How to Get Over a Breakup

Breakup Advice for How to Get Over a Breakup

Today I’m sharing advice on how to get over a breakup. If you’re going through a breakup, I don’t have to tell you that they’re hard. You can’t just turn your attachments off like a light switch. It takes time, intention, and hard work to move on from a serious relationship. When I decided to become a marriage counselor, I had no idea how much I would learn about how to help people heal from a breakup or divorce. After all, this career is about helping couples fix their problems and reignite their love for each other, right? 

The truth is, breakups happen — marriage counseling or not. Sometimes one partner just decides they want out, no matter what, and sometimes a situation gets so toxic that a breakup really is the best option.

In these cases, the best thing your counselor can do is be a source of support, comfort, and guidance as you take the first steps into your new life after your relationship.

That’s how I accidentally became a breakup recovery expert and how I became a passionate advocate for people on the path of recovery from failed relationships. So much so that I wrote a book on the subject, “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to An Ex Love.”

Since then, I’ve been getting lots of questions from readers and listeners. So today, I decided to devote a podcast to answering them. On this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, we’re talking all about breakups — particularly how to deal with the hardest parts and serious dilemmas like:

  1. How do you know when a relationship is really over, or whether it’s worth trying again?
  2. How to handle friends and family who may be getting frustrated with you in an on-again, off-again situation?
  3. How to set boundaries with well-meaning people who have very definite ideas about how you should handle things, when you feel differently?
  4. How to deal with the enormous emotional pain of a breakup? 
  5. How to cope with regret over the mistakes you made that may have led to the end of your relationship?

So if you’ve been stuck on your Ex for too long and wondering how to let go, listen to this edition of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast to get some new ideas and guidance on how to let go and move on — for good.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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How to Get Over a Breakup

Free, Expert Advice — For You.

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast.

[Intro Song: Brand New Day by The Ugly Beats]

Dr. Lisa: That’s The Ugly Beats with a Brand New Day. I thought that was appropriate because we’re going to be talking about how to get over a breakup today. I’ve had tons of listener questions come in lately on this topic. I thought it would be a good time to address them. Thanks for being here. If this is your first time listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast, I’m so glad you found me. 

My background, I’m trained as a marriage counselor, a psychologist, and also a board-certified life coach. I’m the Founder of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching in Denver, Colorado. I started doing this podcast a while ago just as a way of putting hopefully helpful information out into the world to find you at a time that you need it, if you’re working on stuff. Because a lot of people don’t show up at a counselor’s office or a coach’s office. They’re cruising around online. They’re googling answers. This is my public service, a way of putting hopefully good information right in front of you to be there when you need it. 

On this podcast, we talk a lot about relationships. We talk about just how to be the best person you can be, how to deal with various personal issues, and also changes that you can make in your life to be happier and get more of what you want. Hence, love, happiness, and success. I haven’t talked about this in a while but if it’s your first time listening, you may not know that I have fairly recently come out with a new book. It’s all about breakups and how to recover from breakups. The title is Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to an Ex Love. You can find that online, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, everywhere you would think to look for such things, probably in your library even, if you want to check that out if you are a reader. 

Another thing that I have also created is an online breakup recovery program, which is different from the book. Don’t get me wrong, I love books. I’m a big reader. I don’t know about you, but if I have a conceptual framework for something that I can wrap my head around what’s happening, it really helps. There’s a lot of information in the book about why you’re feeling this way, the biological basis for all the stuff that I think can really be normalizing for people to read through and understand. 

But I also wanted to offer people something that was more robust. Ideally, people come into counseling or coaching and work through this stuff. But I know that everybody can’t do that. I wanted to find a solution for people that was a lot more support than a book, but wasn’t quite the commitment of signing up for individual counseling work. I created an online breakup recovery program, it is called Heal Your Broken Heart. It basically walks you through the sequence of steps that I walk through with my private clients. 

There are six stages of healing from a breakup. The very first one is deciding whether or not this is really done, which sounds weird because you might even be broken up and haven’t talked to this person for three months, but still, in your heart, you might be wondering if things could get better, or you could possibly get back together. The very first thing you need to do before being able to move into the later stages of healing is resolve that, once and for all. In that class, I share with you all the exercises and strategies I give to my private clients about how to answer those questions. Figure out if there is any hope here. Also, really determine, once and for all, if you do need to let go of this because that’s really the first step of healing. 

Then we move on to how to release your emotional attachment to a person in a very experiential way, again, the same tools I get my private clients. We’ll also be talking about how to release the hooks that will keep you attached emotionally to a relationship, in particular, feelings of anger or if your self-esteem is still attached to your ex. That can keep you trapped. I’ll help you resolve that. We’ll also help you restore your inner peace so you don’t have to be thinking about your ex all the time because that is exhausting. It’s a real problem for a lot of people. Even if they’re committed to not talking to them, they’re still thinking about them. They’re still trying to look at them on Facebook and Instagram and find out what they’re doing. I’m going to help you with that. 

Then, in the final stage of the class, the really last step of healing for most people is really figuring out, “Okay, what did I learn from this experience? What do I need to not ever do again? What are some of the warning signs that I might have missed in this relationship? What would I prefer not to do next time?” How to tell if you’re ready to get back out there and start dating again. But also, I think, most importantly, for a lot of people: how to trust again, especially if you’ve had your heart broken by someone. It can be really hard to think about opening yourself up to another person because you’ve had a bad experience. We’re going to be talking about all of that.

I hope that today’s podcast answers questions for you. If you want more information, check out the book. Also, if you want more help with any of this, of course, you can get in touch with me directly. Or check out that online breakup recovery program. It gives you a lot of really good stuff. It’s also extremely affordable. It’s half the cost of one session with me. It’s affordable and it’s also effective. Learn more about that at breakup-recovery.com

One other little piece of business before we dive into our topic: if you like this podcast, if you’ve listened to other shows, or if you listen to this one today and think, “Wow. I learned something today,” it would mean so much to me if you would go to iTunes and leave either a star rating or if you feel so inspired, to write a little review because that is what helps other people find the podcast if they’re trolling around looking for stuff. The more reviews are on iTunes in support of this podcast, the easier it will be for other people to find it. This information will be in front of them in their time of need, just the way it was for you today. 

If you like the show, please go to iTunes and leave a review. You can also go to my website again, growingself.com. This podcast episode, you’ll see it in the blog section. There will also be a link there to take you to iTunes. Subscribe to the podcast would be wonderful so you didn’t miss another episode. But also so that you can leave a review for the show. If you do that, thank you in advance so much. This is the only publicity that the show gets really is your endorsement. I am sincerely grateful. That is all I need to talk to you about before we jump in. 

Falling in Love and Breaking Up

Let’s start talking about breakups. Before I attempt to answer some of these questions, let me give you a really quick overview of my conceptualization of relationships and breakups because it’s a pretty new idea. Understanding that first I think will help you understand my framework for going through the rest of this stuff. The basic premise of my book, Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to an Ex Love, is that falling in love is a biologically addictive process, which is a radical new idea in some ways. But when you think about it, it makes perfect sense because nature needs us to bond to other people. 

Humans are a collective species. We are designed to fall in love, to mate, to pair bond, to create families, to have children, and then to bond to those children. Because without a very deep and strong attachment to other people, everything falls apart. We don’t come together to mate. Animals can hook up and then wander off and mama bear raises her cubs for the next three years. That works, but it doesn’t work for people. They need to stick together to be able to raise children successfully. Also, human infants are so dependent and little children are so dependent on their parents for such a long time. It requires a very intense bond for parents to do that for years and years. If you’re a parent, you know what I’m talking about because it’s not always easy. 

Again, there are very deep and very real biologically based structures: your hormones, neurological structures that are designed for this purpose. Just so you know, these are not just my opinions. There is a lot of research that supports this idea. In particular, Dr. Helen Fisher has really been a pioneer in this subject. She actually did a series of brain image scans, where she through an MRI, created images of people in love and what their brains looked like when they were looking at photographs of their lover compared to people who were just looking at pictures of friends or strangers, and was able to actually measure the activity in their brains. 

She found that people in love are experiencing intense activities in the parts of their brain that are also stimulated when people use things like cocaine. Love is very literally triggering the addiction structures in your brain. Other researchers actually think, such as Lucy Brown of Albert Einstein University, that the reason why human beings get addicted to things like cocaine is that cocaine is actually artificially stimulating the neurological structures that nature originally designed to make you fall in love. All of our survival drives, and love is a survival drive, are linked to these addictive processes. We have cravings for things like sweet or salty or fatty foods because you actually need those or other addictive substances. The reason why we get hooked on them is because they are hooking into these very basic and powerful drives that we have.

Love is no joke. This is a very primal experience that people have. When you fall in love, it does things to you. I spend quite a bit of time in my book talking about what love does and how it works because I wanted you to understand what happens to you, and why we get so enchanted and really attached to people. Because what happens is when people break up, they essentially go into a withdrawal process that has a lot in common with withdrawal of other substances. There are cravings, those obsessions I mentioned, and this overwhelming desire for contact with the ex. 

Because just like a heroin addict thinks that the only thing that’s going to make me feel better is to pop a pill or use this drug again, when you’re going through a breakup, it really feels like the only thing that has the power to make you feel better is contact with your ex, getting the sense of love or acceptance or something from them, that they care about you, that reconnection, because that is the substance of choice, is that connection with your ex. That’s the basic idea. 

I know that’s a newer idea. The research has been there. We’ve known for a while that sex and love can be addictive experiences because of these survival drives. In the instance of sex and love addiction, it is something where it’s pathological at that point. People are craving sex or craving love in such a way that they’re really using it like a substance and it’s a substance of abuse for those people. This is different because when any of us fall in love, these old systems are getting turned on and used. This is the idea. 

Why I want people to understand this is because when people go through breakups, and they go through this withdrawal experience, it’s often so intense and so overwhelming and people are saying, “Logically, I know that I shouldn’t be with this person. I have 85 reasons why they hurt me, why they were untrustworthy, why they broke my heart, why I don’t rationally want to be with a person who can do these kinds of things. Yet, I am still so attached to them. I’m still craving them. I’m still thinking about them.” People feel like they’re going nuts and they do. I don’t know that I’ve ever talked to a person going through an intense breakup, who hasn’t said, “I feel like I’m going crazy. There must be something wrong with me.” 

I want you to know that there’s nothing wrong with you for feeling that way. That’s just what happens to people when you bond and are attached to another person, and then that relationship doesn’t work out. I think we are still vulnerable to this idea that there is such a thing as a “normal breakup”, but normal, meaning that you can make a rational decision. “Yeah. We’re just not that good for each other,” and walk away and get over it. This myth that we have in our mind of what it “should look like”. 

But when people are actually able to do that, they just decide it’s not a good idea and move on. It means that they weren’t in that state of love when the breakup occurred, either they weren’t that deeply attached, to begin with. You’ve been with people, I’m sure, that were perfectly nice people, but you just didn’t feel that way for. That can be one reason when “normal breakups” happen. 

Or people can really detach and disengage emotionally before the breakup ends. Unfortunately, one of the things that I do in my role, sometimes, is talk to people who are very ambivalent about their relationship and on their way out of the relationship, even though they’re still nominally in the relationship, but I walk with them as they’re going through all of this angst, “Can this work?” and back and forth. Trust me, by the time they actually do break up, they are really done. Sometimes, these breakups still take their partners by surprise. Their partners weren’t done. Their partners didn’t know all this stuff going on under the surface, but it has taken the other person or the break-up months to get to this place. By that time, they’re feeling pretty resolved about it. Those are reasons that “normal breakups” might happen. 

But if you are either broken up with and you don’t want the relationship to end, or even if you’re the one that does the breaking up, but you’re still really wanting that person to love you the way that you want and deserve to be loved, or you’re still hoping that they might come around and get their act together, you’re still going to have this experience, even though you’re the one ending it. Again, which is incredibly confusing for people. That’s the basic premise. If you want to know more about all of that, check out the book. I have many chapters talking about the basis of love, how addictive love is, how the stages of love work to get you hooked to a person. 

Everybody who’s read through that find so much comfort just in that basic idea of, “Okay, I’m not a lunatic. This is happening for a reason. I’m normal.” Once they can connect with that idea and really embrace it, the recovery process becomes much easier for them because they understand what it is in a new way. Without that, people can really just stay trapped in this addiction for a very long time. Millions of people all over the world are suffering in this place without any guidance and without any support. That’s one of the biggest reasons why I wanted to write this book is just to talk a little bit more about this, and educate the public on what’s happening, as well as offering guidance on how to actually move through it productively, as opposed to turning just in pain for years and years as can happen. That is the foundation for what we’re going to be talking about today. 

How to Prevent Relapse when Getting Over a Breakup

On top of that, I’ve had people getting in touch with me with various questions about this experience. One of the things that I hear most often from people is this idea of relapse. Getting back together with an ex temporarily or talking to them again, even if intellectually, they know they shouldn’t. They know they should move on. Again, one of the things that I talked about in the book as part of the recovery process is how abstinence is really crucial if you want to recover. If you’re an alcoholic, you can’t keep drinking. If you’re a heroin addict, you can’t keep using heroin and also be in recovery. 

It’s the same for exaholics because they are really still using when they’re in contact with their ex, either if it’s talking to them, hooking up with them, even if they’re not technically together. Some people descend into a friends-with-benefits arrangement as a way of maintaining that connection somehow. Or even watching people or talking with them online, it also really serves to reinforce that addictive process. People that are serious about wanting to recover from these relationships need to practice abstinence. 

This is hard. People struggle with it. I’m getting questions about relapse, meaning, “How do I keep myself from having contact with this person that I know isn’t good for me? Or how do I know if I should try again?” because that’s what relapse feels like in the moment. “Well, maybe we could talk through it. Maybe we could work things out. Maybe they’ve changed. I’m going to talk to them, or I’m going to hang out with them, or I’m going to go out to dinner, or I’m going to, whatever, with this person.” That’s how people begin to use again. 

Let me talk about this from a different perspective so that you can understand. In any kind of addictive process, there’s always something going on that has been called denial by the AA movement. When it comes to alcoholism, for example, denial is saying, “It’s okay. This isn’t a problem. It’s not a capital P problem. Everybody has a beer once in a while. It’s not that big of a deal. It’s Thursday. Everybody drinks on Thursday. Come on.” All these rationalizations that accumulate in making it okay to do what this addicted part of their brain wants to do, which is have a drink. 

For things like alcoholism, or God forbid, drug use, people can objectively look at that, once they embrace this idea that they do actually have a problem and say, “Okay, you know, what? That’s the addictive part of my brain talking and telling me why it’s okay to have a drink.” But the way that it gets really convoluted and hard for exaholics is that there is nothing patently wrong with being in love. Being in love is like what we all aspire to. It’s natural. It’s not just healthy and it’s positive, it’s the best thing that you can do: be in a loving relationship with a partner. That’s everything. Not everything, but it’s one of the highest and best parts of this human experience is when you can be in a good relationship. 

When denial starts happening in the minds of exaholics, that’s where they go into, “Well, maybe it was just a bad fight. Maybe we can get back together again. We can work through it. Lots of people have problems and they get back together again.” But this is very insidious for an exaholic because it’s so incredibly hard to tell. “Okay, Is this true? Can we get back together again? Should we get back together again? Or is this my addicted mind thrashing and flopping around and having a tantrum on the floor because they really want to have this need met, this connection with this person? 

Just knowing that this is a big part of the recovery process. Everybody who has ever been addicted to anything needs to go through this process where they’re figuring out, “Can I handle this? Or is this really a capital P problem that I need to address in a much more serious and intentional way? Because nobody shows up at an AA meeting voluntarily, at least, without having gone through this process. An alcoholic will spend months, sometimes, years trying to make their relationship with alcohol work in a way that isn’t going to destroy their lives. When they’re sufficiently humbled and get their ass handed to them over and over again, that’s when they can finally show up and say, “Hi, I’m John and I’m an alcoholic.” Everybody says, “Hi, John.” It’s a hard-won battle. 

I know from my personal experience. I hope you don’t judge me, but because I grew up in Virginia, which is the tobacco belt. I started smoking cigarettes when I was pretty young, a young teenager. I had to go through this process when I was finally able to quit for good. Because for a long time, even after I intellectually know, it says right on the package, it’ll give you cancer. All through my late teens, I tried so many times to quit. But what would always mess me up is this idea that, “Well, it’s Saturday. I’m at a party. Everybody’s smoking and drinking. I can have a cigarette and it’ll be fine.” That whole thing until I had to learn over and over and over again, like, “No, I actually can’t do that.” It was only when I embraced that I was able to quit for good. 

It’s the same thing with every addictive process. But for exaholics, meaning people that are still stuck on their ex, what it requires is testing the relationship over and over and over again. “Can I be emotionally close to this person without getting hurt? Can I be in a relationship with this person without being disappointed again?” This can take months, sometimes, years of testing and trying before they finally have that experience of, “Now, there is actually nothing for me here, as sad as it makes me to say that, and my continued attachment to this person is not healthy for me.” Then they can shift it in their mind to becoming in the category of an addiction and begin to deal with it differently. 

Relapse Versus Actually Trying

If you are trying to figure this out and I talk much more at length about this in the book, obviously. That might be a place to start just to read through this and get a sense of what those different stages of change look like. You can shepherd yourself through the process that way. But for listener questions around, “How do I know if we should get back together or not? How do I know if this is relapse versus an honest try?” 

Again, some questions to ask yourself are: “Is this situation different now than it was when we were together? Have they changed in any demonstrable way? Have they gone in therapy? Have they been working on themselves? Are they making some of the changes that were very difficult for me before?” Also, this is where it gets more complicated. “Are these changes based on fear? Are they changing because they’re going to lose me if they don’t? Then, if we get back together again, are they going to relax and it’s going to go back to the way it was? Or has this really been a sea change in the way they handled themselves?” Those kinds of questions. 

Or are you different in any big way than you were when you’re in this relationship? Because it’s one thing to need somebody else to be different. But the other piece of this equation, the other side of this equation, which is always balanced in algebra, and in love, by the way, is how are you coping with this person’s flaws or the things they do that are disappointing? Because if you are in a place where their strengths and all the positive things about being with them outweigh the parts that are hard, you might experience the relationship differently, even if they haven’t made that many changes. 

Because our ability to tolerate disappointments, and to accept other people unconditionally, and cope with anxiety can be a huge thing going on in relationships, and whether or not they’re successful. If you have done work around your expectations of them, or your ability to tolerate your own anxiety, or your ability to accept them for who they are, that might be another indication that this relationship could actually work. Because at the end of the day, good relationships are always a lot about acceptance and unconditional love. I did a podcast probably a couple months ago about unconditional love. If you want to hear more about that, check out that podcast. 

Because people can change in many ways. We can change the way we do things. We can change the way we understand our partner. We can change the way we respond to our partner. That’s a lot of what good marriage counseling does is really changing that story of who your partner is and developing more empathy for them and developing more of a willingness to meet their needs in ways that are meaningful for them. 

But even though you or your partner might be doing those things, it’s not going to change who the other person fundamentally is. That’s the limit of therapy or counseling. If there are very big things that they do or that they are, that aren’t going to change. Whether or not that relationship is going to continue is going to be more about your acceptance of those things, as opposed to whether or not your partner can change them. 

Be thinking about those things as you are considering whether or not to give this another chance, or to return that phone call. That’s the way it often starts. You don’t just jump, move back in with a person that you broke up with. It starts with a phone call. Making that one phone call is the equivalent of having one drink or smoking one cigarette because where’s it going to go? It’s not just about the one phone call. It’s about the things that happen after that. I have talked to so many people who basically sign up for another six months around the rodeo with the one phone call. 

Thinking about all of these things before you return that call, or text or whatever, could maybe help you differentiate between, “Is this just going to be more of the same? Or is this the sign of something different?” Also, I will say that relapse can be a very important, even necessary, part of the recovery process. Because you don’t know until you have these experiences sometimes what the truth is. This is part of your healing process. If you feel like you need to go in and check this out, again, Godspeed.

Dealing with Friends and Family when Getting Over a Breakup

Another question that often comes up is, “How do I deal with my friends and my family, particularly as people are going through this process of testing, trying to figure out is this really over? Should it be over? What’s happening here?” They will go in and out of the relationship. It often looks like they will have terrible experiences with their ex, or estranged boyfriend, or girlfriend, or husband, or wife, or whatever. 

Then, they will talk to their friends and family about it, and tell their friends and family what a D-bag their ex is, and how much they hate them, and all of these 598 horrible things that their ex has done to them. You know what I’m talking about. Their friends and family are suitably horrified, and shocked, “Oh, my gosh. That was so wrong,” and supportive in that way. Everybody feels good. Then a few days, weeks, months go by, and the exaholic starts talking to the ex again, and hanging out, and well they hooked up and all this, “Well, I had to get my stuff back so we ended up hanging out.” Then re-engaging with the ex and then having another really horrible experience that they want to go and tell everybody about. There’s this back and forth experience. 

The people on the other side of this, the friends and family of exaholics–I know you’ve had this experience, if you’ve had a friend or loved one who has been going through this process of separation–it’s like watching them smack their face with a two by four over and over again, and then complain about how much it hurts, “Wow. I’m never doing that again.” Then, they pick it up and they smack themselves in the face with a two-by-four again. It’s like watching people do this over and over and over again. It makes friends crazy to see this happening. Because from their point of view, it should be easy. Stop it. Just put that board down, walk away from the board, go somewhere else where you’re not going to hurt yourself, let it go. 

We have all been through this heartbreak process. If you haven’t gone through, it probably means you just haven’t gotten through it yet. Or you were one of the lucky few that the first time you really fell in love, it was with a good person who was able to love you back and you’re still together. Those are pretty much the only two alternatives. But everybody who has gone through this experience has done that work of recovery, has gone through this experience successfully, I should say, has gone through the work of recovery where they’ve tried over and over again, and they’ve gotten sufficiently frustrated, and they finally realized that it’s not going to work out. 

They came to the conclusion that they needed to actually stop and do the work of recovery even if they didn’t have this language for it. But really the first piece of it is abstinence and then doing the emotional work on the other side of that. They have learned that life lesson. They want the same thing for you. They want you to be in that place of peace and clarity, and healing. They rush the punch line, “They say there’s lots of fish in the sea.” They say, “Let it go. They’re not good enough for you.” They’re right. All of those things are probably right. But if you’re not in a place where you can actually do that yet, it feels incredibly invalidating. You know that they mean well, but you just can’t do that yet. Then you start to feel like there’s something wrong with you because you’re not doing it and you feel like you should be. They start to feel frustrated with you because of the stickiness of the relationship. 

Here’s how to deal with that. If you are not in a place where you can actually be done, and stop injuring yourself with this relationship, or you’re still holding hope that it could work, and you’re not willing to let it go yet, if you sense that certain people are getting frustrated by your healing process, because this is part of the healing process, it is probably better to set boundaries with those particular people who don’t have the ability to tolerate the messiness of your process right now. 

Even though it might feel hard and you’re “losing that person”, you’re not. But it’s also true that we can share certain parts of our lives with certain people. You might have some friends that can handle the whole story and other friends that can’t. You can still be friends with those people, but dinner and a movie and talk about what’s going on with them, and work and whatever, and keeping it light. They can be companions right now that don’t necessarily get to go into that big emotional space with you. There might be a friend or two that you can do that with. 

However, just know that it is very difficult for people to see you in pain over and over again, particularly people that care about you when they perceive your pain as being self-inflicted. The safest bet for stuff like this is to get a therapist or a coach who… Let me just rephrase that. Don’t get just a life coach. Alright, I have to have a tangent for a second. Most life coaches have zero professional training at anything. You can read a Tony Robbins book and decide you’re a life coach and be a life coach. 

If you want to look into coaching, please find a coach that also has a background as a traditionally trained therapist because other life coaches do not have the understanding, or the professional training to really be of much assistance to you. I say this because people come into our practice all the time that have been working with life coaches, and some of it has been downright traumatic for them. Again, not to bash all life coaches, I’m sure there’s a lot of very helpful well-meaning people but do your homework. I’m done with that. 

Seek out the assistance of a therapist, or therapists that have coaching background because those are the people that can really hold the space for you while you’ve worked through this, and they won’t judge you. They’ll understand what’s happening. They’ll understand, especially if they have training around the addictive nature of relationships, the stickiness of it, and why it really is so hard to let it go. That’s the person that you can be totally honest with, and really have the time and space to talk through all of this stuff, and get the support without the judgment. That would be it. My advice for you is monitor the reactions of your friends. Know that not everybody is going to be able to deal with what you’re going through and find a space for yourself that is, or if all else fails, do some journaling. 

I know that sounds like a hokey 70s thing, but it is so helpful, just to be able to have a space to really talk about your feelings in an authentic way without judgment. They can actually be very helpful. I think that one of the most helpful things of journaling is that if you find yourself writing the same thing over and over and over and over and over again, and then just having recognition for that stuckness, that right there can be enough to help move you out of that. You can be so annoyed with yourself, “I have to change something about this,” and that can be very helpful. That is how to deal with that: setting boundaries and finding a healthy space for yourself. 

Coping with Pain and Regret

Now, another thing that I hear a lot about is people trying to cope with the pain of the loss, and also the regret associated with a loss. Why this is so hard for people is because both of those things are so incredibly painful. First of all, there’s the short-term pain of the loss itself which can be overwhelming. It’s just this aching, craving, just consuming heartache that is a very physical, visceral thing. Again, knowing that this is normal can be such an enormous comfort for people going through this. It isn’t going to immediately change the way that you feel. But I think knowing what’s happening, being able to say, “Oh, I am actually in a physiologically based state of withdrawal,” can be so helpful. 

Again, checking out that book, reading about this can be just an enormous comfort for you. Also, in the book, I have a whole chapter just devoted on how to cope with this immediate pain, part of it is how to take care of yourself as you go through this pain, just basic self-care strategies, some simple changes that you can make on a day to day level that will help you feel just a little bit better, or a little bit more in control of this. 

But also, I talk a lot about this idea of grieving, and mourning, and giving yourself permission to not be okay for a while because nobody is okay. There’s no reason why you should be okay. The worst thing that you can do is to beat yourself up about this, and be criticizing yourself about feeling the way that you do, as opposed to giving yourself some time and space to simply have this experience. 

Just know that pain is an inevitable part of this healing process. The longer you resist going into this place of pain and try to avoid it by compulsively dating other people, or getting back and forth with your ex over and over again, or doing other things to temporarily make yourself feel better, you’re just prolonging this. Again, that can be okay, too. I think it was Elisabeth Kübler-Ross that says denial and avoidance are our natural way of being able to modulate this painful experience. There’s nothing wrong with it, but just be aware that that’s what you’re trying to do. Encourage yourself to just lean in and do the work. 

Now, another really painful piece of this for a lot of people, also that I’ve been hearing a lot about lately is regret. How do I cope with regret, specifically? It is my belief that having regret for mistakes that we’ve made in the past is one of the most painful things that any of us can experience. It’s horrible to know that something that you did in the past, that is now irrevocable and cannot be fixed, caused a current outcome. It’s just terrible. That’s also why in the book, I spent a long time talking about the process of forgiving yourself, and what that looks like, and really being able to come to terms with what happened, and being able to release the guilt, and the regret. There are a lot of different exercises and things that I go into in the book. 

But in general, once you’re able to really grieve the loss that was associated–and that’s why you have the regret, that’s a big piece of it–but also being able to make a plan to move forward again. “Okay, this is what I’ve learned. This is how I have changed because of these mistakes I’ve made. This is what I’m going to do in the future to not make this mistake again.” There can be a lot of gratitude associated with that because of having had that learning opportunity. 

It can be a hard place to get to. But also, just know that I think regret is the price we have to pay for wisdom sometimes. It can be an extremely steep price. It would be wonderful if we all had the foresight and the wisdom to know these things in advance without having to go through such a painful experience. But at the end of the day, I think regret is, oftentimes, the most powerful teacher that there is. If we’re able to embrace the wisdom of regret, it can really change the course of our lives for the better going forward. Not easy stuff, but very true. 

If you’ve noticed a theme here, it’s probably that pain can be very useful. Pain is natural. Pain is the dark side of love. We can’t love very deeply without risking ourselves for feeling this pain. It could be pain of loss associated with a breakup, or the pain of loss associated with death, if you give your heart and soul to somebody because, at the end of the day, we’re all on loan to each other. None of this is permanent. Our attachments are temporary because of death. 

There may be an afterlife on the other side, who knows? But it’s also true that if we stay together and are married for 60, or 70 years is that eventually, one of us is going to lose the other at least for a while. That’s very hard, but also, that can’t be a reason to hold yourself back for loving deeply. That is just the coin of this particular realm. The other piece of this is that pain is always useful because pain can be very motivating. 

Pain is also really information that your body is giving you when things are really important, when things are connected to your highest self, or to your values, or your needs. You don’t get this information from anything besides pain. The pain of regret or the pain of heartbreak is like sticking your hand on a hot stove and saying, “Aw. Wow. I can’t do that again.” Or, “What did I learn from this experience so that I don’t have to feel this way again?” It could be choosing more carefully in the future if you have managed to get yourself addicted to somebody who was not probably appropriate to do that with, or the pain of regret, of making mistakes that will help you have better choices in the future. 

As hard as it can be, to embrace this pain can be the most life-changing and valuable thing you can possibly do. I know it’s so tempting to think, “Well, I can take a bunch of antidepressants and not have to feel this way anymore.” But let me just tell you, while that can be a great strategy, and particularly if you’re vulnerable to depression, I would be entirely supportive of that. However, if it’s trying to run away from a pain that’s caused by something like a breakup, then you’re also depriving yourself of this enormous learning experience. 

It’s been said that pain is the fertilizer of growth. It’s so true. If the pain feels overwhelming, if you don’t know what to do with it, this could be a great opportunity to connect with a really good therapist who can help you use this pain productively, and use it to help make important changes in your life, and really go through the authentic work of recovery, which is growth that changes you so that you come out on the other side in a place where you’re not just healed from your attachment to this particular person, but really ready to have perhaps a much healthier relationship on the other side of this. 

That would be my third tip to all of you people out there struggling and I get so many questions around, “how do I just deal with this heartache?” My answer is not the easiest answer. I know, sometimes, people are like, “I wish she could just tell me how to get over it,” like there were five simple steps to perfection kind of thing. That is not my message. There might be some people out there who will tell you that and might be eager to sell you programs telling you how to do this if you sign up for their method or whatever. I don’t know. Maybe they know something I don’t, but in my experience, the only way out of this is to go through it.  

There is a very productive way to go through this. You do not have to churn in unproductive pain for months and for years. People who aren’t doing the work often do stay stuck in pain for much longer than they have to so there is no inherent virtue in just feeling badly if you use this pain for something productive and useful and good. In order to get there, consider reading the book and reconceptualizing your idea of what needs to happen. Consider doing some journaling, personal growth work on your own. Also, consider engaging with a good therapist who can be asking you questions and helping you think about this stuff in a new way so that it does actually transform you. That is my top advice probably is transformation, head for the lake. 

That is this edition of The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. I’ve also had a number of breakup-related questions that I didn’t have time to get to today, so maybe I’ll just save those for a future episode. But in the meantime, thank you so much for listening. Please leave a review on iTunes and don’t forget to subscribe while you’re there. Go to growingself.com and on the blog page, you’ll see this episode and there’s also a sign up on iTunes box right there so it’s easy for you to find. I will be back with you again very soon. Alright, take care.

[Outro Song]


Episode Highlights

Falling in Love and Breaking Up

  • Falling in love is like developing an addiction. 
  • Hence, breaking up feels like withdrawal. 
  • Knowing these things can help you on your path to recovery, especially if you feel that your breakup is not “normal.”

How to Prevent Relapse

  • Abstinence is the key to addiction recovery, including being addicted to love. 
  • However, this can be hard for exaholics. They justify their actions, saying that there is nothing wrong with being in love. 
  • You first have to recognize that the relationship is really over for you to move on.
  • When you understand that you are going through withdrawal from an addiction, you can begin to deal with your situation differently.  

Relapse Versus Actually Trying

  • When thinking about getting back together with an ex, think about how your situation has changed.
  • Have they changed for the better? Have you also changed the way you view your partner? 
  • Also, know that relapse can be a necessary part of the healing process.

Dealing with Friends and Family

  • It can be painful for your loved ones to see you hurt yourself over and over because of a relationship. 
  • There are people who will understand and who won’t. If you are still unable to let go of your ex, set boundaries with the latter.
  • You can also seek therapy or coaching to get support without any judgment. 

Coping with Pain and Regret

  • Pain is a normal and inevitable part of recovery. Allow yourself to feel it; avoiding will only prolong the healing process.
  • Regret is one of the most painful parts of making mistakes. It is also one of life’s best teachers. 
  • As hard as it can be, learn to embrace the pain and let it fuel your growth. 
  • If the pain becomes too overwhelming, connect with a therapist who can help you recover.

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