Managing a Relationship Break-Up

Written by Jeremy Schumacher, MA, LMFT

What can I expect after a relationship break-up?

The first and probably most obvious reaction, you’re going to be sad, frustrated, or maybe angry. You might cycle through these emotions over different days, or have them all in quick succession. Following a break-up your emotions will be a little all over the place, and they will be more powerful than normal. Your brain takes the sudden end of a relationship (even if you knew it was coming) almost like a physical injury and it goes into protection mode. While your brain is in protection mode, your body has to deal with potential loss of appetite, extreme fatigue, or the inability to sleep. These reactions are all normal, but you need to be aware that eating and sleeping are very important. While you don't have your usual urge to seek these things out, you’ll have to make conscious healthy choices for your physical well-being.

Physical symptoms can last for two weeks up to a month. Symptoms lasting longer than that may require a conversation with your doctor or a professional counselor. Sometime during that initial month, your brain will start to feel better and come out of its shell to take stock of your life post-relationship. Typically, at this point, the intensity of your emotions will wane and you will start to sleep and eat in a more typical fashion. The emotional fallout can last anywhere from a month, for shorter relationships, to over a year for longer relationships.

What are some tips to manage the emotional fallout?

  1. Set a Schedule: A schedule will help you to better manage physical symptoms to get sleep and maintain healthy eating habits. A schedule makes it more likely that you will make healthy choices for your body, even if your brain isn’t sending those signals to eat and to sleep like it typically would. A schedule also will limit your downtime, which limits potential time spent ruminating on the past.
  2.  Take a Break From Social Media: If you can use your socials to seek out useful, constructive, and specific support from friends or family, that’s great! However, for most of us the temptation to track our ex or to process old memories through the lens of the current break-up is very strong, and those behaviors simply are not helpful. Your brain is going to be reminded of them constantly by hearing your old song, or seeing the same type of car they drive, or any other mundane daily scenario your brain ties to them. Many people find a temporary limit to their social media is helpful not only to not see their ex, but to have time and energy for new healthy habit formation.
  3.  Engage Deeply In a Hobby: This isn’t the cliche “go out and try something new!” This is more about being intentional with your time. You want your brain to be focused on something that isn’t your ex. For some people, this might need to be a new hobby, but for most of us our favorite hobby will suffice to capture our attention. If your favorite hobby is linked closely with your ex, try to find a friend or family member to join you, or look for local community groups centered around that specific hobby. Most of our hobbies we enjoy because of the activity itself, not just because of who we do that activity with. A good hobby will help you stay busy, and will help you to feel like your normal life continues even after the end of a relationship.
  4. Use Your Support System: Get together with friends, or go visit family for a weekend, or just for dinner. Obviously, this fits with the previous tips as it helps to fill your schedule, keeps you off social media, and can certainly include some favorite hobbies. Your friends and family will want to help you feel better. Even if they don't know what to say or how to say it, the reminder that people care for you and want you to do well is incredibly powerful, especially when you’re feeling down. Also, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional counselor or psychologist for more coping skills and a boost in your recovery time. They are trained in offering helpful support and strategies to assist you with the situation.

Whether you just called it off, or you’re a month out and still emotionally raw, know that break-ups are hard. Working through all the emotions in a healthy way is a worthwhile experience, and growth is always possible following a major life change.