How to move on after a break up

Written by martin malcolm | 13/05/2017
How to move on after a break up
Break-up: it's over (Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Break up with your lover and before long someone will tell you to move on. Helpful friends and relations will stress you should get on with your life, stop dwelling in the past and start over.

The trouble with all this good advice is it's so short on specifics. You know you need to make a clean break, but how exactly do you do that? It's never going to be easy, but follow these suggestions and you too can learn to love again.

"You deserve to feel happy and emotionally fulfilled in your relationship. If these things are not there, know you can and will find the strength to let go. You are worthy of happiness and fulfilment. You have choices. Things can change."

Women of Hope

Don't bottle it up

Ask friends or family for support following a break-up. If you don't talk about how you feel to someone, you're likely to brood over the wreckage of your relationship, feeding your anger and resentment.

“It’s very easy for people to become like a broken record, just re-living painful memories," says psychotherapist Ben Wickens of Lighthouse Counselling. "It helps to talk things out."

If you feel there's no-one to turn to, don't despair, say the creators of Women of Hope, a piece of verbatim theatre at East London venue, The Rich Mix.

After interviewing women about surviving a break-up, they say a common view emerged: "There is help available to you, from charities, from your doctor, from your friends, from specialised groups, from counselling services. Just ask – ask for help and it will come to you."

Relationship guidance counsellors Relate offer courses to help people talk through a break-up. Topics include: "Why relationships go wrong", "Relating to other people" and "Dealing with change". Simply knowing you're not alone can be a huge comfort.

"Counsellors have no emotional stake in what's happened, so they can be more objective," says Ben Wickens. "You gain perspective and avoid a descent into damaging responses such as bitterness and resentment."

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) can help you find a therapist from among the more than 20,000 members it regulates.

How to move on after a break up
Sharing: talk it through (Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Start over

Break-ups often leave practical problems, especially if you and your ex were living together. Dividing up mutual possessions, or deciding who has to move out of the home you shared can leave both parties feeling resentful.

If you need to communicate with your ex over practicalities, don't get drawn into emotional exchanges. Hilary Campbell of Couple Counselling Scotland told BBC News it's best to use e-mail or texts for settling the practical details, so you avoid heated conversations.

Postpone major decisions until you've had time to come to terms with the break-up. "Don't try to do everything," urges Ben Wickens. "You're going to have to re-plan your future at some point, but you don't have to do it immediately."

“If two people were living together and one has moved out, rearranging the furniture can give you a sense of fresh start,” he suggests. "It's a small, definite step that makes your home work for you."

How to move on after a break up
Bitter: dividing up mutual possessions (Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images)

Not in front of the kids?

If you and your ex have children, take time to reassure them they are loved by both parents. Where you cannot agree what should happen to your children, approach a family mediation service to work things out in a neutral setting that puts your children's needs first.

Contact single parents' self-help group Gingerbread if you feel daunted. They provide a helpline, supportive forums and a wealth of practical advice.

“Children pick up on tension," says Ben Wickens. “Quite often they find themselves used as bargaining chips, so try never to do this."

Explain matters simply and clearly: "We're not going to live together any more." Let your children ask questions, answering them as honestly as you can. Avoid criticising your ex when you talk to your children. Emphasise your kids are not to blame for what's happened. Make sure they know exactly where they will live and when they will see their absent parent.

Your children can be a huge support. "Loving and looking after what is precious to you can be a source of strength and can help you through a difficult time," say the creators of Women of Hope.

How to move on after a break up
Children pick up on tension. (Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

One day at a time

Get into a new routine for your daily life, now your ex is no longer on the scene. It's likely the break-up will have disrupted your old timetable and it helps to look at it afresh, rethinking the things you do automatically.

Stick to your new routine, once it's established. That will give you a sense that you have regained control after all the emotional upheavals.

Keeping faith with your daily routine is a tried-and-tested antidote to sitting on the sofa with the curtains closed, wishing the world would go away.

Routines physically move us on, getting us out of the house and back interacting with others, thinks Ben Wickens. “It’s good to initially focus on immediate things, just getting through each day, to get a bit of distance on the break-up.”

How to move on after a break up
Routine: gets you through the day (Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Me time

Get out in the fresh air, or take some exercise when you feel low. Activities like this are mood-changers, helping you look and feel better and boosting your self-esteem.

“Basic things like good diet and good exercise make a huge impact," reveals Ben Wickens. He recommends the book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Dr Susan Jeffers. "It's got particularly effective suggestions and works for a lot of people."

If you're not sporty, don't despair. Gingerbread asked its members how they coped with stress. Responses included: digging my allotment, playing video games, yoga, martial arts, housework, window shopping and going for a bike ride.

"Do not lose sight of what is important to you, whether it be your children, a personal hobby or a spiritual or religious belief," say the creators of Women of Hope. List the things you're good at and all the activities you really enjoy, then make time to try some of them.

Enjoy your new freedom to decide what to do without reference to your ex. Writing in Psychology Today, clinical psychologist Dr Gerry Heisler says learning such independence is healthy and equips us to be more confident and giving in future relationships.

Pamper yourself with beauty treatments, a new hairstyle or new clothes -- anything that gives you a renewed, refreshed self-image.

The NHS choices website recommends deep breathing to counter feelings of stress, eating a balanced diet and regulating your alcohol intake.

How to move on after a break up
Mood-changer: exercise (Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Put the past behind you

Moping is not good for you, but exactly how do you deal with those constant feelings of regret? It takes time to accept your relationship is over, but training yourself into new habits helps.

"Always act as if you will not get back together," Margaret Ruth, author of Superconscious Relationships advises readers.

Once it was simple: you'd pack up all the photos of the two of you together, parcel up the keepsakes and thrust them out of sight at the back of a deep, dark cupboard. Modern communications make it harder to avoid your ex once you've made the break.

Block them on Facebook pronto. Avoid calling or texting and transfer your ex's emails to a separate folder, so you don't keep coming across them in daily life.

“Take that number out of your phone, if you're regularly tempted to call your ex. Store it somewhere else," advises Ben Wickens. “The break-up of a relationship is similar to a bereavement. Sometimes, keeping reminders visibly around the house makes it difficult to accept the loved-one’s not coming back."

How to move on after a break up
Pack up unwelcome reminders. (Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Meet new people

Visualisation

How to move on after a break up
Visualisation: minimise irrational thoughts. (Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

If you just can't stop obsessing about your ex, try this visualisation exercise.

• Close your eyes • Picture your ex • Shrink that picture in your mind • Keep shrinking the picture until it is a tiny dot.

"Visualisation can help you minismise irrational thoughts," says Ben Wickens. “The results can be quite quick. Your body and mind influence each other powerfully. Visualisation is a small step, but it can give you some control over feelings you thought were unmanageable."

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