About two weeks ago, my boyfriend and I ended our almost-five-year relationship. Even though we both know it’s for the best and we were so lucky to have shared what we did (see here and here), breaking up has been hard. We ended things in the best possible way (something I’ve rarely experienced at the end of previous relationships), but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been incredibly hard to stay positive and present lately. In fact, in some ways, ending on such good terms makes it harder. I don’t have any anger or disgust to distract me from my sadness. A great person I loved and lived with with over four years will no longer be in my life. Not only will I have to change lots of aspects of my day-to-day life, but the person I’d been closest to for years — a person I still really care about — will no longer be by my side while I am making these changes. In the past, I’ve generally coped with break-ups by reminding myself of all the reasons I’d be better off without the person, but that’s impossible to do in this case since I really, truly think the guy I was dating is an awesome person and, while we were together, he made me more awesome. Instead of feeling angry or grateful he’s gone, I’m facing sadness and an empty spot in my life. In short: it sucks.
But, as you’re probably well-aware, sucky situations are part of life. That’s probably why you’re reading this site in the first place. It’s easy to be positive and present when things are going well; it’s when things start to get uncomfortable or painful that positivity can be a struggle. Let’s just say I’m definitely feeling the burn of working out my positivity muscles right now. Even when you know it’s for the best, when you know you’ll come out stronger on the other side of heartache, it’s still tough to trudge through loss on a daily basis. I’ve always found that writing eases the pain a bit and helps me to figure out the best ways to cope with tough times, so I’ve compiled a list of the ways I’m striving to make this break-up more bearable. It’s certainly not going to be easy and it’s going to take me awhile to get back to my old self, but these are some of the things I’ve been doing to make the experience as positive as possible…
TREAT EACH OTHER WITH KINDNESS.
I’m so incredibly grateful my ex and I ended things on good terms — and I really do hope someday we will be able to be friends — but, upon reflection, I don’t think that “ending on good terms” is something that just happens when relationships end. I think it’s something both people have to want to happen. I think it’s something both people have to work to make happen. I’m so fortunate my ex and I have treated each other with nothing but kindness since we broke up. When we have talked, our words have been filled with sadness and love, not hostility or hatred. We are fortunate in that we both felt it was time for the relationship to end, hard as it was for it to actually come to a close. I’m sure most break-ups are not so amicable, but regardless of the circumstances, a little kindness goes a long way. No matter how bad the situation, kindness will only improve it. I’m so lucky that being kind to my ex has come easily — I think he’s an amazing person, I want only the best for him, and he has been incredibly kind to me — but I know it some cases it’s probably hard to be kind during a break-up. My advice? Do it anyway. You’ll never regret being kind, but you’re very likely to regret being unkind.
REMEMBER THE GOOD TIMES.
Focusing on the good makes sense, positivity-speaking, but it’s not always easy. Apparently, it’s been found that writing about the positive aspects of a relationship can make it easier to cope with the loss of a partner, which might sound counter-intuitive. When a relationship ends, even if it’s for the best, focusing on the good things can be really tough. Who wants to sit around thinking about all of the wonderful times you had together, which only makes you sadder that they’re over? It seems like it might be easier to focus on all the reasons why it didn’t work so you can convince yourself it’s for the best and move on. But focusing on the negative aspects of the relationship only fills your mind with pain and discomfort and negativity. Even though it’s hard to do sometimes, focusing on all the good experiences the two of you shared fills your mind with positive memories, love, and happiness. Yes, there might also be sadness mixed in there since you know you won’t continue to share experiences, but that sadness is okay. In fact, embracing the sadness you feel is actually a positive thing…
ALLOW YOURSELF TO FEEL SAD.
Living a positively present life doesn’t mean avoiding all negative emotions, like the sadness you’ll inevitably feel after a break-up. Instead, it means taking feelings of loss and heartache and sadness, giving them the attention they deserve, and doing what you can to transform them into something more positive. I have a hard time just letting myself be sad. I’m tempted to push the sad feelings away, to laugh and make jokes, to act like it’s really not a big deal, to list reasons why it didn’t work, etc., but I’m trying to really sit with my sadness, to really pay attention to the empty space in my heart and allow it to just be there for a little while. It’s difficult to sit with that sadness, but the more I allow myself to feel it, the more I find myself moving forward, little by little. If I were to ignore it, I know it would come back up later (and possibly in a more negative or intensified way). These feelings don’t just go away, and if I don’t allow them to happen now, they will certainly happen later. Hard as it is to just be sad, allowing it to happen (without wallowing in it too much!) is one of the best ways I’ve found for moving positively forward.
FOCUS ON OTHER ASPECTS OF LIFE.
As important and valuable as my romantic relationship was to me, it wasn’t my only relationship. Instead of dwelling on what I’ve lost, I’ve been trying to focus on what I still have. I still have some amazing friends who have been so supportive and kind. I still have two incredible parents, who love me endlessly and who do what they can to ease my heartache. I have my work and my books and my pencils that connect with the pages in my sketchbook. I still have myself. I may have lost a very wonderful person in my life, but I myself am not lost. (Or at least not completely lost…) While I cannot ignore that there’s now an empty space in my life, I’ve been doing what I can to focus on the other aspects of my life that make me feel whole. In the moments I am not sitting with my sadness, I surround myself with those I love and those who love me. I’ve also been allowing familiar activities and new adventures to remind me that, as hard as this loss is, there is more to my life than romantic love, and even though I will feel the loss of this for some time, I will be okay.
ACCEPT WHAT IS, NOT WHAT WAS OR COULD BE.
“The loss of love is not nearly as painful as our resistance to accepting it is,” said Tigress Luv. Those words ring with so much truth. The most difficult part of a break-up is accepting what is. It’s so difficult not to allow my mind to wander back to the past — We used to have so much fun! We were so in love! — or to the future — I’m going to be alone forever! Do I really have to go on dates now? The mind is a crazy place, always veering toward the past and the future, places that don’t actually exist in the present. Yes, the past did happen, but it’s not happening now. Yes, the future will happen (though hopefully more positively than I keep imagining it will…), but it’s not happening now. It’s been a struggle to stay present, but I’ve been doing what I can to focus my thoughts on what’s actually happening now, from moment to moment. When I’m in the present, it’s not always easy (after all, my heart is aching), but it’s much easier than when I’m living in the imaginary lands of past and future. The present is real; thoughts of the past and the future are imaginary and anxiety-inducing. Hard as it seems sometimes, staying in the now actually makes present pain much easier to bear.
RECONNECT WITH YOURSELF.
As difficult as break-ups are, the one good thing about them is that they give you an opportunity to connect with the self you were before you were part of a couple. Especially if you’ve been part of a twosome for awhile (as I was), a break-up can be an opportunity to re-evaluate your routines and your patterns. It can open you up to change (like it or not!). Over the past couple weeks, I’ve found myself opening up to new experiences, to new people, to new ways of thinking. I am realizing how complacent I’d become in my life, how much I’d been taking for granted. This break-up opened my eyes to the parts of myself that I’d lost touch with. I don’t know why I’d neglected these parts of myself — my ex certainly supported me in every way and encouraged me to break out of my routines and comfort zone — but for some reason, I’d stopped being as open to connecting with myself. Now I’m trying my best to re-connect with who I am, to really pay attention to what I want in my life and to explore the ways I can engage authentically with my muchness. It will take time to adjust to being on my own, but I’m trying to see it as a opportunity to embrace my solo self.
No matter how positive the situation, break-ups are hard. Having been through a few before, I know they eventually get easier, but in the middle of the situation, it can be hard to focus on the good days to come. One way I cope with difficult situations is by listening to good music, but over the past few weeks I’ve found that finding inspiring break-up songs — that aren’t ex-boyfriend bashing or in the vein of I-hate-you-and-am-so-glad-you’re-gone — is hard. I’ve created a playlist that I’ve been listening to, The Positive Break-Up, and it’s been pretty inspiring. Some songs are sad, some are happy, but none of them have that angsty anger that often comes with a break-up song. Even if you’re not going through a break-up, you might want to give it a listen!
Listen to the playlist on YouTube!
It’s hard to stay positive and present during a break-up.
Any advice for coping with the heartache?
I’ve been through something very similar to what you describe. A gentle but very sad end to a five year relationship. Even though I was the one to make the move to end it, after three months I was still feeling really sad about it, and found myself often close to tears.
I met with my cousin, who is a neuroscientist, and he said something that made me feel so relieved. He said that for years, my brain thought of this person and made an association with love, with comfort and with home. Part of my continued sadness was that these associations needed to break down, and my brain was having to write new pathways. He said that physically takes time, in fact up to a year.
I didn’t know how much was true, but it was such a comfort to me to think that there was a reason that I still felt so sad about something that I felt had needed to end. My thoughts are with you – it’s a tough thing to go through xx
Sam – This was incredible helpful! Thank you! I find what’s happening in the brain fascinating and, in situations like this, very comforting. Thanks for sharing this with me!
Dani, I’m so sorry! Breakups are truly the worst, even if you have truly the best attitude about them. In a sense, when we break up with someone, we also break up with a person we used to be, and there is NEVER a convenient time to do that, to rewrite routines and re-find yourself and reestablish a center of one instead of two.
But it is a worthwhile process, and certainly preferable to continuing a relationship that wasn’t working. I hope you are able, each and every day, to use these tips to their fullest and get closer to who you want to be. I wish you well … you are a kind and wonderful person!
Sarah – Thank you so much for your kind words. It’s for the best, but, you’re right, there’s never a good time to do it and there’s going to be a lot of transition to deal with. Comments like yours keep me focused on the positive though! 🙂
I’m sorry that you’re feeling this pain and I wish I had some wise advice, like Sam, that could make a difference. I believe what we go through, good and bad, makes us the people we are meant to be, and you’ve been especially good at learning from and sharing your experiences with us (though that may feel like cold comfort!). Sending healing thoughts your way.
Kathy – Thanks so much for the healing thoughts! I agree that everything happens for a reason and I’ve found that it usually takes some time, but eventually the tough parts in life make sense. I appreciate your support!
I’m so sorry to hear what you’re going thru. I’ve been thru the same thing 2 years ago… it’s hard to get passed this stage especially when there’s no anger to distract us.
The challenging part for me was getting to know myself all over again and trying to fill that empty space. I kept myself busy by learning new skills and always allowed myself to cry and feel the sadness. Eventually, the negative feelings went away and I learned to be happy again.
This experience turned out to be a blessing for me as I’m a better person because of it. I learned new things that I never thought I’d enjoy… And the most important lesson I learned is that I’m now comfortable with myself.
Stay positive and present, my friend! You will get thru this and I’m especially excited for all the new adventures you’ll discover! xoxo
Isa – Thanks so much for your comment. I’m sorry you, too, have had to go through a break-up. It’s inspiring to hear that you’ve kept yourself busy by learning new skills and that you allowed yourself to experience the sadness. I know it will all work out as it’s meant to and I’m doing what I can to stay positive! Thanks for your support and kind words!
I am deeply sorry for experiencing such a pain but I am sure you can manage it as usual because you are one the strongest woman that I have ever seen. I am a fan of your great articles and this is my first time I leave a comment because I feel how hard is and it touched my heart. Your article helped me too and thank you so much for your kind, helpful Words!
Somi – Thank you for your kind words. I’ve definitely gotten stronger as a result of striving to be more positive and present and those qualities will help make the break-up easier to bear. Thanks for reading and being a positive presence on the site!
Thank you som much for this post. Your openness really touches me. How you work to make the best out of such a difficult situation is so inspiring. I wish you all the best!!!
(And I also love your playlist!)
Jaws – You’re welcome. As you can imagine, it wasn’t an easy one to write, but getting it out there has helped a lot. Thanks for the positive wishes!
Hi! I’m a long time reader of the blog and today I felt I NEEDED to post something. I actually broke up with my bf last week and it’s been a nightmare. We both realised that the relationship couldn’t work further, but because it was so amicable and kind, it’s been hard to get past the sadness. It helped enormously to see that you’re going to something similar and the amazing words & advise you give. Sending you lots of good thoughts and warm hugs!
Monica – I’m so sorry to hear you’re going through the same situation. It’s really tough to deal with and, oddly enough, when it’s amicable, it’s surprisingly difficult. I hope you’re hanging in there. Sending positive thoughts your way!
I just wanted to write and say that on top of appreciating your blog as a whole, this article, in particular, has really helped me. I read it a few weeks ago, during a time with my boyfriend where we were both questioning our current state and path forward. I think this post not only is helping me now (post breakup), but gave me the courage to instigate the discussion where we chose to end our relationship. It helped to know that it can make sense that two people can really care for and respect each other but that they are not meant to go on the same path forward. And that we could break up in a healthy and positive way. And that there is hope that I can be positive during this process and move forward to a better place. Thank you for the insight and encouragement.
Nicole – I’m so happy to hear that this article helped you. It’s been almost two months since my break-up and I’m definitely finding that it gets easier as time goes on. I hope the same is true for you. Stay positive! 🙂
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