Why do breakups hurt so much? And what can we do to move on?

Most breakups involve heartbreak experienced by one or both partners. After spending a lot of time together and working hard to develop a sense of comfort, it can be very difficult to reorient to one’s old (pre-relationship) lifestyle and get used to the absence of the other person.

The decision to terminate the relationship might be mutual or one-sided; regardless, letting go is often gruelling for both individuals. The end of a relationship causes grief, in that it inevitably involves the loss of the other person – where you no longer are able to interact and engage with someone like you used to before. Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has delineated five stages of grieving that one goes through, in trying to cope with the loss of a loved one – be it loss to death, or loss due to a breakup. Even though Dr Kubler-Ross proposed that there is a fixed order in which these stages unfold, in reality, stages might show some degree of overlap as well.  


“Is it really over? I just can’t believe it!”

This stage is characterised by a strong resistance to the idea that the relationship is actually over. The heart dominates the head, and one might have trouble coming to terms with the breakup, harbouring some hope that the relationship might be rekindled.


“Why is this happening to me?! How could they do this?!”

During the second stage, one usually feels betrayed and wronged. As a result, it is common to experience anger at oneself, one’s partner, God, and/or the universe. The person may want vengeance and may portray the ex-partner in a negative light.


“I need to get them back.”  “Can we give this another shot?” 

Bargaining is another form of denial. Here, the person negotiates with themselves or their partner, clinging on to any minuscule ray of hope to make the relationship work. 


“I can’t go on.”

In this stage, the person is overcome by a sense of hopelessness and believes that they are doomed to be in a bad place forever. Depression can also manifest itself through physical symptoms, such as reduced appetite, excessive/deficient sleeping, and persistent fatigue. 


“What had to happen, happened.”

By accepting the breakup – a process that is gradual and can be cumbersome – the person learns to make peace with the loss and with the situation that they find themselves in. Simple acceptance of the situation does not ensure happiness, but it equips the individual to be proactive and take concrete measures in order to get back on their feet and move on with their life.

If you are struggling to come to terms with your breakup, you are probably still processing the event at one or more of the above five stages. While you might feel quite helpless about the situation, the good news is that you can take small but significant steps to help yourself cope in a better manner.

Here’s what you can do in order to make this difficult experience more bearable:

Maintain Distance From Your Ex

It would be helpful for you to avoid any interactions with your former partner, at least for a while – when you are trying to move on from them. This means avoiding text messages, phone calls or even scrolling through their social media. More than time, the distance will help you shift your focus away from the other person to yourself. 

Talk Through Your Troubles

Research shows that speaking to someone about our difficulties helps us feel less distressed, and also provides us with the love and care we may be looking for. Talking to someone you trust, such as a close friend, might be a good way to release pent up negativity and to obtain support and practical advice.

Write Your Woes Away

Sometimes, you may find that talking to a friend/close relative is not feasible or helpful. In such a situation, you can turn to writing down your stressful thoughts and feelings, without the fear of judgement. Writing has been demonstrated to be extremely relieving and can help get some clarity of thought on whatever aspect of the breakup you find troubling.

Learn to Love Yourself

A breakup can put you in a situation of constant self-doubt. We often tend to be harsh with ourselves and believe that we are not handling the situation as well as we should. It is important to remember that you have numerous positive qualities which make you who you are. Show yourself compassion, kindness and love as much as you would show to a friend if they were going through a similar situation.

Start Exercising

Experts agree that physical activity can boost self-esteem while lowering stress and anxiety. Use your breakup as an opportunity to become healthier/fitter and to focus on yourself and your personal growth. The best part is that there are multiple home workout options you can choose from that cater to your level of fitness – be it beginner level or advanced.

Re-Invest in Other Spheres of Life

Disinvest from the relationship, a matter of the past, and channelise your energy into new spheres: academic, social, and even personal. You may just stumble upon new activities or rekindle your interest in old ones, like dancing, painting, or singing. Pick up something new to learn and find something enjoyable to do, just for yourself.

Take Things One Day at a Time

Remember – progress that is slow and steady will go a long way. It is understandable that you would want to fast-forward the process, but don’t rush through this period. Many times, people jump into another relationship, but rebounds are almost always unhealthy. Instead of focusing on moving on to somebody else, a healthier approach would be to focus on getting over the person. 

Believe that you will get better. No particular habit or trick can make this phase suddenly vanish. Instead, give yourself the time and space to recover. It may not happen overnight, but eventually, with time, it will hurt less and less – till it no longer hurts.