Recovering from a Breakup

"When I finally decided to leave Tim, I barely shed a tear. I'd given the relationship everything I had. I was totally drained. I grabbed my things, left the apartment we'd shared and never looked back," says Heather, 27, a marketing assistant in Philadelphia, Pa.

For some people, a breakup clearly marks the beginning of a better time in their lives. They may feel a sense of relief that the relationship is over. Maybe they'd been abused or manipulated. Maybe their partner cheated on them. Maybe they simply realized the relationship couldn't work out -- end of story.

For the rest of us, though, breaking up can be a complicated, torturous mess. It often doesn't matter whether you're the dumper or the dumped -- it's a huge loss, and it hurts like hell. Many experts compare the loss of a relationship to the death of a loved one. After breakups, people often go through similar stages of grief -- just as they would if someone they'd loved had died.

"The length of time it takes to move through these stages is directly related to the length and intensity of the relationship," says Morra Molotsky, a psychotherapist in private practice in Cherry Hill, N.J.

"As in recovery from any loss, it's important to allow yourself to grieve appropriately and acknowledge what you miss about the person/relationship. It's also important to do a reality check and remember all the things about the relationship that were not so positive," Molotsky continues.

If you're recovering from a breakup, there are ways to make it a little bit easier. Follow these suggestions, and you just may start to feel like a human being again.

  • Exorcise your demons. Let yourself grieve. Feel the pain and sadness. Cry, scream, beat your fists on the floor. The more you allow yourself to acknowledge and experience your emotions, the sooner you'll start to feel better.

  • Resist the temptation to become a lunatic. Your ex won't reconsider his or her decision if you drive by his or her house 17 times each night on your way home from work. He or she won't want to take your 4 a.m. calls any more if you relentlessly hit "redial" until he or she picks up the phone. Behaviors like these will only alienate your ex -- and if you're really lucky, they'll land you a starring role on psychoexgirlfriends.com.

  • Take care of yourself. Get enough rest, eat well, and keep yourself physically active. If you don't already exercise regularly, this is a good time to start. Exercise boosts self-esteem and helps to combat depression and anxiety.

  • Live a little. Redecorate your place, cook your favorite meals, take a trip. Find small ways to reward yourself for getting through each day. Be careful, though, because it's easy to take this one too far. Maxing out your credit cards, drowning in martinis, or recklessly sleeping around may seem like damn good ideas right now, but they're obstacles on your road to recovery -- and they'll only intensify your problems.

  • Keep yourself busy. Maybe all you feel like doing is watching Brady Bunch marathons in your PJs. But devoting all your energy to feeling sorry for yourself will only make things worse. Hang out with people who care about you and can offer support. Try a new hobby or start a project you've been putting off. Whatever you do, don't hide at home because you've decided that you're a total loser who's unworthy of love.

Even though they're trying to deal with it, some people find that recovering from a breakup is more than they can handle alone.

"The most significant sign that professional help may be needed is when someone appears 'stuck' in the grieving process," says Molotsky. "Prolonged anger or depression could be a cause for concern."

"Another consideration, however, is to approach a therapist sooner if there is some pattern involved in the breakup," says Jacques Barber, Ph.D., of the Center of Psychotherapy Research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia, Pa. For example, this is the fifth relationship that's ending in the same manner. By approaching a professional, there is the increased possibility that something important might be learned about the way the person chooses, creates and maintains relationships. If you re recovering from a breakup, take this time to focus on yourself. Seek the support you need right now. Know that it s cool to be alone for a while. As time passes, try to put things in perspective and learn from the experience. Trying to learn from the painful experience might also help to develop better relationships in the future, Dr. Barber adds.