Love and Relationships

Adulting 101: Here’s how to move on from a break-up

Steph Arnaldo

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Adulting 101: Here’s how to move on from a break-up
Contrary to popular belief, letting go and moving on is possible – all we have to do is try

When you’re dreaming with a broken heart, we all know the waking up is the hardest part, because when a heart breaks, no – it doesn’t break even.

Hugot lyrics, cheesy films, and tear-jerking novels aside – we all know the painful truth: break-ups suck.

Leaving a relationship for good is hard enough as it is – what more separating from the person you thought would be yours forever?

Whatever the cause, break-ups can be one of the hardest challenges many will face in their lifetime. The gaping hole of loss may bring about intense emotions of grief, despair, and hopelessness for a while, and that’s okay – because the key phrase here is: a while.

No matter how bleak the future may seem to you post-separation, it never is. Because contrary to popular belief – letting go and moving on is possible. Break-ups are hard, but hope can be easy – all we have to do is try.

From riches to rags: Katie and Carlo

Let’s take Katie and Carlo’s relationship for example.

Katie, 28, and Carlo, 30, had been dating for the past 11 years. From being high school sweethearts to becoming college loves, the two believed they were destined to be together forever. Everyone else around them couldn’t help but agree – after all, they were the definition of “true love” and everyone’s OTP.

Katie loved Carlo for his calmness, responsibility, and drive, while Carlo found Katie to be a beautiful, smart, warm, and nurturing woman.

Like a typical long-term couple, the two had seen each other through life’s biggest phases – graduation, first jobs, a change of careers – and still remained stable, a feat many of their friends could only dream about.

Their relationship seemed perfect: the two saw each other regularly but still maintained a healthy social life with friends. They were close to one another’s families, and shared many common interests such as traveling, fitness, movies, animals, and food. They also communicated well when problems arose. All seemed fine and peachy – until the big 12.

On their 12th year of dating, Katie felt the itch of taking their relationship to the next level. Just as she was about to bring it up with Carlos, she suddenly felt that he was being unusually distant.

Carlos was unusually busy at work and didn’t have much time to be with nor talk with her. The few times they did, he was quiet, deep in thought, and seemingly lost in a fog.

Apparently, Carlos was also thinking about the big 12 – just not in the same way Katie was.

“I’m not sure whether this relationship is the relationship for my whole life, Katie. I’m confused,” he told his girlfriend. “I’ve been questioning whether or not you’re the only woman I want to be with.”

“I want a break,” he finally told Katie.

“I need some time to think. I need some space for myself to feel free.”

“Then let’s break up,” Katie said, officially marking the end of Katie and Carlos’ 11-year relationship.

So… what happened?

Let’s break down Katie and Carlo’s seemingly “perfect” relationship – what went awry?

“Katie and Carlo were committed during a time that they were both very young,” Lissy Ann A. Puno, relationship counselor, psychologist, and author of the best-selling Couple Goals book, told Rappler.

Settling down at a very young age, according to Lissy Ann, inhibits a person’s need to explore and discover one’s self through different relationships with other people and personalities.

Aside from a lack of self-discovery, Katie and Carlo also failed to foster a dynamic relationship through the years, which ultimately led to dormancy, monotony, and then finally, boredom. “What they saw in each other in their teens did not sustain the interest enough as they grew older,” Lissy Ann added.

Note: These are only some of the many reasons behind break-ups: other major ones include opposing values, life choices, paths in life, irreconcilable personality differences, a loss of love, unequal effort, lack of commitment, infidelity, and many more reasons that might take the whole night to enumerate.

Bye bye bye… why?

“A break-up is ultimately a romantic relationship ending because of personal, individual, or mutual reasons/decisions regarding the relationship,” Lissy Ann explained.

The B word is one many fear and sadly, many can’t avoid as well, and can either be heartbreaking, casual, brutal or even meaningless, depending on the quality of the relationship shared. “Casual relationships that weren’t given time, effort, or attention can be easily walked away from,” Lissy Ann said.

Can’t say the same for longer, more committed, exclusive relationships, though. “You’ve broken up with someone you already considered to be with for a lifetime,” she added.

“The more emotionally invested you are, the more difficult it will be. A deeper sense of commitment that has been established will involve more love, trust, need, and connection – and that makes it more challenging to disengage quickly.”

The longer you’ve been together, more aspects of your lives become deeply interwined – friends, family members, interests, and routines – leaving more memories to forget.

Where do broken hearts go?

As agonizing and disorienting as they can be, break-ups are also very capable of imprinting short-term and long-term damages on the affected parties – effects that should be acknowledged, and not ignored.

Common post-break-up feelings? “Blame, self-doubt, resentment, and rejection,” Lissy Ann said, adding that negative emotions can also lead to a noticeable drop in one’s self-esteem and self-confidence.

Trouble in school, work, or family life? Normal. “Most will experience difficulty in concentrating, some sleeplessness, and various manifestations of stress,” she said.

What about possible long-term effects? “The sadness and grief can result in low moods, to the point of depression and anxiety,” she said.

After all, it is a drastic life change that is usually unprepared for and never 100% wanted.

The ‘how’ is as just as important

Let’s set aside the why’s for a while – what about the how’s? Lissy Ann says: they’re just as critical.

If you’ve been broken up with in person, consider yourself lucky. Many have gotten the axe through the phone, or worse, through text. And what about those given the infamous paranormal treatment of being “ghosted?”

Don’t worry, the how isn’t a reflection on your self-worth. More often than not, how you were broken up with is more on them than you.

“Break-ups can vary depending on the person’s personality,” Lissy Ann explained.

“Some just ‘ghost’ the other and suddenly disappear. Some break up via text, phone calls and emails. This is based on shame, fear, embarrassment, and the inability to take responsibility for their decisions,” Lissy Ann says, finally giving undeserving victims a reassuring answer.

However, a toxic breakup is the worst kind for recovery – especially since you’ve been granted no semblance of proper closure at all.

Closure: Yes or no?

“If you were in a significant long-term relationship, I believe it is essential to put a considerate closure to the relationship,” Lissy Ann advised.

“This is even more important if the break up is not mutual. I recommend a face-to-face private conversation where there is an honest and authentic dialogue about the thoughts surrounding the decision,” she added.

Lissy Ann also encourages partners to air out their own reasons as to why this may be happening, addressing needs that were not met, and feelings that may have led to the split – somewhat like a catharsis; a way to unearth any remaining emotional baggage. Because who needs that for their next relationship?

Be wary, though – since this may be the first time such words are conveyed, shock and denial will erupt, leading to intense emotions such as anger, fights, arguments, and blame – and then eventually, a period of bargain.

“Change may be offered,” Lissy Ann warned. “Convincing and explaining may be done, to hopefully change the mind of the partner who wants to break up.”

However, no matter how emotionally taxing closure may seem, it is better done than not.

No closure means unexplained how come’s and why me’s clouding your brain 24/7 – an experience as futile as trying to fill in the irrefillable blank of what if.

Leave, let go, and learn

Good news, though – it is possible to recover from a break-up. “However, that depends on a lot of factors,” Lissy Ann said.

“The recovery process may take time, depending on the length of the relationship, but also the individuals’ personality, temperament, social support system, levels of dependability on one another, and individual boundaries,” she shared.

What can one concretely do to move on from the past? Here are some baby steps, such as:

  • Acknowledge the grief/sadness/loneliness felt and the loss experienced.
  • Allow your feelings to be felt and experienced. Don’t judge them.
  • Outline reasons why it had to end (keep it balanced to avoid unnecessary blaming on yourself).
  • Maintain your own psychological wellness: Don’t forget to sleep, eat, exercise, socialize, and practice self-care.
  • Expand your social circle. Maintain regular contact with supportive friends and be open to meeting new ones! Don’t isolate yourself forever.
  • Distract yourself by keeping busy with work or school and learning a new hobby.
  • Schedule a specific time of the day to think of the break-up. Do not allow the thoughts to interfere with other times. Ask your thoughts to wait if they show up at the wrong time.
  • Provide yourself with positive affirmations while being open to eventually examining areas of self-growth you can pursue to prepare for future relationships. (“This is hard, but with my resilience, I know I will get through this. I will allow myself to feel sad for a while, but after a few days, I will pick myself up again and work on being a more selfless, more thoughtful person.”)
  • Avoid speculations at all costs. Do not entertain “if only’s,” “should have’s,” and “what if’s.”
  • If everything becomes too much, do not hesitate to seek professional help.

Social media: Roadblock to recovery

Inevitably, you will face multiple bumps along the road to your recovery. This is normal.

Moving on is a non-linear process – you will falter and fail from time to time, but knowing your boundaries from the get-go and quickly getting back on track are what will get you through.

Also: social media. This won’t help your recovery process in any way.

Did you suddenly see his face while scrolling through your feed? Aray. Are you reading a Twitter conversation between him and a common friend? Pass. Worse still: are you stalking every tagged photo of his and crying over his glowing smile, his new haircut, and the wild nights out he seems to be having too often? Kill me now.

“If one moves on faster than the other and is quite visible on social media, the other partner may resentment, anger and frustration as the break up is still fresh,” Lissy Ann said.

Mute. Block. Unfriend. Do whatever you can to help yourself let go. It’s not being uncivil (you’ll have time to possibly be friends again in the future) – but now, it’s all about priorities, and at the moment, the priority is you.

Help! Weak? What to do

What happens when the sadness gets too much and the pain begins once again?

Suddenly, you’re weak. You begin thinking twice about your relationship – “It wasn’t that bad…” “Maybe I was overreacting…” “Maybe I made the wrong decision.”

Stop, breathe, and tell yourself this is merely a moment of weakness.

According to Lissy Ann, there are concrete ways to resist the temptation of going back to a relationship that was really not working for you.

As the cliche says, “Why go back to someone who’s hurt you?”

  • Remind yourself why it didn’t work out in the first place. If it helps, make a list.
  • Recognize the negative feelings the relationship brings, remember them, and feel them.
  • Ask yourself, “Will going back to this relationship change anything or make me a better person?”
  • Distract yourself with friends, old and new, and expand your social circle.
  • Set a firm boundary for yourself when it comes to contact with your ex-partner (bye-bye social media!)
  • Put support systems in place in case of weakness. Reach out immediately to your friends and family!

Do you feel a bit better? A break-up may seem like the end of the world, but it is merely the end of world. Another world is waiting for you out there – all one must do is to be brave enough to leave the last one behind, taking small steps towards a better one waiting for you on the other side. –

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Steph Arnaldo

If she’s not writing about food, she’s probably thinking about it. From advertising copywriter to freelance feature writer, Steph Arnaldo finally turned her part-time passion into a full-time career. She’s written about food, lifestyle, and wellness for Rappler since 2018.