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What to Do After a Breakup to End Painful Relationship Patterns

couple is walking in the rain under an umbrella, abstract colorful oil painting

“When writing the story of your life, don’t let anyone else hold the pen.” ~Unknown

After my kids grew up and I moved to the city from the suburbs, I became somewhat of a professional dater. I was determined to make up for lost time after over a decade as a single mom, and I was optimistic about my future.

My hopes were dashed almost immediately. Relationship after relationship crashed and burned, rarely lasting more than a few weeks. As soon as they’d walk out the door, sometimes within minutes, I’d fire up whatever dating website I was on at the time and begin again.

I’ll never forget writing a new profile with a box of Kleenex on my lap and taking breaks to cry. I went out on dates feeling like the walking wounded, thinking that was the best thing to do. Just get back on the horse as soon as possible.

After hundreds of dates and a long-term relationship, I found a better way to navigate breakups. The next time a relationship ended, I was determined to take the opportunity to build a better life for myself instead of simply running out to see who I could date next.

Breaking up is tough. It can be one of the most miserable experiences of a person’s life. If you’re going through a breakup, it’s important to give yourself the chance to process it emotionally. If you take the opportunity to understand your part in creating the experience, you stand a much better chance of having a more fulfilling relationship next time around.

The first thing to do is mourn the relationship. This is not popular advice, but it is good advice. We all want to get to the good part, and this is definitely not it. The thing is, if you don’t do it, you’ll have a mess on your hands that will infect your future if it’s not cleaned up.

Not taking the time to grieve is like throwing your dirty laundry in the closet and never washing it. It gets it out of the way for the time being, but it’s a poor long-term strategy.

Ancient cultures honored the practice of mourning. In their wisdom, they understood that mourning is part of life and helps us to heal. We’ve lost that in our day, but I think that mourning can be truly beneficial.

When your relationship has ended, set aside some time to be alone and sit down. Cry, journal, yell, really let yourself feel what’s going on inside you. Face the fact that your relationship has ended and feel the anger, sadness, loneliness, and hopelessness, whatever comes up. You may be afraid that you’ll never come out of it, but you will.

Locate the feelings in your body and welcome them as best you can. Lie down and put your hands on the place in your body where you feel intense emotion. It may be your chest, your stomach, or your throat. Practice breathing white light into these places and visualize them healing.

Plan to spend at least a couple of days on this. Resist the urge to rush out with your friends, go back to dating, or hit the bars right now. There will be plenty of time for that later. See this through so that it doesn’t lurk in your heart, and once you are done, you will be done.

Please treat yourself with compassion during this time. Take long baths, get plenty of sleep, and be sweet to yourself.

As tempting as it may be to numb out with drinking, eating, shopping, or whatever your distraction of choice may be, try to minimize this. Waking up with a hangover, a stranger, or a huge credit card bill will only add to your troubles.

A breakup is the perfect time to do some soul-searching. You’ll have some alone time and your emotions will be front and center. Since breakups are so painful, I hope that you’ll take this opportunity to discover how to make your life better in the future.

Once you’ve mourned the loss of your relationship, take some time to evaluate all of your most significant relationships. Start by looking at each of your parents or primary caregivers, then your most recent relationship, and finally, your last three relationships before that one, for six relationships total.

Use a separate sheet of paper for each person and create two columns: “liked” and “didn’t like.” Fill out a sheet for each person. After doing this, write down the traits they all had in common on a fresh sheet of paper. For instance, you may notice that these people didn’t keep their promises or had short tempers.

After you’ve written about them, make it about you. Write down what you did that you liked and didn’t like. Finally, ask yourself why you continue to participate in behaviors you don’t like. Were you on automatic pilot? Did you know at the time that what you were doing wasn’t a good idea and do it anyway?

When I did this exercise, I realized that many of the men I’d dated had kept me at a distance, just as my parents had. It seemed to be my default setting in relationships. I was afraid to really let anyone see me and have a chance to possibly disapprove of me, so I remained aloof and chose unavailable partners.

I also saw that I had remained in relationships long after I knew in my heart that they weren’t going to work. I simply couldn’t bring myself to face what was happening.

After you’ve had a chance to reflect, pick five things on your list that you’d like to change and write about what you need to do to create a new experience in your next relationship. Do you see a common thread in these relationships? Have you been engaging in behaviors that aren’t working for you?

As long as you continue to believe that life is happening to you, you’ll continue to get the same results. Ask yourself how you’re contributing to the state of your relationships and determine what things you’ll do differently in the future.

I decided to be more proactive in my future dating experiences by asking more questions and taking the time to get to know someone new before jumping into a relationship. I also became more vulnerable and honest about what I was looking for on dates instead of just hoping we’d be on the same page.

Once you’ve done these things, you’ll have a much better idea where you stand and where you’d like to go next. Take the time to do this thoroughly and you’ll bring more clarity and understanding to your next relationship.

No matter how awful your last relationship was, how wrong the other person was, or how ready you think you are to find someone new, you must look at your part in this relationship or you’ll be very likely to repeat your experience.

Be willing to accept responsibility for your life, your past and your future. The common denominator in all of your relationships is you. You were there for all of them.

If you have a pattern of being cheated on, mistreated, or dumped, you owe it to yourself to take a closer look at why these things happened. This doesn’t mean that the other person was blameless, but you’re the only one you can do anything about.

If you don’t want to keep dating these types of people, take a closer look at what’s been happening. Do you have a pattern of tolerating mistreatment from those you date? Do you overlook red flags early on?

At what point did you see that things were heading south? What, if anything, did you do about it? Did you speak up, or self-abandon? Did you hang on and try to save a broken relationship? Did you try to change him or her?

Before you start dating again, sit down with a pen and paper and ask yourself these questions.

Be willing to examine your actions, but don’t beat up on yourself. You were doing the best you could and it won’t help to judge yourself harshly or rehash every detail of your relationship looking for all your “mistakes.”

This is a process of self-discovery and finding a better way, much like looking in the mirror and correcting your form at the gym. Treat yourself with tenderness and compassion.

A breakup is a very real loss and should not be minimized. If you make the effort to learn everything you can, breakups can serve you by providing insight that will help you create a better relationship next time.

Most of us are encouraged to move on immediately after a breakup, but if you try to do that without laying a good foundation, you’re more likely to get into another relationship that ends up not working. After taking the time to mourn your loss and learn all you can from it, moving on is the best thing to do.

When the time comes, it helps to get closure, purge any remaining relics of the relationship, and set a course for your future.

First, write a goodbye letter to your ex (no need to mail it, this can just be for you) or sit in a chair with another chair facing you where you can imagine him or her sitting and have a conversation for closure. Get everything out and don’t hold back. This is for you. You don’t want to carry these thoughts and feelings with you into the future, so deal with them now.

Next, go through your home and pack up all of your ex’s belongings, gifts he or she gave you, and any reminders of the relationship.

Set a date on which you resolve to begin dating again. Take photos for an online profile, buy new clothes, new bedding, or get a new hairstyle or a makeover. Do something new, take up a hobby, make new friends.

Finally, sit down and write a paragraph about what you want your next relationship to be like. How would you like to feel in this relationship? Write about what kind of person you want to be with. Don’t hold back, write down everything you would like to experience.

Going through a breakup is one of the hardest things we humans face. Making an effort to understand what happened and your part in it will go a long way toward helping you have a better relationship next time around. You’ll be much better off taking the time to reflect than running out and looking for someone else immediately.

As for me, I forced myself to follow this very process after my last breakup and I was able to have a much better relationship when I got back to dating. I’m convinced I never would have been ready for it if I’d just kept up my gig as a professional dater.

About Renée Suzanne

Relationship coach Renée Suzanne helps people all over the world find love. She is the author of “Beloved – How to go from relationship-challenged to relationship-ready” and “Ten things you can do to upgrade your love life”. Sign up for her blog at reneesuzannecoaching.com and receive a free course, “Five Steps to Finding the Love of Your Life.”

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  • Lucia

    I love this. Thank you. How long wAs your process? Im two months into a break up and just about come out of mourning phase. I still miss him and wish the feelings would pass

  • Patrick

    I wish I had this advice around 26 years ago after my wife passed away and I was looking after my 18 month old daughter. I married again about 18 months later for what I thought were good reasons only to have that relationship crash 17 years later. I did however gain a son out of that relationship and he is someone special so it’s been bitter sweet. Amazing how things turn out but I ignored that inner voice at the start.

  • Renée, I love your exercises. Even if we do make time for mourning, if we don’t change our behavior, we’ll get similar results in the future. There was a doctor who broke my heart. He was a resident and worked 80 hour weeks. I let myself feel sad about him for two years, but I couldn’t figure out why things went so wrong. A few years later I married someone who worked a demanding job at a tech startup. Surprise, surprise, he also didn’t make time for me. Thankfully, I got wise to it and was able to find someone who did make time for me the next time.

  • Patrick, I am sad to hear of your experience and appreciate your willingness to share so honestly. Wishing you many blessings.

  • RT

    Hi Renee, amazing story. And I totally agree going through a break up is one of the hardest things for a person to go through. I left a marriage of 28 years after realizing that my husband’s happiness and life was more important than mine. And coming from an ethnic family,my father told me it was my problem and my friends chose to no longer keep in contact. So I am doing it alone. But I have done a lot of emotional work on getting “me” back and in helping me cope and get through what has happened to my life and is happening. And I am very grateful to the professional people who have helped me along the way, my naturopath,doctor and councillor’s. But no matter what I am going through, I know in my heart I will never be the same person I was when I was married because now that I know better I will make better choices and decisions. I feel a great loss in my life because of giving so many years but I am determined to make the next 30 years of my life the best! It will be about my life,happiness and health. Thank you for your story.

  • sian e lewis

    an ancient philosopher once said “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom”. If we can allow a break up to do this for us then, given time and optimism we will become greatly enriched.

  • Lislorien

    Although in the early days of building that strong personal foundation so much of your writing resonates with me on a deep level. I am not looking for anyone at this moment especially as my heart has been through the ringer this year but the learning of ‘oneself’ is a very powerful shift. I have already begun the task about identifying where I always trip up and how I can better myself. And to feel the pain, I fully embrace that. Thank you.

  • Renée Suzanne

    My heart goes out to you. I know it hurts. I hope that you will learn everything you can so that you’ll be able to have a wonderful love next time.

  • Renée Suzanne

    I agree. I’m a huge believer in making the most of every opportunity life brings us.

  • Renée Suzanne

    Thank you! It takes great courage to lead a great life. If it didn’t, more people would do it. I wish you an amazing next 30+ years.

  • Renée Suzanne

    Thanks Lori. I’m so glad you were able to find someone you can be happy with! Sometimes it takes a few tries, but relationships can be great learning experiences, even when they don’t last forever.

  • Renée Suzanne

    Thanks for sharing this Patrick. I raised my kids alone after their father died, so I know how lonesome parenting can be on your own. Sometimes, ignoring that voice and facing the consequences helps us gain the experience and courage necessary to listen to it the next time.

  • Renée Suzanne

    Unfortunately, it takes as long as it takes. When the feelings come, lean into them. It’ll go faster than if you fight them or run away from them. I know can be excruciating, but it’s the only way to get it out of your system once and for all. I’m sending you love.

  • DrAwesome

    I pale in comparison to some of the comments on here; but Its been almost a year since I got left after 3 years. She wouldn’t say why she left, only that she felt manipulated into staying because I was treating her so well.
    It sounds like a TV script but thats what she said… I havent spoken to her since.
    But I still have no confidence in myself to trust somebody else when they can shut the door so easily again. Entering into another relationship before I can do that will be unfair on the other person.
    Do you have any advice on what to do after you have decided you want something better?

  • Renée Suzanne

    The only person you have to trust is yourself. We are all responsible for our own emotional well-being. There is no way to escape pain in life, it’s what we do with it that counts. Once you decide you want something better, make sure that you arrange your life and your actions to align with what it is that you want.

  • k

    wow! what fantastic advice! everything makes sense, the part of so much writing…well, I dont know…but if it helps, ok. Now, question is: how to get OUT of a narcissist relationship of 40 yrs??? that’s the advice I need. yes, I’m dumb for staying this long and taking it, but I’m in my 60s now, and sick of it. just dont know HOW to walk away and start new.

  • Renée Suzanne

    It’s not too late for you, no matter how long you’ve stayed. The key is to see your part in it so that you won’t repeat this pattern. I’d like to encourage you to get some support around leaving if that’s the action you’re determined to take. It’s so much harder to make major life changes alone. Good luck!

  • I like very much this advice… Keep Posting

  • Renée Suzanne

    Thank you! 🙂

  • RT

    Thank you Renee. I am starting to realize this the more I speak to many people who are unhappy in their lives. I know what I am doing is not easy and it would be so much easier to just stay in the relationship but that would mean I would be giving up my happiness for the rest of my life. I already did that for 28 years and this time I chose “me”. My happiness and life for my health and future. Thank you for your kind wishes! xo

  • Chris

    Thank you for sharing this. The writing lists part has helped so much. It has shown me where I have gone wrong, what I was looking for was wrong and helped me get to the bottom of issues. I have now gone for further help and hope in future that I can be far more positive. I look forward to when I can love someone and not hurt them even though I don’t want to.
    This advice, I will pass onto others and get them to look at this post. I had never thought about going back so far and comparing notes. One further thing I did was to message every person on the list apologising for my behaviour and any hurt that was caused. Everyone replied and appreciated the message. This may not work for everyone but it was another step that I wouldn’t have taken if my partner hadn’t left me and I hadn’t read this article.

  • Rose Carmody

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  • Nathalie Burnett

    I can’t cope with the pain of my break up. Can’t eat or sleep, I feel depressed. Can’t sleep without the sleeping pills. And to make things worse I think I’m getting addicted to them. How can I make myself feel better and sleep better?