5 Ways to Survive a Breakup with Your Dignity Intact

broken heart stitched with red thread on a hand

I could sense it was coming, but it was a reality I didn’t want to accept. The snow was falling softly as we drove to the restaurant. During dinner, my boyfriend of several months officially broke up with me. With great cinematic flair, I told him I never wanted to see him again and hurried out of the restaurant before he could see my eyes well up with tears. I stood outside on the sidewalk shivering partly from the cold, partly from the emotional upheaval.

I could see him through a large window calmly finishing his pasta. That’s when it hit me: He was my ride home! I realized I only had two options: eat my words or spring for an expensive cab ride back home. In truth, he had been a decent boyfriend and he had done nothing wrong other than telling me something I didn’t want to hear — that he met someone else and felt that our relationship didn’t have a future. Though heartbroken, I mustered my courage and returned inside. I had stormed out like a melodramatic teen, but when I went back in, I felt like an adult.

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It was humbling to remember the importance of thinking before I spoke — and to realize that there are many ways of expressing emotions — some healthier and more graceful than others. Drama rarely benefits difficult situations and, often, prevents you from seeing your options. During this, and subsequent breakups with boyfriends, I learned how to handle heartbreak—and come out on the other side stronger and feeling less broken. Here are five tips for navigating this inevitable rite of passage:

1. You don’t have to say everything you’re thinking

When you’re hurting, it can be very tempting to say things you don’t mean, words that can wound. Was he a cheap date? A lousy kisser? Had terrible taste in music? Saying something in anger will not make you feel any better. Resist and bite your tongue.

2. Feel your feelings

The end of a relationship is a loss, and it’s normal to feel sad and go through a period of grief. Anger at your ex is also common, as is not wanting to believe the reality of the situation. Sometimes, breakups are a long time coming and other times, they catch you by surprise. All of these newly stirred-up emotions need time to work their way through your system. Scream into your pillow, have a good cry and let it out. Just remember that it will pass, even when you don’t feel like it will.

3. Practice good self-care

When you feel vulnerable, self-care becomes vital. Get enough rest, eat nourishing meals, and exercise regularly. Spend time with family or friends — lean on those who love you unconditionally. Don’t isolate yourself. Caring for your spirit is essential, too, so take time to meditate or pray. Go for a walk outside. Notice the trees, breathe in the expansiveness of the sky, feel the sunlight on your skin, and savor whatever beauty you see.

4. Give yourself the time you need

Like all transitions that involve an element of grief, a breakup has its own timeline — honor yours. The end of a summer fling might not be as upsetting as separating from your college boyfriend of six years. It takes time for lives to become woven together and it takes time for those threads to come apart.

One way to make your break a smooth one is to stop following your ex on social media. You don’t need to see photos of your ex with another person. (In true social media fashion, they will always be doing something that looks like the most fun ever.) Curiosity, in this instance, is not your friend. Depending on the circumstances, you might end up friends with your ex, but that usually only happens if you honor a period of no contact while the relationship transforms itself. If one partner secretly longs for the other, pure, platonic friendship is impossible. Have patience and see where the path leads.

5. Have faith

Although you’re experiencing all the emotional upheaval of a breakup, try to look for signs that your life is unfolding in beautiful ways that serve your growth. Maybe you discovered a new hobby or interest during the relationship. Perhaps, you learned what qualities are non-negotiable for you in a partner. Or, you realized that you can go through something that breaks your heart and still remain true to who you are. By trusting the process—and yourself—you’ll be ready for whatever life has in store for you next, either single or with a partner.

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Lauren Jonik is a writer and photographer in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in 12th Street, The Manifest-Station, Two Cities Review, The Establishment, The Oleander Review, Bustle and Ravishly. She is working on a memoir about coming of age with a chronic illness.