consistent in the means, tone and way in which we communicate. If we have a change of heart then we should communicate this, but if we flip-flop constantly we are going to tear trust apart and foster resentment.
#3 Shred Remnants Of Co-dependence
Making our exs the focal point of our breakup means delaying healing. It’s a little like an alcoholic trying to break the habit by filling their fridge with beer.
A breakup isn’t just separation from the past, it’s a new beginning, a fresh start.
This isn’t just misplaced optimism, it’s an objective fact.
Even if we do hope to reconcile, re-acquainting ourselves with elements of our individualism that may have been lost is a healthy way to approach whatever future awaits.
- Rekindling dusty social circles and old friends.
- Rediscovering hobbies and pastimes that made us tick.
- Focusing on our careers.
The possibilities are literally endless, and I won’t bore you with them.
No matter what the future holds in store, reconciliation or separation, rediscovering ourselves as individuals means we are better equipped to sustain ourselves emotionally. Win-win.
#4 Make The Breakup Yours
Right-o, so this may seem a little ironic for two reasons:
- I’ve urged you not to make your ex the focal point of your future.
- I urged you this on an article about steps to take after a breakup.
So yes, it may seem a little hypocritical of me, nevertheless…
While fixating on an ex is generally a bad (but often unavoidable) idea, we shouldn’t stigmatize the breakup as some kind of weakness. Nor should we allow others to define how we choose to navigate the bubbling waters of emotional turmoil (those seas our ours, after-all).
It is up to us to dictate the manner and tempo of our healing.
I’ve tried to structure this article in a way that provokes food for thought, but at no point do I offer any of this as a universal truth. Truth, when it comes to relationships, is relative to the experiences and character of those involved. Not a generic pan-human script.
So. If you’re wondering why dating or clubbing is only making the flashbacks worse, it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you and don’t let anyone tell you there is.
This is a liminal stage in our lives, and to deny ourselves the chance of owning and living it on our terms is to deny ourselves an important growing experience.
#5 Find A Way Of Channeling Stress
Even if you are quite certain that separation was the right idea, good luck convincing your subconscious mind of this.
In other words, there are still going to be moments, pangs and memories that suck.
Due to the heightened base-line of stress, finding a temporary outlet to release pent-up stress can be of great use. Breakups aren’t only a psychological quagmire, then can be a physiological one too.
Case in point: Making my thoughts tangible, by making this blog, was my way of making sense of my inner demons. It helped me transition internal pain externally. This is why keeping a breakup journal is such a popular tool for healing.
- Build a little bonfire and host a funeral for your breakup.
- Beat the living snot out of a punching bag at the gym.
- Write a bittersweet fantasy epic laced with real-life parallels and innuendos.
- Talk yourself out with a friend.
Whatever it takes, find a way to externalize grief, even if you think it is manageable.
#6 Develop A New Routine
In point #5 I mentioned the subconscious mind. Understanding, at least superficially, how it works (I’m certainly no psychologist) can give us a leg us with regards to finding our feet again swiftly.
Sometimes our conscious mind will confuse breakup pain stemming from losing contact with an ex, with losing contact with a comfort zone or routine. In short, it isn’t really the ex that we miss, but the world we used to know folding up all around us.
It can be tricky to differentiate the two.
Personally, I feel the two overlap somewhat, but the act of being consistent with a new routine is a great way to discipline subconscious pain into accepting our new lives, without requiring any validation from the past. After all, the end stage of the Kubler-Ross cycle (the notorious five stages of grief) is precisely that, acceptance.
The important part here is developing a new structure for our lives, day in day out, that will allow us to quickly embrace our new reality. This will happen regardless of whether we face it kicking or screaming or in a welcoming way, but if it’s going to happen, we might as well embrace it.
#7 Make Big Changes
No matter which way you cut it, breakups epitomize adaptation and change, and because of this, your mind will accommodate enacting far larger changes than you would usually be able to stomach. Take advantage of this!
Your comfort zone has been stripped away. Let’s build a better one.
Disclaimer: Before I get into the nuts and bolts, please don’t make changes subjectively or impulsively. These decisions must be weighted down with the objectivity of a hammer, and enforced with a glacial fist.
Still with me? Great, onward-ho.
- Strip your life of bad influences. Toxic friendships, and other things that bring you down. Most people will accept that a breakup will mean increased distance, use that stereotype as an umbrella to forfeit drama.
- Redefine yourself. Are you frustratingly stereotyped as that guy, or that kind of woman? People will expect and look for change after a breakup, use this to redefine yourself in a way which suits you. Break the mold and shake the pillars. No, it isn’t all about what others think (rather than real internal change), but let’s be honest — it helps.
- Just do it. I know this reads like a Nike commercial or an homage to Shia Lebeuf, but now is the time. Doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as it isn’t purely a side-effect of trauma. Just. Do. It.