Remember when you held me tight
And you kissed me all through the night
Think of all that we’ve been through
And breaking up is hard to do.
– Lyrics to Neil Sedaka’s “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” (1962)
Many of us have been there. We thought this relationship would last forever. We envisioned a future with this person, we trusted this person, we invested in this relationship, and there were really good times. But now, for whatever reason, the relationship hasn’t worked out. And we’re back to square one, single, lonely, and longing. Often we feel miserable, and heartbroken after a break up. How can we make the break up easiest on ourselves, while dealing as much as we need to?
Some say there is nothing more painful than how it feels after a break up, and that healing takes time. One has to mourn the good times, and allow the feelings of loss and pain to come. There is no better way through this process than to feel your feelings. And yet, sometimes people come to my office feeling stuck. They can’t stop feeling the pain of being heartbroken after a break up. They can’t seem to let go, even if they want to. I have found a key contributor to keeping them stuck is how they are thinking about the relationship, and how actively they fantasize about what they have lost.
Mourning the good times is a completely normal part of grieving the end of a relationship, however, thinking only about the good times can actually make getting over the relationship harder. In thinking so much about the good times, and fantasies of what might have been, one’s thoughts about the relationship can become skewed, sometimes allowing fantasy to overtake reality. Moreover, this fantasy reverie can become a go-to salve for the painful reality feeling heartbroken after a break up, making it more and more of a part of one’s thoughts. Indeed, just as people flock to feel-good movies to dull the pain of reality, people will often flock to their fantasies about their relationship as a respite from their pain, even if temporary and fleeting. Many people do not realize that every retreat into fantasy comes at the price of keeping us attached to the previous relationship, stalling us from moving forward after a break up.
The eventual goal is not to fantasize – a kind of “just don’t go there” – but that’s easier said than done, especially at the beginning. So here are some step-by-step suggestions to wean off the fantasies, grab hold of the realities, and ultimately feel empowered to move on.