How to Heal a Broken Heart When a Relationship Ends
The pain of an ended relationship is one that many people experience, maybe even more than once in a lifetime. Movies and books make it seem easy to bounce back after a broken heart: The happy endings either see a couple getting back together or someone moving on to an even better relationship.
In real life, relationship woes aren’t usually resolved in two hours like they are on the silver screen, and the stories don’t always have tidy endings.
If you’re trying to come to terms with the end of a relationship, commonly repeated platitudes, adages, and cliches are not likely to be helpful.1 Although people may mean well when they say, “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” offering such sentiments doesn’t give you much by way of practical advice for coping with your emotions.
Healing from heartbreak is not the same process for everyone. It may even vary within the same person throughout their life, changing from one relationship to the next.
Nobody can tell you with any degree of certainty how long you will need to heal, but there are some ways you can make the process of mending a broken heart into an opportunity to learn more about your wants and needs.
Ultimately, you can use these insights to develop and strengthen your healthy coping skills. The growth you experience will help you navigate future relationships with others, as well as the relationship you have with yourself.
Ways to Mend a Broken Heart
In the immediate aftermath of a breakup, know that it’s OK to allow yourself time to grieve the loss. You don’t need to jump straight into problem-solving mode—in fact, doing so when you haven’t allowed yourself to fully embody your feelings may make the process more protracted and difficult.
In the early days, try to resist the urge to isolate yourself. Sadness, guilt, confusion, and other intense feelings may be overwhelming. Reach out to the people who care about you. To come to terms with the changes in your life, you’ll need the support of your family and friends.
When you’re ready for the next step, here are some do’s and don’ts to help guide you through the process of healing.
Don’t Let Your Emotions Rule
Try not to view the end of a relationship as a failure. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to learn and grow.2 It doesn’t matter if it was your first relationship or if you’ve had others before. Everyone, whether they’re 15 or 50, can get to know themselves better and work on improving their relationship skills.
You may have a lot of anger around the relationship, including the way it ended. You may even be tempted to “exact revenge” on your ex or fantasize about interfering in or disrupting their life—including new relationships.
Remember that hurting another person won’t lessen your pain. In fact, it’s more likely to make you feel worse and will slow the progress of your own healing.
Do Take Care of Yourself
Good self-care is emotional, physical, and spiritual. You have your own unique needs in each area, but there are some general acts of self-care that are beneficial for almost everyone such as a nutritious diet, regular exercise, a social support system, and strategies for coping with stress, to name a few.
Try to be patient, gentle, kind, and giving toward yourself. It may help to know that the pain of a break-up is not just emotional; research has shown people can also feel physical pangs of loss.3
You may also need to work on restoring the “big picture” perspective. When you’re in a romantic relationship it may be a central part of your life, but romantic love isn’t the only kind that can be nourishing. Continue to nurture relationships with friends, family, and yourself.
If you feel guilt or shame about your role in a relationship that has ended, it may be hard to be a good friend to yourself as you work through these feelings. Keep in mind that practicing compassion toward yourself makes it more likely you’ll attract that kind of energy from others.
If you find you cannot let go of a relationship or feel you are unable to cope with the loss (even with support from friends and family) as time goes on, you may want to seek counseling.
Working with a trustworthy, knowledgeable, skilled, and compassionate therapist is good self-care during any period of major change in your life, but can be especially helpful when you’re coping with loss.
Don’t Get Stuck in the Past
We all have the tendency to look back on our lives, or certain relationships, with “rose-colored glasses.” The effect of “rosy retrospection” is that you may refuse to see the problems and only focus on the good parts (which you’re likely to miss).4
Sometimes, both the good and bad memories may feel as though they’re playing on an endless loop in your mind. These intrusive thoughts can slow down the process of healing and can be quite distressing.5
Though it may be difficult, try not to lose perspective. No relationship is all bad, but none are perfect either. If you are glorifying the relationship or find you continue to put your ex on a pedestal, it may be a sign that you need to give yourself some emotional and perhaps physical distance.6
For example, you may struggle in the digital age to refrain from “checking up” on your ex via social media.7 If you can’t resist the temptation, it may be time to unfriend them or block their profile.
You won’t be able to move on with your own healing if you’re constantly being drawn back into their lives and thinking about what once was, as well as what will never be.8
If your ex starts a new relationship, seeing them post on social media (even if it’s not always an accurate representation of reality) may cause old feelings to resurface for you. It can also fuel preoccupation with any unresolved aspects of your relationship with them.
Do Appreciate the Good Memories
Even if your relationship ended on a sour note, chances are it was not all bad. It’s normal to look back at what was good about it and you may find you miss certain things about your ex and the love you shared.9
At the same time, you may feel overwhelmed by the empty space that’s left when the relationship ends or harbor resentment about what happened that lead to its dissolution.
Riding out these shifts in emotions is part of the healing process. When a happy memory comes up, allow yourself to be grateful for it—then move on.
Don’t Deny Your Needs
Being honest with yourself about your needs (especially those that aren’t being met) can be a painful process. You may feel it would be easier, and less painful, to simply ignore them. 10
While it may feel better in the short term to “numb” yourself to the hurt, it will only make it harder for you to heal in the long term. Pretending you don’t have needs makes it impossible for you to grow, both in your relationships with others and the one you have with yourself.
Do Reevaluate Your Needs
Following a break-up is a good time to think about your wants and needs in a romantic relationship. You may find it helpful to journal or make lists.
Ask yourself questions like, “Have I been choosing partners who are not capable of a loving and mature relationship?” and “Was I hoping this person would change, or that I would be able to change them?”
It can be painful to admit that your previous relationship wasn’t able to meet your needs. Taking the time to honestly reflect can be hard work, but once you do, you’ll be able to clarify the qualities to look for in a future partner.
Don’t Jump Into a “Rebound” Relationship
You may feel a sense of urgency about finding a new romantic partner, but so-called “rebound” relationships prevent you from working through your previous one.11
If you don’t take time to reflect on a relationship that has recently ended, you may end up repeating patterns or making the same mistakes in a new one.
It can be hard to break free from old ways of thinking and behaving, even if you know it’s not helpful. But recognition is the first step to making changes.
Do Try Again When You’re Ready
Sometimes, people have a hard time coping with being single when they had become used to being part of a couple.12 This may be especially true after a long-term relationship ends.
If you’re struggling with your identity as a single person,13 try to remember that your value comes from who you are, not who you’re with.
Being on your own gives you the opportunity to focus on yourself—though this can be hard if you are used to taking care of others and generally find it easier than thinking about your own needs.
Sometimes, people who aren’t as confident socializing on their own are more comfortable in social situations when they’re part of a couple. Others may enjoy being social whether they’re in a relationship or not, but they might resist going out after a break-up.
The tendency to avoid social situations is often a mix of worrying about seeing an ex-partner or someone you know who might ask about the relationship combined with wanting to avoid places, activities, and people who would remind you of an ex.
Try not to isolate yourself. You certainly don’t have to go out on Friday night if you’d rather stay at home with a book, but if you do feel like spending time around others and just don’t want to go out on your own, ask a friend to tag along.
While you don’t have to rush it, you may begin to open up to the possibility of another relationship as time goes on.
It might be scary to think about falling in love again—especially after you’ve been hurt—but try to remember that as deep as the pain of a broken heart can be, it means that you experienced love just as deeply.
You may not even be looking for a relationship when love finds you, as it can show up in unexpected places. If you are looking more intentionally, be open to meeting others when you go out and choose the places and activities you enjoy.
Whether a church group, sports team, or the local library, you’re more likely to make positive connections with others and find lasting relationships (friends and romantic partners alike) in places where you feel safe and comfortable being yourself.
Forgiving your ex may take time and may not come easily, especially if you were hurt or betrayed. It’s important to note that forgiving someone does not mean that you condone their hurtful behavior and actions.
In fact, sometimes, the act of forgiveness is not so much about the other person. Arriving at a place of forgiveness gives you permission to stop investing time and energy into a person and situation that is no longer healthy for you.
To mend a broken heart and move on, there’s someone else you need to be ready to forgive: yourself.
You may find it easier to forgive your ex, but remember that the longest-running and the most powerful relationship you’ll ever have is with yourself.
You can’t change the past, but you can learn from it. Whether you’re single or in a relationship, you can always change behaviors or shift your paradigm to prevent repeating mistakes, allow yourself to grow, and continue to develop self-love.