Handling The First Month of a Breakup
Updated: Jun 15
Despite how common breakups are, our culture does not have any sort of ritual or guidance for grieving love. There isn’t another emotion that has as strong physical pain associated with it like the grief of heartbreak. Stereotypes lead us to believe that women are expected to cry it out to friends with ice cream while men drink with buddies then move on to the next partner. While men and women do grieve the loss of a romantic relationship differently, typically it is the dumpee that is hit the hardest initially.
This article will realistically break down what to expect from the initial impact of a breakup. There is no set timeline to heal despite what we may yearn to hear. However, what is guaranteed is that the first 1-3 weeks will be the hardest. It is unavoidable, particularly if you are the dumpee.
The Only Way Out is Through
The first stage post-breakup is grief and with that, you must make space for mourning. This means if you feel sad, be sad. Cry, vent to people you trust, journal, wallow - as much as needed in the first week or two. If pain is there, then the only way out is through. You have to feel it and experience it for it to pass, despite how terrible it feels.
Don’t mask your pain by compensating with casual sex, binges of any sort, or excessive partying. What should not be done in excess is isolating or the use of substances. Isolating may be what you’re craving and can help in moderation but it is in that alone time that you are left with your thoughts; so reach out to friends or family for support even if you are physically alone. Substances, particularly alcohol which is a downer and depressant, should be avoided as much as possible. Use will only possibly provide temporary relief then make you feel worse and prolong your pain and by proxy, postpone your healing.
You are grieving a loss and have to accept that this is grief; even if you’re not yet ready to accept the breakup itself. While the stages of grief involve denial, and that is easily the first stage to a breakup, finding acceptance that this relationship is over is key to starting your healing.
No Contact & Reminders Purge
The healthiest way to begin healing is to completely cut off contact from your now ex-partner. This is extremely painful but removing them as much as you can from your life is the healthiest way forward. This allows both of you to process the breakup and not react emotionally saying or do something you may later regret. There will always be the feeling that there is more that you want to say, so write it out in a journal to have it for later.
This entails packing up everything related to them in your place and storing these reminders away until you feel ready to engage with them again. After backing them up somewhere else like your computer or the cloud, delete the pictures from your phone. The least amount of items that you can possibly stumble upon and remind you of this pain, the better. Mute (don’t unfriend or block unless it’s deemed necessary) your ex on all social media platforms; you do not need to see what they are doing. This is a wound, don’t pick at it by looking at their social media. They won’t be forgetting you so liking posts is unnecessary.
There is a natural inclination to want closure but there is nothing that can be said by your ex that will make the pain go away; instead, it will more likely simply further the pain. Closure is not necessary to start healing.
Intrusive thoughts will be rampant for about the first month or two. Similar to any other grief, this is simply inevitable. There is no timeline to get them out of your head, so simply let them be there. Give the thoughts space and time, acknowledge them, and let some play out. To push them away will only make them pop up stronger.
Online article after article tells you to focus on you but for that first month, it can be virtually impossible to get your mind off of your ex. Again, let those thoughts just be there. As time goes on it will be less about if you think of your ex and more about how you think of them.
Wanting them back
Anyone who says that you shouldn’t want your ex back has never gone through a breakup or has long forgotten the agonizing pain of one. Breakups are forcing you to detox from a source of dopamine. Both parties are having to detach from their often most secure attachment. In these early days, it seems like the only cure to this, sometimes physical pain, would be to have that person back.
Society dismisses the normalcy of wanting your ex back; someone you have invested time and energy into with the hopes of a future. Sometimes a relationship has to end in order to reset and start anew as a healthier one, but this is something that can only happen with time and growth. If you don’t heal this wound and grow, you will only return to the same relationship with all of its faults that is likely to end again.
It isn’t abnormal to want to find comfort in areas that you never would have ventured to when not overwhelmed in grief: ex recovery programs, astrology, tarot readings. Don’t give money to someone who sells a blanket approach to a problem that is extremely individual. So beware of the coaches who are pitching you guides on how to get your ex back.
While in the first agonizing month, this hope of reconciliation is what keeps many able to function. It is only in heartbreak that hope is a dangerous and negative thing. It stalls us from moving forward. So acknowledge that hope is helpful initially but if you cling to it for too long, you aren’t healing.
Go to friends and family initially for support which, again, helps because it is important initially to not be alone. However, the most effective support is found in people who are either currently enduring or have recently been through a breakup. Going to someone whose last breakup was 10 years ago in high school or college won’t give you the same sort of support as someone who has had one within the last year. To find someone in this realm, look on Facebook, Reddit, or Discord for a community to join. The best support can come from someone going through the exact same thing as you are. Even finding a breakup buddy in these areas - someone you can message and support in return - will be a significant amount of help. Once the initial crisis has passed, most friends and family aren’t going to ask about it anymore, grow tired of hearing about it, and have an expectation that you should ‘be over it’ since they are. A breakup buddy will be there step by step feeling the same stages that you are.
Otherwise, read up online or find books on the topic of healing, it will validate your feelings.
Many people are afraid of moving forward because they are told to “move on” and “let go” which can easily translate to “forget about your ex and leave them in the past” which is something most newly heartbroken people are not ready or wanting to do.
Instead of moving on from a breakup; it’s instead better to move past one. This does not mean forgetting or no longer loving your ex. It’s about healing from the pain of the breakup and accepting that that particular relationship ended. There may be a new one with the same person in the future, but only time will tell. Time is on your side in this process because with every day and week you get away from the breakup, you will process it differently. Your story of why it happened will evolve and change. Just remember that the worst has already happened and that no day will be as terrible as the first.
The first month of a breakup is rough no matter how you slice it. The hardest part of heartbreak is that there is no quick fix or cure and it can be daunting to know that you will feel this way for a while. Ultimately, what matters is that you are kind to yourself and don’t compare your grieving process to anyone else’s. Everyone goes through it differently and how long it takes should not be determined by some made-up equation like “half of the amount of time you were together.” There is no set timeline for healing, nor should there be; timelines only make us judge ourselves. It is an emotional rollercoaster that will have its great days and terrible days, and even a few rough days well after you think that you have completely healed from it. It takes as long as it takes.
If you still are struggling with this pain and it is the third, fourth or eighth month since the breakup, that is okay and do not judge yourself. What matters is that you are making a conscious effort to change how you think of your ex and breakup, and intentionally want to focus on healing. Despite that it may feel as if you will never get over this and the pain will always be there, it won’t be. It will hurt and hurt and hurt and then one day it won’t.
To learn more about breakups, check out You Can't Stay There: Surviving a Breakup One Moment at a Time by Jennifer Klesman, LCSW or follow @JenOnPaper on Instagram or Facebook.