Moving On After A Breakup

Marriage Counseling Insights From Westlake Village-Based Patricia McTague-Loft

If you’ve been in a long-term relationship that ended amicably — “we’re still friends” — then you may have caught yourself developing some harmless habits. Such as checking into your ex’s social media account just to catch up on their activities. Scrolling through the text thread you had and musing over some tender notes. Or looking at some photos of the two of you on the beach, or skiing or just out to dinner with friends.

A young woman contemplative

But, are these little habits really harmless? Writing for Psychology Today, Jennice Vilhauer Ph.D. says “Nothing can keep you from a happier future than a lingering relationship wound. We’ve all been there: Experiencing good love gone bad is painful. It doesn’t really matter what the circumstances were, or who was right and who was wrong. The bottom line is that it hurts and that the pain is preventing you from moving forward.”

So maybe it’s time to take an honest look at your situation and make the commitment to move on. How do you do that in a healthy way? Vilhauer offers five tips that may help.

“Cut off contact.” Communication is a two-way street. You may be the one who sends a text occasionally with a little update about your life. After all, your ex knew your friends and family and still has an interest in them. But it’s just as likely that they are reaching out to you. While you can make the decision to cut contact, you’ll need to let your ex know about your decision. “When you are hurting, you are vulnerable,” notes Vilhauer. “Protecting yourself with healthy boundaries is an essential part of good self-care. Politely let your ex know you need your space and would prefer not to be in contact for the time being.”

“Let go of the fantasy.” Romantic relationships are, to understate the obvious — complicated. There is the reality of your relationship, with all its nuances and deep but possibly barely-expressed feelings. Then there is the potential of what your relationship could have — a real possibility but never realized. Then there is the idea of your relationship — very possibly romanticized and held as an impossible ideal. Referring to both the potential of a relationship and a romanticized ideal, Vilhauer says, “the truth is, that relationship didn’t exist. Letting go of a dream can be painful. When the relationship first started, there were expectations set for what it could be based on the good things that seemed to be unfolding at the time. Almost all relationships are great in the beginning — otherwise, they would have never started — but the whole of a relationship is what it was from beginning to end.”

“Make peace with the past.” Oftentimes, there is a specific reason that a relationship goes south. Infidelity is all too common and it very often leads to the disintegration of the relationship. If you’re the one who has been betrayed — by an unfaithful partner or betrayed in any number of other ways — it is crucial to resolve the issue for your own personal growth and emotional health. Summing it up succinctly, Vilhauer says, “Nothing hurts more than when someone you love does something that causes you to reevaluate who you believed them to be. When someone betrays the trust you gave, it is painful. But letting another’s actions limit your ability to move forward means he or she still exerts control over your life. Forgiveness isn’t about letting the person off the hook for his or her bad behavior; it is about your emotional freedom.”

“Know it is OK to still love them.” Loving a person is wonderful. Unfortunately, love is not the only factor in building and sustaining a long-term relationship. Incompatibility comes in many flavors, and loving a person with whom you’re incompatible is as common as it is heartbreaking. One sign of true maturity is being able to continue loving a person while recognizing you will not have a long-term romantic relationship.  

“Love yourself more.” Self-respect is necessary in order to build a new relationship with another. It is also necessary before you can truly love yourself. And that in turn is a healthy requisite for another to love you. So, instead of immediately looking to develop a new relationship after a breakup, be sure you are emotionally healthy as a single. If you’re unsure about that, it may be time for professional help.

For a deeper dive into Vilhauer’s insights about moving on, read the full article here.