I remember the day my boyfriend emailed me (yes, emailed me!) to end our relationship. My mom and I had just returned from a quick trip to Winn-Dixie for more paper towels and Windex. Our family was moving for the first time in twelve years, so the house was mostly barren and no longer felt like home. I hopped on the computer to check my email before we started cleaning. And that’s when I saw the email that basically said, “It’s been fun, but I feel God is saying we should just be friends.”
I was stunned. We’d spent time together just days before and things seemed really great. Also, he had my phone number. I couldn’t figure out why he hadn’t at least given me the dignity of a phone call. For the rest of the summer I continually asked myself what I’d done to make him decide to walk away the way he had. I imagined about a thousand different reasons–maybe his family hated me, perhaps he’d only dated me because he was bored, or perhaps he thought my weird eating habits indicated some sort of eating disorder. Some of the things I came up with at the time were truly ridiculous!
Nothing I did seemed to help me out of the funk I experienced after that particular breakup. I wish I’d navigated that sad time a little better, but I did learn a lot from the experience. Here are a few things I wish I’d known at the time when I was grieving:
Sometimes it’s important just to acknowledge it’s not what you would have chosen for the situation. I remember feeling like I had zero control in the situation, but that’s not entirely true. My thoughts about the breakup and how I dealt with it were under my control. It would have helped me to be able to state what I felt in the situation without feeling condemned for it. That breakup wasn’t what I would have chosen at the time, but it happened anyway. I think even hearing myself say the words, “I didn’t want things to turn out this way” may have helped ground my heart just a little bit.
Give yourself grace and a lot of time. You know those formulas people make up when they try to calculate how much time is appropriate for you to be upset after a breakup? Something like, “Take the time you dated and cut it in half. You should be over him before that much time has passed.” Yeah, right. Grief and heartache don’t work on a specific timetable. You can’t force sadness away just because a certain number of weeks has passed. Sure, time dulls the pain after a while, but there’s no need to feel bad about yourself if you’re still hurting six months (or more!) later.
Run from despair. I had a really hard time getting away from despair. It felt like I would never meet another guy I liked as much as that one. It felt like there were too many things “wrong” with me. I was convinced I would never feel happy again. Of course you’re going to be upset after a breakup. But at some point sadness turns to despair, and we start believing lies about ourselves and others that only damage our emotional and physical health. Learn how to recognize those lies and fill yourself with truth instead.
Depending on the circumstances, if it’s appropriate, ask for ONE final conversation. Give it a little bit of time to temper the emotion then have a quick chat designed to bring you closure. This isn’t a time to beg him to come back. It’s not a time to pick apart each of his faults. And it’s not a time to ask him if he thinks you’ll ever be able to get back together again. This is just a chance for you to have a conversation to evaluate what happened and how you can learn from it in the future. But…
Accept that you may never have the answers. Sometimes there are no good reasons (at least that we can see!) for the breakup, and sometimes he may be unwilling to tell the complete truth. In the end, we may have to move on. I never got any answers other than, “I think God wants us to be friends” and it took a long time for me to move on past trying to figure out the “real” reason behind our breakup. It’s okay to wonder. But move on. Truthfully, no matter what answers you get, in the end you may never feel like they were good enough reasons to end your relationship. So don’t waste your time trying to figure out things that won’t change the situation.
Don’t seek him out, online or otherwise. Facebook and Instagram make it way too easy to check in on what your ex might be doing now. But, as hard as it is, he’s your ex. If the thought of your breakup still makes your heart ache, don’t Google him, don’t go through his photos, don’t try to figure out if he’s dating someone new. Running into him because you go to the same school is painful enough. Don’t make it worse by seeking out other interaction. If you aren’t together anymore, just walk away.
Go to counseling if you need a listening ear. Counseling doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. It won’t make you look crazy. If you feel like you need someone else to listen to your heart, or if you just want another shoulder to cry on, find a great counselor. It gives you the chance to vent to an impartial third-party. Naming your hurts and talking them through with someone who doesn’t know your ex will help you process. Sometimes all we need is another person to help us carry our hard stuff. That’s what counselors are there for.
What are some other things you’ve done to process the end of a relationship? How can you get through grief in a healthy way?