If you’ve ever had a friend or loved one with a broken heart, you’re probably familiar with the conversational dead end that inevitably arrives when you try to give advice. When someone is heartbroken, it’s difficult to get through to them, so we end up falling back on familiar cliches, such as “there’s more fish in the sea” or “you deserved better than them anyway”.
Although aphorisms can often be spot on, they’re not always what the heartbroken need to hear. It doesn’t help that there are other fish in the sea when their heart revolves around one fish. And though it can be tempting to use a breakup as an excuse to finally let loose our true feelings about our friend’s jerky ex, it’s not super constructive in the acute heartbreak phase. Let the anger and jokes come later.
So, if you are experiencing the unique suffering that comes with a broken heart (or you’re floundering to give a friend some decent advice), we’ve compiled the list for you. There will still be some cliches, but hopefully with a bit more depth and context.
Rule 1: Give yourself the time and permission to grieve
Everyone knows that the only thing that will really mend a broken heart is time (and even time cannot heal things completely). However, when you’re in the early stages of heartbreak, this is not something you need to be reminded of. The pain is real and consuming right now. You’re not thinking about “future you” and how much easier things will be when the initial pain and memory wear off.
So, rather than waiting for the pain to pass with time, it’s important to give yourself the time and permission to grieve. The experience of grief and extreme emotional upheaval can often lead to disassociation or forms of cognitive dissonance, so it is always grounding to return to our present experience and feelings (even when they are painful). Always remember that your experience is completely valid. Everyone grieves in different ways, and it is meaningful to tune into your own experience of grief. You might learn something, and you will inevitably build resilience.
Rule 2: Don’t blame yourself
When we are trying to make sense of a confusing break-up, it’s common and understandable that we put the blame on ourselves. Redirecting the pain of heartbreak towards self-loathing gives us perceived control of the situation. If we tell ourselves that we are not worthy of love, we can justify our partner’s actions. Just as it’s not totally constructive to put all the blame on
our partners, blaming ourselves won’t solve anything either. The truth is relationships are messy, complicated and rarely one-sided. Although it is crucial that we take responsibility for our positive and negative behaviours within a relationship (especially for the sake of future relationships), one person cannot be responsible for everything. Yep, it takes two to tango.
Whether you broke someone’s heart or had yours broken, blame (in either direction) is not the solution. We all need to practice forgiveness and self-love. We are all worthy of love.
Rule 3: Surround yourself with the love and support that you deserve
As mentioned in rule 2, heartbreak can make us feel like we are not worthy of love. When we lose an intimate partner, it’s easy to forget that there are still other people that want to love us, if we let them.
In fact, sometimes we become so consumed in our romantic partners that we forget about the friends and family in our life that love and support us. Coming out of an intimate partnership can be a very important time to reconnect with and strengthen our relationships with our friends. We should never take our friends for granted, and this is a better time than ever to check in and be grateful for their existence. Plus, finding joy in other people’s company is a meaningful step into a future without your ex.
Rule 4: Learn how to be alone again
Though it might seem contradictory to the last rule, heartbreak is also a great opportunity to spend some quality time with you, yourself and… you. When you’re used to 24/7 companionship, it can feel weird to find yourself alone. Although it might be uncomfortable at first, lean into it. We don’t get that many chances in life to really sit with ourselves and figure out what we like doing when we are on our own. Many of us avoid alone time for fear of confronting more of ourselves than we are ready to meet.
Heartbreak is an open and vulnerable time, where you are bound to learn something new about yourself. If you listen, practice self-love, and look for new sources of joy in your own company, you will come out the other side with more patience and gratitude.
Rule 5: Write it down
As humans, we have this persistent desire to attribute cosmic significance and meaning to many of the inexplicable events in our lives. Often, we achieve this by shaping our lives into a narrative arc. This allows us to organise and make sense of events within the greater structure of a life’s story. It also enables us to find and create meaning in an otherwise random world.
It’s easy to look at heartbreak as the great tragedy of our lives. It can feel counterintuitive to place such a catastrophic event in the context of a greater narrative. However, even from great tragedy, new opportunities and pathways emerge. Learning to conceptualise heartbreak as the beginning of a new chapter can motivate the heartbroken to recalibrate towards a new future.
A practical method of achieving recalibration is to write things down. In fact, writing is a pretty good antidote to most things. Writing allows us to organise our thoughts and emotions into a coherent framework, much like the narrative arc helps us to make sense of our lives. Putting thought to paper has a therapeutic effect, comparable to sharing our emotions with others. “Getting something off your chest” can be a total relief and a huge step in the healing process. When we let our feelings out into the world, they lose some of the power that they have over us. Plus, seeing them outside of ourselves gives us a better chance of understanding them.
Write down how you feel. Write down the story of your heartbreak. Write down the things that you’re still grateful for. Write down your hopes and dreams for the future. Create meaning and growth out of an otherwise painful experience.