Breaking Up Better

A certified grief counselor and relationship coach for more than a decade, Susan J. Elliott knows breaking up is hard to do. She’s such an expert, in fact, she wrote a book called Getting Past Your Breakup (her new one, Getting Back Out There, is due this spring). We spoke with the Sleepy Hollow-based contributor to outlets like O, The Oprah Magazine, Men’s Health, and NPR to shed some light on a healthier healing process. 

Elliott notes the grieving process for a bad breakup is fundamentally the same as grieving a close death. One part of that process, known as searching, occurs when a person is cognizant a loved one has died, but can’t overcome the urge to call the deceased or look for him in a crowd. “The difference is, with a death, you eventually have to move on,” Elliott says. “After a breakup, the person will pick up the phone, or text, or stalk them on Facebook, staying stuck in the grieving process.” 

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Moving on, she says, requires mindfully closing the book (figuratively—and digitally). “A lot of times, people will push away deep feelings. The mindset is, ‘This person hurt me; I shouldn’t hurt for them.’ But it’s not for them—the hurt is for you.” Elliott encourages undertaking an “emotional bloodletting,” like writing a letter to your ex that you don’t send. “Get it all out,” she says. “Even if it’s that you love them—so what? Closure comes from inside of you.” 

Journaling is another positive way to “feel all your feelings,” she says. Just don’t do it online—too tempting to over-share. If you do need to vent to friends, be cautious of even well-meaning “plenty of fish” logic or suggestions to simply “forget” your ex. “By not dealing, you fall into a black hole of despair, and you’re not feeling anything,” warns Elliott. Ask friends who aren’t helping to withhold the advice, and just listen. 

And as for that black-hole effect, she says, know that eating, drinking, or sleeping through your days won’t eradicate the pain: “The first thing I suggest is getting a depression screening.” 

Elliot Answers…

Is there a “normal” time frame for getting over a serious relationship?

“If you don’t do the work, you’ll still be miserable in 20 years. Depending on how much you’re putting into it, you might feel better in just a few months.” 

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How long should you wait before dating again?

“If you’ve come off a major relationship, wait at least two months to become romantically involved again. People will try to circumvent [the fallout of their last breakup] and rush into another relationship. But they become too dependent on another person for happiness and end up with two breakups. And the grief continues to pile up.” 

What’s some of the worst post-breakup behavior you’ve seen? 

“The Facebook stalking—people say they can’t stop—and the elaborate made-up texting, like ‘accidentally’ sending, ‘Hey handsome. I’ll be ready at 8’ to the ex-boyfriend, then, ‘Oh, that wasn’t meant for you.’ Both men and women do it. I ask them, ‘What is this doing for you?’ Stop doing this nonsense at midnight and move on!”  

How do you address feelings of failure? 

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“I really encourage people to see it as an opportunity. A relationship is not a mark of success. Build an interesting, well-rounded life, and the next person you meet will be attracted to that.” 

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