Breakups are rough. Your heart feels like a tennis ball after a match between the Williams sisters. Jumbled knots of anxiety tie up your stomach like a kitten’s been in your knitting project. I was acutely reminded of this as a relationship ended a couple of months ago.
Because I’m analytical by nature and my breakup hurt so badly, I tried everything I could think of to make the process easier. Here are some things that helped me get through the hard times.
1. Mental bridges
There is a certain amount of mental processing that is necessary and helpful in healing from a breakup, but I soon realized I was unnecessarily revisiting painful thoughts over and over. At some point I needed to close down each barbed thought-loop. So eventually, I found resolutions to each of those loops and I told them to myself the next time the tortuous thoughts came up. I call these resolutions “mental bridges.”
For example, whenever regret gripped me because of something I did or didn’t do while with her, I told myself, “Ross, you did the best you knew to do at the time. Now you can only learn from it for future relationships.” Reminding myself of this whenever the regret came up helped me to set that thought aside and move forward.
Another common one was worry about who she was now dating or if I would find someone else like her. At those times I reminded myself, “I cannot really control that. I have to trust God with that.” And it was easier to let it go.
2. Turn thoughts into prayers
Sometimes during more benign seasons, when my heart isn’t dripping out of my belly button, it can be hard for me to engage with God. The pursuit seems so emotionless — a dry act of the will. But when I was desperate through this, telling my feelings to God connected me to Him more deeply.
Whenever a thought wrecked me, I’d go on a long walk. I would try to tell every thought to God, as if I were telling a friend. I would picture God very close to me, like sitting in my chest cavity holding my heart like when my mom used to rock me in our old rocking chair. He was the only one who really knew what I felt in that moment.
And often I learned things about Him as I poured my heart out. “How can I want her so much and she doesn’t feel the same?” But when I was saying that to Him I realized that’s how God feels about me when I don’t make as much effort to spend time with Him.
These prayer walks didn’t really make the pain go away, but they brought comfort; I felt a new closeness with God I didn’t want to let go of. Even after my emotions were stabilizing, I found myself going on these long walks with God again, just because I longed for that closeness.
3. Prioritize personal growth
Only a few times have I found enough oomph to significantly change things in my life that need changing. When I feel broken and desperate is one of those times. After breakups it has really helped me to set my sights on how I want to grow and be better.
Not that it would have changed anything about the relationship, or was anything to regret, but it is so much healthier to think about what I want to become instead of ways I wasn’t good enough. For me this was realizing I wanted to eat healthier, work out more, and bring more fun to whomever I am with.
4. Unfollow them
I was confident I could keep her on my Facebook feed and things would be OK. But every time she posted, I found myself wondering, Who is she with? Is she getting ready for a date? Does this mean she’s over me or just trying to make it look that way? It was ridiculous what my brain was doing. But I still thought I would try to condition myself to start seeing her as a friend whenever her little square profile picture popped up.
That is, until a picture popped up of our mutual friend kissing her cheek. I knew he had been spending tons of time with her while I was dating her, and I had suspected he liked her. She had even told me she used to like him a lot. She commented on the photo that it was just friendship, and I believe her, but still…tennis ball heart. Kitten knots.
Then when he made that picture his profile pic, I gave up and unfollowed her. They didn’t do anything wrong, but agonizing over what she was doing post-Ross wasn’t even a little bit helpful. They’re both still my friends, but I don’t need Facebook tossing me imagination grenades while I’m tenderly nursing my slowly mending heart. Facebook, you are jealousy’s greatest muse.
5. Be with good people
It’s not any fun to be at home on a Friday night after a breakup, even if you’re embarrassed to bring a bleeding heart out of doors. Let your friends minister to you. Redeem all those friend points you invested in them when they were going through difficult times. Leave the house even if you don’t feel like it. Go to a party, go to those swing dance lessons with your friends, play a game, have a group meal. But also have good talks with people who listen well and care for you.
The friends who were there for me were a big part of my healing, and I’m so grateful. It deepened my appreciation for them and let me experience Christ-like love in person.
These are just some of the things that helped, but honestly, time has been the most effective medicine. Hopefully, if you practice these things, it will enable time to do its job well.