How to Heal After a Breakup
By Dottie Hutcherson
August 4, 2009
Maybe this scenario is familiar to you: you walk in and close the door behind you. Your face is a puffy, soggy mess. A relationship you thought would last has just ended, and your heart aches at this loss. Where do you go from here? How do you go from broken and wounded to whole and healed?
I won’t claim to be an expert in the area of relationships. I’m still learning as I go, but there are a few things I’ve observed that I hope are helpful. First: don’t hide your hurt. Don’t attempt to convince yourself you aren’t in pain. Admit that you need healing. When friends ask you if you’re okay, don’t say everything’s fine when it feels like buffalo are running laps inside your stomach each time you think about your ex. If you try to hide your pain from your friends, from yourself and from God, you will prevent yourself from experiencing the level of wholeness and healing you are meant to have in.
Next: understand that you are in the middle of a much larger plan. Sarah Kuhns, a Taylor University student in Indianapolis, Ind. said, “You can choose to be bitter, or you can choose to see the big picture.” If you mope around for months with a “woe is me” attitude, convincing yourself that this break-up is the worst thing to happen to you since Pepsi stopped marketing clear soda, you’ll lose sight of God’s larger plan. Your identity and completion are found in Christ only, not in the arms of a “significant other.” Your validation and sense of self-worth should not come from your relationship status.
Suppose you’ve admitted that you’re hurting, and you’ve accepted that you’re no longer half of an “us.” Now it might be helpful to keep a few practical tactics in mind.
Don’t keep tabs on your ex by doing things like driving by his or her house eleven times. It will not make you feel better. Even if you know he or she is home on a Friday night while you’re out having “fun,” you will not feel any kind of lasting peace about the break-up if you begin stalking your ex. This may seem to go without saying, but the closer you remain to your ex immediately following the break-up, the more likely you are to be tormented by “what could have been.”
Even if your relationship was short-lived, and being friends again seems like a viable option, don’t try to transition back into that right away. If you continue to spend time with your ex regularly, you might find yourself having to fight the temptation to slip back into acting like a couple. You’ll both need time apart to diminish any awkwardness or to let old habits die. Resist the urge to be physical with your ex. You’re setting yourself up for more pain if you cling to those habits that were once so prevalent in your relationship.
Don’t start seeing someone else right away. While it might be nice to have someone take your mind off of your ex, beware of rebounding. A good rule of thumb is that you should not get into another relationship if thinking of your ex dating someone else still makes you cringe, wince or gag. If you experience these side effects at the thought of your ex cuddling on the couch with someone new, you’re probably still rebounding.
If time has passed and you are still bitter toward your ex or his or her new interest, try praying for them. Not in a “look at me! I’m so holy that I can pray for these two people, and that somehow makes me better than they are” kind of way. Avoid that attitude. You’ll realize it is difficult to remain angry at someone when you’re praying for them. By praying for your ex, you may find that your heart softens toward him or her and that you are able to release some of the bitterness you’ve been caging up. Clutching the bitterness (as comfortable as it sometimes seems) will not help you heal.
Part of the healing process should lead you to a different stage of love for your ex. While you were dating, your feelings for your ex probably fell into the passionate, romantic kind of love. Now that you are no longer an item, these “eros” feelings are inappropriate. You probably can’t shut them off overnight. (If you can, please share your secret!) What you have to work toward, instead, is reaching an agape type of love for your ex. Agape love says you want to love without the concern of being loved in return. It expects nothing and wants only what is best for the other person. If you can reach this type of no-strings-attached love for your ex, you are well on your way to healing the wound your break-up caused.
Keep in mind that healing is a process. As a kid, when you fell off your bike and scraped your knee along the rocky pavement, you didn’t expect to wake up the next morning and see that the wound had disappeared. Damage to our hearts works in a similar way. We can bandage it and apply liberal amounts of Neosporin, but until our scab turns into a scar, we will remain vulnerable to reopening that wound when we encounter jagged furniture edges—coffee table corners in the form of seeing your ex with someone else or realizing that you no longer have that person you can fall back on.
Eventually, you won’t hurt like you might be hurting now. Your heart won’t feel empty or damaged. When you get to the end of that painful chapter, you’ll be able to look back and see that you are stronger because of all your wounds. And others who are hurting will look to you to share your story of how you found your way from broken to whole again.