How to cope with the end of a relationship

The end of a relationship is often never easy; whether it was your choice to leave the relationship or not, or whether you were together for a few months, or many years. So if you’re struggling to come to terms with the end of your relationship, then you’re certainly not alone. While, as a human race, we might differ greatly, something which unites nearly all of us at one time or another, is having to adjust to a life without a significant other.

There are endless different reasons why a relationship might come to an end. Sometimes two people can come to the realisation that they want different things from life, and decide to go their separate ways. Other times, people might fall out of love – or lies, deception or abuse might lead to a relationship breakdown. Some people might also find themselves dealing with the end of a relationship after their partner passes away.

No matter what the reason for your relationship ending, moving on from a life that you shared in so deeply with someone else can be incredibly painful, and can leave you feeling lost, lonely, empty, or unable to see a way forward. Sometimes you might also experience a loss of purpose, and wonder how you will ever feel whole and happy again. If this sounds familiar, then it’s important to remember that your feelings are valid, and that it’s normal to grieve the loss of a relationship for days, weeks, or even years after it’s ended. This grief might be for your partner themself, for the relationship that was, or for the relationship that will now never be.

The way that you react to the end of a relationship will also be incredibly personal. Some people might choose to keep busy to distract their mind, others might find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning, while some people might find that they are up one minute and down the next.

However you choose to cope with the end of a relationship will be your choice, and there’s no right or wrong way to do this. However, there are certain steps that you can take to be kind to yourself while you process what’s happened, work through your emotions, and begin to heal. Often, the most fulfilling journeys will contain the highest highs and the lowest lows, so wherever you are in your journey, we hope that you’ll be able to take some comfort in the steps below.

1. Give yourself time to accept what’s happened, and to acknowledge how you feel

The end of a relationship is a significant event, and one of the most important thing you can do to help yourself heal, is to give yourself time to accept what’s happened, and to process your emotions. The expression ‘time is healer’ couldn’t be more true when it comes to mending a broken heart, or adjusting to life without your ex-partner. And how you use your time in the days, weeks or months after a relationship ends, can have a significant impact on how you move forward.

While there are many different emotions that you might experience when a relationship comes to an end, some of the most common include sadness, anger, grief, loneliness and confusion. These emotions can be difficult to deal with, so it can be tempting to try and suppress them, or to bottle them up in the hope that they’ll go away.

But, the reality is that avoiding uncomfortable or painful emotions will typically prolong them, and leave you stuck firmly in the past. This can not only make it difficult to enjoy the present, or look forward to the future; but it can lead to unresolved issues being carried into a new relationship later on.

 2. Go with the flow

After a relationship ends, it’s normal to experience a rollercoaster of different emotions; some of which might last for minutes or hours, while others can last for days or months. You might feel tearful, then angry, then empowered by the idea of your new found independence, then regretful over the past, then hopeful for the future, and so on.

It’s important not to try and fight your emotions or force yourself to feel better, as this can leave you feeling even more frustrated. Even if you chose to leave a relationship, and you know it’s for the best, it can still take time to move on, and to adjust to life as a single person.

Don’t be afraid to cry, to laugh (even if it feels strange to), to turn down any plans that drain your energy while you heal, or to protect yourself from anyone who is unsupportive of your healing journey.

3. Explore ways to process and offload strong emotions

A helpful way to make sure that you’re taking the time to work through any feelings related to your ex or your relationship, can be to write all your thoughts and feelings down in a journal. Some people find it most beneficial to do this first thing in the morning and or last thing before going to sleep; as these quiet moments are often when we’re most reflective. This can also make going forward with your day, or getting to sleep at night feel a little easier. To find out more about how journaling could help you; have a read of our article, The power of journaling as a life habit.

You might also find it useful to talk through your feelings with a trusted friend, or family member; especially if you feel as though you are going round in circles in your head; replaying what went wrong, or wondering whether you will ever feel normal again. Friends and family are often great at reminding us that things will get better in time, that our feelings are normal, and that there will eventually be a brighter day. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to a friend or family member, then you could consider connecting with people who are going through similar experiences over on the family and relationships section of the Rest Less community forum.

Or, if you’d prefer to speak to a professional about what you’re going through, then counselling could also be an option. Relate is the UK’s leading relationships charity; and they offer counselling sessions (via email/messenger, telephone and video chat) to help people deal with the end of a relationship – the cost of which will vary depending on your individual circumstances. At present, they are also offering free 30-minute WebChats with their Relationships and Wellbeing Advisors as a direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic. You can visit the relatehub to find out more about this free service, or you can find your nearest Relate centre here.

4. Listen to your body and give it what it needs

When you’re working through difficult emotions after a relationship has ended, listening to your body, and exploring what you need to begin healing (or to continue healing), is incredibly important. While you might be going through a tough time mentally, science has proven that heartbreak can affect us physically too. Losing a relationship activates the area of your brain that processes craving and addiction, which is why it can be difficult to function normally – and you might feel as though you are quite literally aching for your ex.

When a relationship ends, you might also experience a loss of energy, and find that things (even simple things, like taking a shower) feel like harder work than usual. Most often, this will be because your body is dealing with strong emotions, and trying to adapt to your new circumstances. So if you’re feeling wiped out, and have the time and space to take an afternoon nap or to get a couple of hours extra sleep in the morning, then allow yourself to take the opportunity. Or, if the thought of exercise feels too much at the moment, then consider going for a short walk each day instead. Even 10-15 minutes will allow you the chance to stretch your legs, and get some fresh air; without pushing yourself too hard.

Many people also don’t feel up to cooking when they’re coping with the end of a relationship; either due to a lack of energy or motivation, or due to a loss of appetite. So, it can help to have a few quick, easy, healthy recipes to hand – such as these 15-minute meals from BBC Good Food – to make the task feel less overwhelming. Similarly, if you have a tendency to comfort eat when you’re going through a difficult time, then having some quick, healthy meal and snack options available, can help you to avoid developing unhealthy eating habits.

While it might not seem appealing to go for a walk, or to eat a healthy diet right now; it’s important that you continue to give your body what it needs. Losing a relationship can be a bit like weathering a storm; and you’ll feel stronger and better able to cope if you look after yourself both physically and emotionally.

5. Avoid turning to alcohol, or other vices that can negatively impact your health

When we feel like we’re trying to cope with painful emotions, it can be tempting to turn to things like drinking, smoking or eating sugary or fatty foods to cope – usually because we’re looking for a distraction, or some fast relief.

If this sounds familiar, then remind yourself that these habits really are just quick fixes, and while they might help you forget about your situation for a few minutes or hours, they will often cause you more harm than good in the long-term. Drinking in particular, can also make us more likely to do things we might regret later, like contacting our ex or engaging in behaviours that we otherwise wouldn’t.

It’s much better to focus on finding coping strategies that will have a positive impact on your health and happiness long-term, and that allow you to feel more in control of your life; such as practicing mindfulness, engaging in breathing exercises, or exploring other ways to detox your mind.

6. Focus on strengthening the relationship that you have with yourself

The end of a relationship with a partner is an important time to reconnect with, or strengthen the relationship that you have with yourself; by taking the time to put yourself first. This means acknowledging how you feel, taking some time to work out what you need, and attempting to meet your needs as much as possible.

During the days, weeks or months that follow the end of a relationship, you might not feel much like yourself; or like taking care of yourself. But try to remember that you are what’s most important; and that small things, like making an effort to do your hair, make yourself a meal you love, or reach out to friends, can make a big difference to how you feel.

Often when we do these things, we’ll be healing without even knowing it; until one day we wake up feeling lighter, and better equipped to tackle the day. For some ideas on how you can show yourself some love, you might find it useful to read our list of 33 self-care tips.

7. Try to focus your energy on making new memories, rather than avoiding old ones

When a relationship ends and you’re trying to cope, it can seem as though you’re faced with memories of your relationship everywhere you turn; perhaps when you hear a song on the radio that reminds you of your ex, make morning coffee for one rather than two, or pass by a place you used to visit with your significant other.

These memories can unbalance us, and are often difficult to deal with as a result. People might find themselves avoiding activities, places – or anything else that might remind them of their ex-partner, in a bid to try and prevent more pain or confusion. This avoidance can, in a sense, cause us to live in fear, waiting for the next reminder of an ex to crop up. And while it can help to put any obvious memories away (like photos or sentimental gifts), it’s not healthy to let a past relationship dictate where you go and what you do each day; as this can leave you feeling anxious, and on edge.

A good way to tackle this is to focus your time on creating new, positive memories, rather than actively avoiding past memories of your ex. For example, if you used to cook something special together every Sunday, then rather than avoiding your kitchen every time Sunday rolls around, why not pick a meal that you love, and cook it for yourself instead? This meal could perhaps be something that you always wanted to try, but never got round to, or perhaps even something that you like to eat, that your partner didn’t.

Or perhaps, if you used to have a chat with your partner over a morning coffee, then you could add a new and enjoyable element to your coffee routine – such as buying yourself a brand new coffee mug that you look forward to using, or reading a good book over your morning coffee instead. The idea is that you will eventually build up enough new memories, that past memories will become easier to cope with – and you’ll gradually start looking forward to each day, rather than dreading it.

8. Explore who you really are, or who you want to be

“Every time your heart is broken, a doorway cracks open to a world full of new beginnings, new opportunities”

Patti Roberts

When you come out of a relationship – particularly a long-term relationship – you might find that you feel lost, empty, and perhaps even unsure of who you are without your ex partner. When we share our lives so deeply with a significant other, it’s common for our routines, goals, achievements, and interests to become intertwined; so much so that when we take a step back, we feel as though a piece of us is missing. As a result, you might experience a loss of purpose or confidence while you work out how to navigate this new portion of your life as a single person.

In some ways, a relationship can be likened to a comfort blanket, because we get very used to being in the company of our partner, and to having someone to tackle the highs and lows of life with. Then, when the relationship ends, things can feel scary, and you might be left feeling vulnerable – ironically, in a similar way to how many of us feel at the start of the relationship. If you’re someone who did a lot for your partner, then suddenly having so much time to focus on yourself and your own needs, might feel a bit alien. Or, if your partner helped you out with certain things, like your finances or your car maintenance; then it might take a little while for you to feel comfortable tackling some of these things on your own.

However, being able to take full control of your life, and make decisions on your own, can be incredibly liberating – even if it feels daunting at first. As you begin to heal and adjust to life as a single person, you might find that you begin to see the world in a new light. Perhaps there’s places you’ve always wanted to travel to, food you’ve always wanted to try, or new skills that you’ve always wanted to learn, but simply never have. When we’re fresh out of a relationship, we often find ourselves with more time; and even if it doesn’t feel like it right away, choosing how to fill it can become quite exciting.

Being newly single means that you’ll be able to learn more about who you are outside of a relationship, and to consider who you want to be in this new chapter of your life. The end of a relationship is often one of the hardest challenges that we ever have to face; but it’s also an opportune time for growth, and to discover how strong we really are.

9. Find empowerment through books

“When you are standing in [a] forest of sorrow, you cannot imagine that you could ever find your way to a better place. But if someone can assure you that they themselves have stood in that same place, and now have moved on, sometimes this will bring hope”

Elizabeth Gilbert

Many people find comfort, advice, empowerment and inspiration through reading books after a relationship ends – especially self-development books, or autobiographies about people who have overcome obstacles in life, and emerged stronger on the other side.

When we’re grieving the loss of a relationship, books can help to remind us of our self-worth, give us hope for the future, and show us that great things can happen if we step outside of our comfort zone. Some people find that their healing really starts when they start focusing on themselves, and focussing less on their ex-partner; which is why self-development is so powerful. If you’re looking for somewhere to start then, You Can Heal Your Life, By Louise L Hay, Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway, by Susan Jeffers, and Good Vibes Good Life: How Self-Love Is The Key To Unlocking Your Greatness by Vex King, are examples of some popular self-development books, that can help you get the most out of life. For more inspiration, you might like to read our article; 15 inspiring self-development books.

Or, if you’d like to follow others on their journey of self-exploration – where the narrators learn more about who they are and what they need – then it’s worth checking out Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything by Elizabeth Gilbert, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, or What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami.

10. Catch up with old friends

One of the most difficult things about moving on from a past relationship can be dealing with feelings of loneliness, and adjusting to being by ourselves again. However, it’s important to remember that just because you are longer in a romantic relationship, this doesn’t mean that you are alone.

You might have friends and family at the other end of the phone who can help to remind you of who you are, and that you’re loved. Or if you don’t, then now could be the perfect time to get back in touch with some old friends, and catch up on what you’ve missed. Sometimes asking others about their own lives, and finding out what they’ve been up to, can be a welcome distraction, and can make our world feel bigger, and our grief feel less all-consuming as a result.

There are also plenty of ways you can get to know other like-minded individuals and make new friends – even in the current climate. For instance, if you enjoy photography, or you’re a lover of yoga, then why not join an online community, where you can meet people who share similar interests? This can be a great way to explore your hobbies and passions further, while making some new friends. You might find it helpful to read our article 7 ways to meet people in the current climate to get a few ideas on how to connect.

11. Work on boosting your confidence and self-esteem

There are a number of reasons why your confidence and self-esteem might have taken a knock since your relationship ended. For instance, if your partner ended things with you, then you might find yourself questioning what you did wrong, why you weren’t good enough to make them stay, and if you could have done things differently. Or, if you relied on your partner for certain things, like emotional support, and encouragement, then you might find that you feel less confident moving forward with your life on your own. It’s also possible that if your partner treated you badly, that you might still be dealing with the aftermath of the things they said or did; which can also have a knock-on effect on your confidence and self-worth.

If any of this sounds familiar, then one of the most helpful things you can do to start believing in yourself, and in what you have to offer the world, is to get control of any self-limiting beliefs. Begin by telling yourself that you can start that new course, or go for that promotion, or that you can try that new hairstyle, or that new workout. It’s also important to remind yourself that you are enough, and that your relationship ending isn’t a sign that you’re not, or that you will never find love with someone else again in the future.

When you start celebrating your achievements and recognising your strengths, the world will become your oyster; and the possibilities will be limitless. 

12. Let go of guilt

“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward”

Unknown

Guilt is a common emotion felt by many of us when a relationship ends. If your partner ended things with you, then you might question whether you treated them well enough, or whether things would have turned out differently if you could go back and change things. And, if you ended things with them, then you might feel guilt over doing so; and worry about the implications, not just for them, but for other members of your family; such as your children, and possibly your grandchildren.

However, the most important part of letting go of the guilt associated with the end of a relationship involves accepting what’s happened, and identifying whether you really have anything to feel guilty for. If you brought about the end of the relationship by engaging in cheating, lying or deceit, then your next steps might involve apologising for your mistakes, working on forgiving yourself, and looking at why you did this, to prevent the same mistakes from happening again in the future.

Other times, guilt can stem from other places; like feeling guilty that you broke up with your partner even though they tried to convince you to stay, from your friends and family feeling upset about the breakup, or from you picking apart the small aspects of daily life with your partner that you think you could have done better. When this happens, it’s important to realise that any decision over whether you stay with a partner is yours and yours alone, and you should never be made to feel guilty for putting your happiness first. It can also help to remind yourself that most times, we do the best we can under the circumstances; and that sometimes we’re just not compatible with a partner – which isn’t something to feel guilty about.

Having an honest conversation with yourself about your guilt and where it’s coming from, can be instrumental in helping you to move forward and start enjoying life again. Even if we find that we do have something to feel guilty about; rather than allowing this to paralyse us, we can utilise it as a tool for becoming a better version of ourselves. 

13. Consider helping others

It might not seem immediately obvious, but often giving our time to those in need when we’re going through a tough time ourselves, can help to give us a sense of purpose and satisfaction. It can also give us something else to focus on, and remind us how much we have to offer others.

How you choose to help someone else is up to you. You could walk a dog for a vulnerable person in your local area, befriend an elderly person over the phone, or help out at your local food bank. To find out what sort of opportunities might be available, you might find it helpful to have a browse of the volunteering section of our site.

There are also lots of online volunteering opportunities, such as helping out as a responder for a crisis text service, or assisting people who are blind or have low-vision with things like reading a label on a food packet, or distinguishing between different colours – all via video chat. To find out more about how you can volunteer from the comfort of your own home, have a read of our guide on online volunteering.

14. Avoid rushing back into another relationship

When we separate from a life partner, it can be tempting to try and fill the void they left with anything we can to make ourselves feel better. And sometimes this can mean rushing straight into a new relationship. But, entering a new relationship when you’re not over your previous partner or you’re still struggling with past issues, could result in you leading a new partner on (and hurting them in the process), or forming a new, unhealthy relationship; which probably won’t last.

While there’s no rules on when the right time to look for love again is, it’s nearly always better to wait until you’ve made peace with the ending of your previous relationship, have established a positive relationship with yourself, and have arrived at a place where you feel happy and fulfilled on your own, but would like to share that happiness with a significant other. If you’re unsure whether you’re ready to open yourself back up to the possibility of love or companionship, then you might find it helpful to read our article; 8 questions to help you decide whether you’re ready to date again.

Final thoughts…

“Human hearts are elastic. They have room for all sorts of passions, and they can break and heal and love again and again”

Jodi Lynn Anderson

Relationships are complicated; and the reason why your relationship came to an end, and the emotions you experience as a result, will be very personal. But, it’s important to remember that however you’re feeling at this stage in your healing journey is valid; and that there are no timelines or right or wrong answers when it comes to how you decide to carve a new path forward.

It’s also completely normal if your path isn’t straight, remains a little unclear or has a few bumps along the way. The main thing is that you keep moving along it, even if you only take one small step at a time.

If you do one thing today, then try to remind yourself that what you’re going through right now won’t last forever, and that there will always be a brighter day, a smoother road, and a reason to smile again…

Do you have any additional tips for coping with the end of a relationship? Join the conversation on the Rest Less community forum, or leave a comment below.

Additional helpful resources for coping with the end of a relationship

If you need some additional help and support with coping with the end of a relationship, then you might find the following resources useful…

Rest Less articles 

External resources 

  • Samaritans is a registered charity that provides support to anyone who’s in distress. If you’re really struggling and you need somewhere to turn quickly, then Samaritans will have someone offer you a listening ear and some kind words. Call 116 123 24 to speak to someone day or night, 365 days a year.
  • Silver Line is a charity that provides information, friendship and advice to older adults. Call any time on 0800 470 8090.
  • Cruse Bereavement Care offers help and support to people experiencing feelings of grief or loss.
  • Relate UK provides relationship support to people across the UK. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, they are currently offering free 30 minute WebChats with their Relationships and Wellbeing Advisors.
Links with an * by them are affiliate links which help Rest Less stay free to use as they can result in a payment or benefit to us. You can read more on how we make money here.

Comments

Loading comments...

    Leave a reply

    Thanks, your comment has been saved. We will review it shortly, check back soon.

    Sorry, there was a problem saving your comment. Please refresh and try again.

    Get the latest advice, news and inspiration

    No spam. Just interesting and useful stuff, straight to your inbox. For free.

    By providing us your email address you agree to receive emails and communications from us and acknowledge that your personal data will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions. You can unsubscribe at any time by following the link in our emails.