After a breakup, taking certain steps, including prioritizing your self-care and setting boundaries, may help make moving forward easier.
Breakups and the emotions they bring up are complicated. Relief, confusion, heartbreak, grief — all of these are perfectly normal reactions to the end of a relationship. Even if things end in healthy and productive way, you’ll probably still be left with some uncomfortable feelings.
These tips can help you begin the process of picking up the pieces and moving forward. Just remember, you will get through it, regardless of how hard things feel right now.
It’s sometimes easy to avoid crossing paths with an ex-partner after a breakup. But if you live in a small town or know a lot of the same people, you might have a harder time completely separating your lives.
Setting clear boundaries for future contact can help make the breakup easier for you both.
Take some time apart
Even if you both know you want to maintain a friendship, a little space for some time won’t hurt. Taking a break from texting and hanging out can help you both start healing.
Licensed marriage and family therapist Katherine Parker suggests waiting between 1 and 3 months before getting back in touch with your ex if that’s something you’re interested in.
This gives you time to focus on yourself, she says. It can also help you avoid falling into a harmful pattern of offering emotional support to your ex-partner and prolonging the breakup.
Respect each other’s needs
If you want to stay friends but your ex doesn’t want any contact, you need to respect that. Don’t call, text, or ask their friends to talk to them for you.
You might miss them dearly, but not respecting their boundaries will likely hurt any future chance of friendship.
Alternately, if your ex contacts you, especially before you’re ready to talk, don’t feel obligated to respond. This can be difficult, especially if they seem vulnerable or express feelings similar to your own. Remind yourself that you both need time and space to deal with those difficult emotions and wait until the no-contact period has passed.
Maintain some physical and emotional distance
If you want to try the friendship thing after some time apart, keep an eye out for old patters and behaviors. Maybe you lean your head on their shoulder while watching a movie or they come to you for help during a crisis.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with these behaviors, but they can lead to a lot of confusion and further heartbreak. If you and your ex want to maintain a friendship, you have to act like friends.
‘Just friends’ guidelines
Keeping some distance means not doing anything you wouldn’t typically do with a friend, such as:
- cuddling or other close contact
- spending the night together in the same bed
- treating each other to expensive meals
- providing consistent emotional or financial support
Halting any behavior that makes you think, “It seems like we never broke up,” is probably for the best.
Discuss how you’ll handle encounters
Sometimes, there’s just no avoiding an ex. Maybe you work together, attend the same college classes, or have all of the same friends. In these cases, it’s good to have a conversation about what you’ll do when you inevitable see each other.
Aim to keep things polite, even if you had a nasty breakup. Just remember that you can’t control someone else’s behavior. If they can’t abide by the agreement and act up, try to take the high road by not engaging them.
If you work together, do everything you can to maintain a professional relationship. Keep conversation civil and try to avoid talking to coworkers about what happened. Gossip spreads easily, and even a few basic facts can change wildly from person to person.
Not sure what to say? Try something like, “We decided to stop seeing each other, but we’re committed to maintaining a good working relationship.”
Once you’ve got your boundaries in order, it’s time to turn your attention to your relationship with yourself.
Parker recommends creating a daily self-care routine.
Each day, do something that:
- brings you joy (see friends, have a new experience, spend time on your favorite hobby)
- nurtures you (exercise, meditate, cook a satisfying but healthful meal)
- helps you process your feelings (make art or music, journal, talk to a therapist or other support person)
Try to get enough sleep, but avoid sleeping too much. This can interfere with your responsibilities and make you feel groggy and unwell.
And then, of course, there’s comfort food, Netflix binges, and a bottle of wine. It’s fine to indulge occasionally while you recover, but keep an eye on things so they don’t become regular habits that are hard to break down the road. Consider saving these things for special times with friends or giving yourself one night a week to cut loose.
Do things you enjoy
After a breakup, you might find yourself with more free time than you’re used to. Try to use this time in positive ways.
Maybe during the relationship you spent less time reading and have a stack of unread books waiting by your bed. Or perhaps you’ve always wanted to try gardening or knitting. You could even begin learning a new language or make plans for a solo trip.
Finding things to do (and doing them) can help distract you from post-breakup grief.
Express your feelings…
It’s common to experience a lot of emotions after a breakup, including:
It can help to acknowledge these feelings. Write them down, illustrate them, or talk to your loved ones. Movies, music, and books involving people going through similar situations can reflect your experience, so these might offer some comfort.
…but avoid wallowing in them
Try not to get stuck in a cycle of negative emotions, since it generally doesn’t help to ruminate on feelings of grief and loss. If you can’t stop thinking about your ex, try a “reset” by getting out of the house, visiting a friend, or putting on music and doing some deep cleaning.
Take a break from sad or romantic dramas and love songs. Instead, try comedic or uplifting shows, upbeat music, and lighthearted novels without romance. These can help distract you from negative emotions.
Other quick ways to help improve a gloomy mood:
- Open your curtains for natural light.
- Get some sun.
- Luxuriate in a shower or bath with your favorite products.
- Burn a candle with a fresh or citrus scent.
Tell your story
Parker suggests writing out a short narrative about your breakup. Just a sentence or two is fine. For example, “I need time and space to reconnect with myself and my needs before I can be in a relationship with someone.” Another option might be, “Breaking up is a process, and nothing is clear right away.”
Keep this somewhere visible, like your bathroom mirror or fridge, and focus on that when you feel like you miss your ex and want to reach out, she says.
Another unexpected aspect of breaking up: social media. It’s not always easy to know how to set boundaries around digital involvement, but here are some general post-breakup dos and don’ts.
Do avoid using social media as much as possible
“Social media creates an environment for stalking and unhealthy fixation, along with opportunities for passive-aggressive bullying,” Parker says.
Taking some time away from social media can be helpful after a breakup. This ensures you don’t end up souring your mood by coming across photos of your ex or photos of seemingly picture-perfect couples.
If you do use social media after your breakup, Parker recommends using it only to connect with and gain support from friends and family. For example, you might consider temporarily deleting the Facebook app from your phone and using Messenger to chat.
Don’t post about the breakup
You don’t need to publicly share that your relationship has ended, because chances are, the people who need to know already do know. “Social media isn’t the place to air your feelings or frustrations toward an ex-partner,” Parker says.
You might want to share the truth if your ex lied to you, cheated, or otherwise wronged you, but save your frustration for private messages with people you trust.
Don’t change your relationship status right away
If you and your ex-partner used the “In a Relationship” status on Facebook, it might seem logical (and honest) to change your status to “Single” once the relationship is over.
A better option is to hide the status from your profile (or set it so only you can see it). If you take a break from social media, for example, you can hide it until you return. People may be less likely to notice the change after time has passed.
If they do notice, your breakup will be old news, so it won’t matter as much. Waiting to change your status will also reduce the chances your ex-partner will feel hurt by the change.
Do unfollow your ex
You don’t need necessarily need to unfriend an ex if:
- the relationship ended on good terms
- you want to stay friends
- you have other social connections
But most social media apps now let you mute or hide people without having to unfollow them. This keeps you from seeing content they share. If you don’t want to see your ex-partner in other people’s posts, it can also help to unfollow people they’re closely connected to, including close friends and family members.
On Facebook, you can use privacy settings to put people on a restricted list, which prevents them from seeing anything that isn’t publicly shared. This may help, but if the relationship was abusive, it’s best to block them entirely so they can’t view any of your information or updates.
Don’t check out your ex’s page
You may feel tempted, especially if you’ve seen them around town with someone new. Maybe you want to know if they feel as awful as you do, or maybe you’re looking for that vague status update you just know they wanted you to see.
But ask yourself, “What will looking at their page accomplish?” Probably nothing healthy, so it’s best to resist the urge.
Breaking up with a live-in partner bring about a separate set of challenges.
Revamp your space
After your partner moves out, your house or apartment may feel totally different. Your space might feel lonely. It might not feel like “home” anymore. You might want to pack up and move to a place without so many painful memories.
If you shared a place and your ex moved out, your home might feel lonely or full of painful memories. Of course, moving into a new place can help, but that’s not always financially feasible. Instead, focus on refreshing your surroundings.
Do a ‘mini remodel’
- move furniture around
- get new mugs or dishes
- invest in some new bedding
- try to get rid of one piece of furniture that you can easily replace
- get rid of the blanket you always cuddled under and replace it with throws in different textures and colors
- try a different color scheme in your living room or bedroom.
- paint your table and chairs.
- change rugs, throw pillows, cushions, and blankets
Box up mementos
It can help to pack up significant reminders of the relationship, including gifts, photographs, or things you bought together. You don’t have to throw these things away. Just set the box aside where you won’t see it all the time. Down the road, you can take another look and decide what you want to keep.
Gather their belongings
If your partner left things behind, a respectful option is to box them up until any no-contact period has passed. Then, send a polite message letting them know you still have their belongings. Donate anything they intentionally left or said they didn’t want.
Mutual friends will probably want to know what happened after a breakup. It’s generally best to avoid getting into the details. They might get two very different stories, and gossip can become a problem in some situations.
If friends have heard an untrue version of what happened, you might want to share the truth. Try to avoid an emotionally charged response and offer the facts calmly, without saying anything negative about your ex-partner.
Keep in mind some friends may take sides. You can’t avoid this or force anyone to maintain the friendship. But you can avoid playing into gossip and drama by resisting the urge to say negative things about your ex.
Finally, it’s generally best to avoid asking friends for news of your ex-partner.
When working through a poly breakup, it’s important to consider how breaking up with one partner can affect your other relationships.
Be open about your emotions
Following a breakup with one partner, you might find yourself drawing closer, both physically and emotionally, to your other partners.
On the other hand, you might feel:
- hesitant about physical intimacy
- less interested in your usual activities
Your feelings and emotions are all valid, and compassionate partners will understand you’re dealing with a difficult situation. They’ll most likely want to offer support however they can. Just keep in mind that they might experience some emotional fallout from your breakup, too.
Keep them in the loop about what you’re feeling and try to communicate what you each need from each other during this transition.
Talk about next steps
As you adjust to having one less partner, you might want to talk with your current partners about:
- ways your relationship might temporarily change (for example, you might have less interest in physical intimacy at the moment)
- any new boundaries you (or they) want to set for your relationship
- how to handle situations where you might see your ex-partner
Take the high road
Again, avoid talking badly about your ex. This is especially important if one of your partners still has a relationship with your ex.
The exception? If your ex was abusive or put you in danger, it might be wise to let other partners know.
Breakups are often rough. Friends and family can offer support and help you feel less alone, but sometimes it’s just not enough.
Consider reaching out to a therapist, who can help you:
- identify unhealthy coping methods and replace them with more positive ones
- address and challenge persistent negative emotions
- deal with the effects of manipulation or abuse
- work on a plan for the future
If you’re wondering whether a breakup is a valid reason to get help, it definitely is. In fact, many therapists specialize in helping people work through breakup grief.
It’s especially important to reach out for help if you:
- feel depressed
- have thoughts of hurting yourself or others
- keep trying to contact your ex or think about contacting them often
Recovering from a breakup takes time — probably more than you’d like. But try to remember that things will get easier as time goes on. In the meantime, be gentle with yourself and don’t hesitate to reach out if you need support.