How to Get Over a Long-Term Relationship in 8 Steps
Being in a relationship is great. Loneliness rarely sets in, because you always have someone to spend the day with or talk to when you need to vent. You experience new things with this person, like seeing plays, going to concerts, traveling, exploring new restaurants and shops, etc. You can also learn from this person by conversing and challenging each other to understand different ideas and philosophies.
Oh, and there’s sex! Who doesn’t love sex? So being in a relationship sounds great, and on paper, it is. However, in reality, relationships aren’t bulletproof. You’ll argue about trivial nonsense like where to eat or what movie to watch. Relationships are complicated and stressful, so failure is always a great possibility.
Now, no one who is happy in their relationship would want it to end; unfortunately, we don’t always get what we want. Like the famous saying goes, “All good things must eventually come to an end.”
Dealing with the aftermath of a failed relationship is always a tough thing to overcome, especially if it is a long-term relationship. I’m not a psychologist or a therapist; hell, I have no professional qualifications at all. But what I do have is experience, and let’s be honest, that’s all that really matters.
That said, the following information is from personal experience of getting over a three-year relationship. Following each step word-for-word will not work for everyone, but, hopefully, the information (if approached with the ability to adapt to your situation) will help some of you get over your recently terminated long-term relationship.
8 Steps for Moving on From Your Ex
- Accept the truth. Your relationship is over. The sooner you accept that fact, the sooner you can move on with your new life.
- Hang out with friends. Be proactive and ask your friends for help. They likely want to help you and hang out with you, but you often have to be the one to initiate.
- Do something. Try to avoid spending tons of time at home alone just thinking about your relationship. Read books, listen to music, watch movies, get out of the house, etc. Do anything to keep yourself occupied.
- Work on something or learn a new skill. As opposed to the previous step, not only does getting a new hobby (or reclaiming an old one) keep you occupied, it also helps you rebuild your identity without your partner.
- Work out. Exercise has been proven to be a mood booster. Plus, it'll help you stay (or get) in shape, so you'll be more confident when you are ready to start dating again.
- Go on vacation. A vacation is a great way to experience new things, build a new life without your ex, build relationships with friends and family (if you're traveling with them or visiting them), and keep yourself occupied.
- Take a break. Don't hop right back into dating. Instead, take some time to reflect on your relationship and what you want to do differently next time.
- Change your life. Unfollow, unfriend, or block your ex on social media. Get rid of the reminders of them in your everyday life. Build a new circle of friends, especially if you had shared ones with your ex. If you can, you should even try to get a new job. Do what you need to build your new identity without your ex.
Good luck! You can read more about my personal experience and get more tips below.
Build a New Identity
One of the best ways to move on from the dissolution of a long-term relationship is to engage in new activities and hobbies, make new friends, and carry out various other acts that help you build a new identity that has nothing to do with your ex.
Step 1: Accept the Truth
Honestly, there are many things that can act as a catalyst in ending a relationship: cheating, lack of communication, or just plain boredom. It doesn’t really matter where the relationship went wrong, and you’ll only drive yourself insane trying to rework the timeline attempting to pin down the exact moment in which everything fell apart.
Instead, take a deep breath and swallow the truth. That’s step number one: accepting that it’s over. This will be the hardest step for most people, as optimism naturally takes over when the relationship ends. You’ll try to get the person back, hanging onto the notion that there may be a chance he or she will take you back. Let go. The quicker you accept the truth, the quicker you’ll get over him or her and start dating again.
Try to Reflect on Your Relationship for What It Was
After you've accepted what's happened, try to reflect on it.
According to Dr. Karen Weinstein, a psychologist from New York, you should look back at the relationship for everything it was: both the good and the bad. Don't idealize it. Instead, make a list of the things about it that didn't make you happy. You might find some reasons it's better that you two went your separate ways.
A study from the journal, Social Psychological and Personality Science, also shows that thoughtful reflection about a relationship after it ends can help speed up the healing process—this isn't wallowing, though. If you're not in a place where you can think about your relationship clearly, that's okay. Give it some time and then try again.
Step 2: Hang Out With Friends
The worst thing you can do after a relationship ends is become a recluse. You see it in the movies all the time (typically romantic comedies). The protagonist is lying in bed, sulking over his broken heart. His friends then burst into the room—usually throwing back the curtains to let light into the depressing, dark room—and finger through the protagonist’s filthy food scraps and unkempt belongings.
The friends say something like, “C’mon dude, you gotta get out of this funk, it’s been a week." The protagonist retaliates, “Just leave me alone," and pulls the sheets over his head. The friends then drag him out and eventually the protagonist finds his next love. If you have friends this dedicated to you, then consider yourself lucky. For the rest of us, we have to be the ones to instigate a “hang out” with our friends, because they have lives too. Also, when you tell someone to leave you alone in real life . . . they usually do. So be a big boy or girl and call a friend to spend time with you.
When I was getting over my relationship (it has now been two years since it ended), I had a friend who spent the night at my house for the whole summer. We played video games, watched movies and TV, talked, and even went on a road trip. We’ll get to all that later though. The point is, my friend was there for me and I can even say that the relationship I have with said friend has improved because of it.
Talk About What Happened (But Not So Much That You Annoy Your Friends)
Talking through the breakup with close friends can also be therapeutic. A study by Grace Larson of Northwestern University found that talking through how you feel now that you're no longer in a relationship and revisiting key points of the breakup, such as when you thought it was going south and how it affected your view on romance, can help you regain your own identity and sense of self now that you're no longer in a couple.
While talking it through, it may be helpful to consider your own story from a third-person perspective. In other words, put yourself in your friend's (or someone else's) shoes and describe it from their viewpoint. Research shows that this kind of distancing helps you reflect and gain insight from what you've experienced without falling into feeling sorry for yourself.
Step 3: Do Something
This step ties into the second one. Make sure you find something to do. Let me clarify that this step is mostly for the times when you are alone. What I did was watch movies, play lots of video games, listen to my MP3 player, and read a bunch of books.
I would leave my house (always a good idea), take my laptop, headphones, and Kindle, and chill at Barnes and Noble for the entire day. During the duration of my mourning period I occupied my time by occupying my mind. Of course, hanging out with a friend is a great way to take your mind off of the relationship and your ex, but they have lives too and can’t spend every waking minute consoling you. So, do anything as long as you're not just sitting in your room browsing the Internet.
What you do doesn't have to be something big, either. In fact, research indicates that even just doing something with the intention of it helping you could be effective. Journaling intentionally is one example of something small that can be really helpful.
Step 4: Work On Something or Learn a New Skill
Similar to step three, this step requires you to get up and do something. Where it differs though, is in what you are doing. Step three gets your mind off of your ex, but it allows you to do unproductive things for the sake of healing.
Step four is different in that you should do things considered “productive." I took the time to write and to learn how to play piano. I also took up the hobby of paper crafting. So do something productive like writing, learning to play an instrument, learning a new language, or taking up a hobby.
This is a crucial step of rebuilding your identity—one that doesn't include your ex. It's been shown that people who strongly identified themselves with their partners had a harder time getting over the relationship, so the more you can build a new you or rediscover old hobbies, or even rediscover what it's like to do your old hobbies as a single person, the closer you'll get to being happy without your ex.
Step 5: Work Out
Exercising is good for your body as well as your mind. It has been proven to make you more focused and energized. Having focus and energy will help motivate you to do things like those listed in step four.
Plus, if you are already out of shape, then exercising will help you tone that body so when you ARE ready to get back to dating, you’ll have a more desirable physical appearance.
Step 6: Go on Vacation
This step may not be possible for some of you. If money is tight, or if you’re young and don’t have a job, then this step may not be too useful. For those who can spare the cash, take a mini-vacation. You don’t have to fly off to Hawaii, Italy, or somewhere outlandish. During my recovery, I went on a road trip with my dad and friend—just us three guys. We traveled west from North Texas towards California.
Along the way we stopped at the Grand Canyon, went on the Sandia Peak tram in New Mexico, rode the thrill rides on top of The Stratosphere in Las Vegas, and then went to Disneyland and hung out with my aunt, uncle, and mom (she met us there) in California. It’s easily the best vacation I’ve been on.
Even my vacation was a bit much, and may be unrealistic for the majority of people reading this. So maybe just head to another city? For example, for a small trip I would travel down to San Antonio (once again, I live in North Texas) and hang out on The River Walk. You don’t have to blow lots of money to escape and have a good time.
When a relationship ends, it’s hard to give complete, undivided attention to work and school. Sometimes you need to shake loose and enjoy life.
And if you're having impulses to do something crazy—like dye your hair, get a tattoo, quit your job, and move to New Zealand—you're better off waiting to do those things until you're a little more stable and in control. A vacation could be a good way to feel a little impulsive without being totally out of control. You can try on a new identity later on down the line.
Step 7: Take a Break
Slightly different from going on vacation, this step encourages you to take a break from dating. A common mistake people make after being dumped is to date someone immediately after. That’s a no-no. Don’t make someone your rebound—that’s never nice.
Instead, take a break to reflect on yourself. Spend time working on bettering your life through your hobbies, your schooling, your career, or whatever else. Stay away from dating because there are too many things that can go wrong with that. You could annoyingly bring up your ex to your new partner, causing them to question your sanity and attraction to them. If your ex cheated on you, then you will most likely have trust issues with the new girlfriend or boyfriend (I’m guilty of this).
So just take a break. You don’t have to wait a whole year like I did before getting back into the dating scene, but at least give it a few months.
You might even be over them faster than you think. Most people overestimate how long it will take for them to get over their ex-S.O., especially if they weren't involved with the decision to end the relationship in the first place. So it might seem like things are never going to get better and that you're never going to find someone else, but those thoughts simply aren't true.
Step 8: Change Your Life
I should note here that these steps don’t have to be followed in any order, with the exception of the first step. In fact, these steps shouldn’t really be “steps” at all. You should continue doing all of them simultaneously or interchangeably until you have reached an emotional state you are satisfied with. That being said, I believe this final step is the MOST important step, hence why I saved it for last. It’s going to sound a bit harsh and a bit drastic, but I promise it is necessary.
The last thing you need to do is change your life. This can mean almost anything and will differ from person to person, but one thing should always be done. Get rid of your ex’s stuff. Throw away the pictures, videos, notes, presents, etc. or at least hide them away. You cannot completely move forward if you are clinging to the past.
Also, I’ve never met someone who was comfortable with their significant other having things from their previous relationships. It’s unhealthy and stubborn. Why would you want to hold onto memories of a failed relationship? I mean, sure, there were good moments in the relationship, but the very fact that it ended means that those good memories were outweighed by the bad. Like in the movie 500 Days of Summer, if you just stop focusing on all the good times from the relationship, you’ll remember all the bad ones.
Get Rid of Your Ex
The next thing to do is get rid of your ex. Wait a minute, that makes no sense . . . I mean, we are already broken up, right? Wrong. In today’s Internet-driven age, most people never really get rid of their ex. They keep them as friends on various social media platforms.
This usually happens because both parties agree to “still be friends." Don’t do this! Get rid of him or her. You will only hurt yourself by pretending that you can still be friends. I know it sounds mean, but you’ll regret it when he gets a new girlfriend and floods his Facebook with pictures of them kissing and loving each other or bombards his “wall” with status updates about how awesome the new girl is (the alternative applies for guys as well).
Protect yourself. Stop worrying about him or her. If in the future you decide you can be friends, then go ahead (unless your new partner has an issue, which is entirely understandable), but during the healing process, it’s best to shut them out entirely.
Besides, one study showed that people who cyber-stalked their exes tended to have more negative feelings about them, missed them more, and in general felt worse about the breakup. Don't do it! Removing them from your social networks will make it much harder to do.
New Job, New Friends
Also, if you are young and can afford to find a new part-time job, then do so. A nice change of scenery and routine will help cast the illusion that things are better. The effort to move forward in life and create major changes to your job and circle of friends will help motivate you to become the person you want to be.
Building off of what I just said, you should also find new friends. Now hold on! Before you call bullshit and close your Internet browser, hear me out. If you have friends that are exclusively your friends, who will stick by YOU and not your ex, then keep them.
However, if you had mutual friends, then you might want to consider distancing yourself from them. After all, your friends won’t be courteous enough to plan out every “hang out” so that you and your ex aren’t invited to the same event. Not saying that they are bad friends, just that it is not their obligation to ensure this doesn’t happen. How awkward would that be to get invited to a party, movie, or some other event by one of your friends, only to run into your ex when you arrive? Remember, you can always find new friends. And the ones that can’t choose you over the ex are probably not worth being friends with anyway.
So there you go. Those are my tips on how to get over a long-term relationship. Once again, not all of these will work for everyone. You have to choose which ones feel most natural to you. Maybe you don’t want to get a new job, and that’s fine. Maybe you really do want to be left alone, and that’s okay too.
Just remember that all things heal in time. So, cheer up, because there really are plenty of fish in the sea. And I know it hurts now, but eventually you will look back at all of this and laugh.
When my three-year relationship ended, I was devastated. It took me about two months to get over her, and an additional eight months to find a new girlfriend. But that’s okay. You shouldn’t feel ashamed about not having a girlfriend or boyfriend. Instead, use the opportunity to work on yourself. Make new friends, work on personal goals, and play some damn video games guys! It takes work to be happy and to get over that long-term relationship, but when you finally do . . . you’ll wish it would happen again. No I’m just kidding! But honestly, at least you will be wiser from your experiences and you’ll know how to handle it if or when it happens again. And if you can’t recall the steps, you can always reread this article!
Also, be sure to leave comments below if you have any additional tips you wish to share. And as always, feel free to follow me and leave some feedback. Good luck!
Which step sounds the most effective to you?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Blake J Rudy