The Best Way to Move on After a Breakup

How To Move On After a BreakupI’m going to start by apologizing. I’m asking you to think about something you probably don’t want to think about.

Breaking up.

Breakups are no fun. Even if you were the one to pull the plug on the relationship, it sucks to go from being a couple to being alone.

And it doesn’t get any better with experience. It’s always miserable.

Because breakups are so unpleasant, most of us take the same approach. We try to get over them as fast as possible. It’s easiest to think about something else, try to meet someone new, or just move on.

Processing the dead relationship is the last thing we want to do.

Unfortunately, moving on too fast means you miss out on something VERY important. That’s especially true during the dark days right after a breakup.

Your girlfriends may want to get you out of the house for a night on the town, or come over with a sad movie and some Ben and Jerry’s, but trust me…

There’s a better way to process your post-breakup pain.

Researchers at Villanova University recently conducted a study all about dealing with the end of a romantic connection.[1] Specifically, they were looking for the best ways to move on.

The simple technique they recommend is easy to do and comes with some pretty big payoffs.

There are tons of ways to process a breakup, but there’s one technique that research has shown to be super effective.

It’s called “redemptive narrative” journaling.

The idea is simple. Write about the relationship, including the breakup, but try to re-frame as much of it as you can in a positive light.

For example, you might focus on things you learned about yourself during the relationship. Or maybe you walked away with a clearer picture of what a healthy relationship looks like. You might also have a better idea of the things you do and don’t want in a partner.

The specifics don’t matter. What matters is finding something positive about the painful experience.

Researchers found that when people were able to do that, it actually lessened the emotional toll.

If journaling is a foreign concept to you, that’s okay. You don’t have to do it all the time to take advantage of this technique. Even one writing session has the potential to help reshape the way you see the breakup.

I won’t lie. It’s not going to make breaking up fun. Nothing will.

How To Move On After a BreakupBut that’s not the point. The point is to keep moving forward, to keep growing, and to go into your next relationship smarter, better prepared, and ready to make it the one that will stick.

If you’re actively dating, breakups are going to happen. That’s how every relationship ends until you find the partner you want to spend your life with.

If breakups are inevitable, why not have a plan for dealing with them?

Use redemptive narrative journaling to work THROUGH breakups instead of just waiting for the bad feelings to pass. This simple technique can help you feel better in the moment, and it will almost certainly make your next relationship better.

[1] Slotter, E. B., and D. E. Ward. “Finding the Silver Lining: The Relative Roles of Redemptive Narratives and Cognitive Reappraisal in Individuals’ Emotional Distress after the End of a Romantic Relationship.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 32.6 (2014): 737-56. Web.

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14 thoughts on “The Best Way to Move on After a Breakup

  1. Carley R said:

    I don’t usually post personal things about my life on sites but I’m hoping this will help. I met Josh a year ago, and at the time I was getting used to being alone and just living life. We connected instantly and we waited a week to meet, because I was being cautious. I had bad past relationships with guys before. After we met we started hanging out a lot. And he was a great guy, he was the kind of person I wanted in my life. We started dating kinda quick, which actually gave him the idea that we never “started as just friends”. So earlier this year we started having problems, we didn’t ever fought just had some disagreements. But anyway we broke up a little after Christmas because he said he didn’t love me and he wasn’t happy with me.
    One or two days later he contacted me and wanted to meet and talk, we tried being friends and ended up getting back together. And ever since then we have been great then unhappy, just back and forth. And I was dealing with it and trying to make it work. Until 4 days ago when his family was gone he ended things because he didn’t love me for who i am and he didn’t see a future with me. Those words hurt me so much. I guess I loved him more than he loved me. He changed my life in a great way I just didn’t expect this to happen. I haven’t heard from him since, and I’m trying not to make myself more angry about it. I didn’t realize until today how much he changed from when we first met. He was my longest serious relationship, and I wish things ended better. He also said we cant be friends right now but maybe in the future. He said i was fooling myself by being with him, but now when i think of him, i just don’t know who he is anymore. I just hate to think that he may already be talking to other girls, and he hasn’t even made an effort to ask me how I’m doing. I almost asked him but I thought it would be best if I didn’t. So I decided to read this article, hoping it will help. Me and him are both in college so I know we will probably go our separate ways and meet other people. Even though I hate thinking about it.

  2. Mia Sonntag said:

    I honestly don’t know where to begin and can’t even seem to find the words … I feel so defeated and so many many other emotions. Reading this email was something of true timing at its best. I have been in the middle of a terribly unhealthy relationship/ break up for sometime. I only wish I could explain it all right from the beginning to now so I could get it all out and relieve all the stress, emotions: positive and negative, the hurt, the miscommunication, lies, the love, self degrading, the walls built, being scared, the mentally and emotional unhealthiness. I’m going to take the time and the advice given from you’re so genuinely grateful email and use it to heal and grow and learn to let go of it all, to move forward for myself. Thank you so much James. You’re emails come to me right when I truly need a positive direction and comforting new moment to grow myself. Truly grateful for you and you’re knowledge that you share to many that need it most.

    • James Bauer said:

      I’m glad this helped during a tough time in your life, Mia. Keep going strong.


    • Natalie said:

      I’ve just found out my partner of 14 years has been cheating on me. We have four children together and he hasn’t really show any remorse and I haven’t screamed or anything I just said please don’t hurt me again. Then last night I found him texting her. He wouldn’t show me what got said he just said she was giving it a go with her husband. Yes she’s also married. So I don’t know what to do, my head is filled with hurt and pain. He’s also got a flat off his friend, he’s says it’s just in case things don’t work out here at home but I’m worried in case he wants a little love nest for himself and her please help

      • James Bauer said:

        Hey Natalie. First of all, let me just acknowledge the pain you must be feeling right now. The truth is, it really hurts when you try to build something beautiful with another human being, only to discover your partner doesn’t value it enough to protect it.

        Many people have benefited by asking themselves the following three questions.

        1. What do I want in a relationship? What am I really looking for?
        2. Based on my experiences with this person so far, do I believe he wants the same things I want?
        3. If the answer to question number two is “yes…but his actions don’t show it recently,” then the third question is, “Am I willing to give him a second chance by making it clear to him what I need if he wants our relationship to survive?”

        Wishing you love and happiness,


  3. berh said:

    What do you do when your husband does not want to show any intimate gestures? We have been married 46 years. He thinks I had an affair 16 yes ago and now says to to learn to deal with his lack of desire and he does not feel guilty about how he feels. He does not touch me at all not even my hand . Wants to stay living together because he cannot afford to live on his own

    • James Bauer said:

      That’s a very deep question. Feel free to bring it up in our forum (with professional relationship coaches…membership required) or by submitting your question to our private coaching service.

    • Lorna (LaLa) said:

      Berh, Firstly – DID you have an affair? You didn’t say yes or no here. If this is the basis for his ill feelings, you need to get that one straight with him. Secondly – do YOU WANT this relationship to continue? Search your soul. If the answer is “Yes” (honestly and truly – for all the right reasons – and companionship is a valid one at our age – it IS lonely and difficult on your own) – then YOU will have to be the one to do something about it. Take the bull by the horns. You have nothing to lose (apart from living with him, which must be hell, anyway, as it is). He has got himself well and truly stuck in a difficult situation, hardened his heart, and does not want to be the one to reach out the hand of friendship or commnunication. Men can be really pig-headed and stubborn and do not want to make fools of themselves – especially older men – pride is probably all he has left!!!). I would bet he is really afraid of what the outcome will be, if he does open that door – it is Pandora’s box and may end in disaster. In which case, it tells you that he actually DOES NOT want the marriage to end – if you look at it from this “arse backwards” aspect. (Sometimes things are completely different to the way they seem – so you have to look from a different angle). If he DID want the marriage to end, he would have found a way of doing it before now – there is always a way. SO, given that you both want the marraige to continue (if that is what you want) – YOU will have to be the one to open the dialogue. Take a firm stand and give an ultimatum – he listens and talks or HE goes!!! (not you! – HE is the one being difficult here). That might be all he needs to shake him up. Maybe he doesn’t know how serious you are. And DO NOT come from a place of weakness – you need to be strong about this. I think he thinks he has you over a barrel, and at his mercy. Show him you mean it – be assertive, but calm. Perhaps you should see a counsellor, or talk to a trusted friend or family member (maybe a son or daughter?) or religious leader. You can go on your own. However, if you are intelligent and rational, you do not NEED a counsellor – they just get you to see clearly how YOU are thinking and feeling – you can do that! Dig deep. It is how you both feel that matters, not what someone else thinks. There are lots and lots of books and articles on the internet nowadays. My ex was dead against counselling – but he wouldn’t talk either (he has Aspergers Syndrome).Think it through carefully, you have loads of time. Keep a careful written log for reference. Write down your thoughts and feelings – write down his thoughts. Write down discussions and outcomes. Write down advice. Write down references and phone numbers. Above all DO NOT GET ANGRY – if anger comes up in discussion, agree to take time out – walk away and calm down. Look up “Imago Dialogue” – where you both agree to “mirror” back what the other person has said, then they agree that that is the true meaning (or not). This way there is no room for misinterpretation. You can do this alone, if you think he will not co-operate. Just say “I believe you meant …… – is that right?” One trick that might work, if he agrees, is to put all your questions on cards and sitting opposite each other, pull out random questions. I saw this done on a television programme with ex-partners, and it really worked well. While you are doing your investigatng on the web, look up your legal rights, should you decide to part ways. Then you have all the ammunition at your finger-tips and will not be taken off-guard. Believe me, it is not easy trying to wade through all that stuff when you are feeling distressed and under pressure. Another option is to divide the house into two, if possible, and live your separate lives – you should NOT be expected to be just his housekeeper, with no love and affection or appreciation from him. I wish you well. Keep strong. Lorna

      • Amy Settle said:

        Will you be my counselor lol. Once you figure out who I am, you’ll be asking me a tOn of questions in which I’ve been begging to be asked 👌

      • Lorna (LaLa) said:

        Amy, the important thing about conselling, I have discovered, is that the questions are inside your OWN head, and the answers to them are there, too. You just have to learn to be brave and truthful with yourself. Dig deep, deep down inside all the mess, hurt and anger going on inside your head. Go way back to your childhood and other times in the past when you were hurt, hurting, afraid or angry. The questions are there, and the answers, too – but it takes a brave person to uncover them and see the light. My councsellor said that many, many people cannot get past the first couple of sessions. They cannot be strong enough or brave enough to look inside themselves and find the truth there. Very often, too, our psychy hides the truth from us to protect us from pain, but the only way to heal that pain is to bring it out in the open and understand it, from an adult perspective. My counsellor said “come from the adult, not the child”, and she was right. As an adult, we should have been strengthened by life’s experiences, and become more understanding and tolerant and forgiving and more able to deal with what may have happened to us as children, and left scars behind. There are lots and lots of books on Amazon you can tap into to get a better understanding of what is happening inside your head. For it IS all inside your head. It is our reaction to a situation that affects how we feel – and sometimes just by analyzing and changing those feelings, we can begin to feel much better in our mind and in the rest of our body, too. Our thoughts affect so many other parts of our body. I hope this makes sense, and is some help to you. Much love and hugs – keep strong!!! Lorna

      • James Bauer said:

        Well said, Lorna. 🙂

  4. Anette said:

    I just got out of a bad break-up and had to move back to the place I came from.

    I have learned a lot about myself, and men, and why I keep finding the immature types that will cheat to get out of it… At least that’s what I hope for. I’ve been so mad and angry that it’s HARD to get in touch with all the sorrow underneath. Anger is, after all, a shield from the pain.

    But I am really considering things like…
    Why do we need a relationship?
    Why do we move in together if family and kids are not on the agenda? Then why not live apart and get the best of both worlds?
    If we move in together, what is it that drives us? Security? A longing for not feeling alone? Sharing of values or interests?

    We have so many options these years and time, living together does not need to be the first and foremost point at the agenda. Neither does marriage.

    I was sure in the beginning that THIS relationship and THIS man was the one I cound count on to not feel alone again. Turned out I felt more alone than I’d ever been. Still – on the upside, I am not afraid now of being and living alone, because it’s more lonely to always wait on someone than being with yourself and taking care of only you. I thought it would be so scary to be all alone and only me after ten years of living together with two different men.

    But no. It hasn’t been like that. I am really, really enjoying myself. Who’d have thought!

    • Lynda said:

      Well done you… I was with my husband 17 yrs. 31 yrs altogether in total a never thought I could live without him. Now I’m in another relationship & he hurts me all the time but I can’t leave him. I’m afraid of being left on my own for the rest of my life. Any advice would be appreciated!

  5. LA said:

    Wow. This couldn’t be more timely. Thank you, James. Your blog and emails are consistently the best relationship advice I read.

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