Amicable breakup - how not to make it suck any more than it does
August 2, 2014 10:13 PM   Subscribe

I haven't navigated a breakup in a while now. Please share your breakup wisdom and help me to try and keep everything the best it can be in the circumstances.

So, my SO of seven years and I have decided that we're going to break up, which is the right thing to do but hurts like hell. We've lived together for several of those years, and so it's going to be a long, tough process breaking up.

Since the decision I've swung wildly between wanting to beg him to try and make it work, and wanting to get out there in the world and screw everything on two legs. These two approaches, I am aware, may not be the most mature I can muster up.

So, people who have been through this. Help me. What ground rules can I set myself during this godawful time to help me not make it godawfuler.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Move out. If not immediately, then as soon as possible. If necessary, crash with a friend and get your stuff out gradually, but only while your ex is out of the apartment. Communicate by email only if possible, so that you have time to mete your feelings appropriately - no text and no phone calls.

In my experience, even amicable breakups take time and distance before any sort of friendship can be achieved. Give yourself the time and the distance you need before you try to start being friends.
posted by honeybee413 at 10:33 PM on August 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

You know this is going to be tough. But you will get through it. Don't beg him to make things work. Focus on making you work.

No matter what comes next the most important thing is to wrap yourself up in self-care and community. Start to build up your connections to people outside of this relationship and build up your own sense of strength and resilience. Some ideas:

1. Volunteer. Immediately. Like, tomorrow if possible. Find a soup kitchen - anything positive. During one very difficult breakup a few years ago, I went straight into volunteering and cried in the bathroom in between handing out hot meals to low income and homeless people. It was so important to give back while in the midst of my own pain. Helped put things into perspective.

2. Exercise. Sleep. Drink water. Eat healthy food. Pamper yourself. Can you afford a massage? If not, try self-massage.

3. Journal. Write it all out.

4. If you don't already have a therapist, see if you can get a recommendation for a good one. It helps to have a competent professional guide you through an emotional crisis.

5. Join a meditation group.

You will get through this and life will be better on the other side.
posted by Gray Skies at 10:37 PM on August 2, 2014 [7 favorites]

"NC" or no contact. It will be hard, you will want so badly to give in, but trust everyone when they say cease contact with your ex, immediately and indefinitely. Someone once likened it to amputating the festering limb-- painful, but so very necessary. Wishing you all the very best. Eat well, find healthy comforts.
posted by chloe.gelsomino at 10:46 PM on August 2, 2014 [11 favorites]

Listen to the Break-Up episode of This American Life. This is something we all go through, just not at the same time. Listening will help you commiserate, laugh, and feel less alone.
posted by maya at 10:55 PM on August 2, 2014 [6 favorites]

Alcohol is not your friend.
posted by Pudhoho at 1:29 AM on August 3, 2014 [7 favorites]

This also goes hand in hand with "no contact"-- find a "sponsor" or two. What I mean is have one amazing friend or a group of non-judgmental friends who will be ready to give you as soft or as hard of a nudge as possible to make sure you stay on the no contact path and for you to cry, vent, or emote. After an incredibly devastating end to my own long-term relationship, it felt good to know that I could call my mom up and say nothing. There are a lot of calls filled with my defeaning sobs. To hear her say "it's okay" was all I needed and was the most comforting sound.

It's okay. You are not alone. We understand.
posted by chloe.gelsomino at 2:58 AM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wasn't able to go no-contact with my ex-boyfriend for 5 months.

It was really really weird. We are very friendly to one another, but now that all that untangling is done we are going no contact... I think that's important so that you can cut the final ties and move on and find the right guy for you.
posted by misspony at 3:14 AM on August 3, 2014

Hey! Firstly I would go no-contact for at least a month. You need space and it will hurt in the short term but it will help you in the long term. Also be kind to yourself in this whole process e.g. if you want to stalk them on social media, or humiliate yourself while getting drunk, don't think 'argh I'm such a saddo' but instead say to yourself 'hey its okay this is normal post-break up behaviour. It's okay'. It's hard but you can do it!

Secondly, last time I was super heartbroken my therapist reccomended I do this and it helped. A LOT.

It sucks a right now, but things will get better soon.
posted by dinosaurprincess at 3:37 AM on August 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

go no-contact for a bit, but doing that, be prepared for the fact that it will be a lot of the little things you two did together that you will miss. All the small comfortable things that you used to do as a team you will suddenly have to do by yourself, and that can be really draining. make sure that you spend time with beloved friends and family, getting whatever hugs and comfort from them that is appropriate.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:50 AM on August 3, 2014

I'm sorry, this has got to suck.

I agree, no-contact is great if you don't have a lot of logistical crap to work out. But I'm not sure you can swing that if you're splitting up a large household.

1. Take a nice vacation with your friends. Road trips are great. Play fun music, eat some road food, stay in motels with pools. No need to spend a ton of money, just blow the cobwebs out of your brain.

2. Pair down your stuff. I'd get rid of bedding and clothes that have strong associations with your ex. That dress you wore on a big date, or the comforter you bought together. Let it go. You're starting fresh and Ikea is cheap.

3. Take yourself out of the dating pool for awhile. Sometimes by the time we break up, we're all through with the mourning process, but for most folks, it'll take some time before the hurt and disappointment dissipates. So hang with friends, indulge in home-spa nights, read your favorite books. Get back in touch with yourself.

4. Find something to DO. Get a certificate or an advanced degree, learn to cook Cantonese food, renovate a kitchen. Focus on accomplishments. When you look back you'll remember what you did, not how you felt.

5. Get exercise and cook yourself nice meals.

6. Splurge on small luxuries. Bath beads, nail polish, pretty barrettes. Nothing like it for bucking a person up.

Be easy on yourself. Do what you want, bail on what you don't want.

Take good care of yourself.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:59 AM on August 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding don't drink a lot of alcohol. Drink a lot of water. Get outdoors and walk.
posted by BibiRose at 6:42 AM on August 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

I was you last fall.

First of all, breathe - it may not seem like it, but you're going to get through this.

I know no-contact is the default breakup advice on the green, but sometimes it's just not practical. At 7 years in, especially if y'all own property together, you're going to have to talk to each other, if nothing else to split up stuff/pets/etc. And if I went on indefinite no-contact with all of my exes, I'd be missing some of the best people in my life. You two will figure out what works for you.

The most recent ex and I are in light contact; he's still living in the house and he's going to buy it from me, so we exchange emails or texts a couple times a month about things like rent or when he's finally buying the danged house. We occasionally ask about each other's mother's or how each other's jobs are going. It's very professional and friendly enough. There was no yelling or groveling or crying, after the initial conversation, and that's made it a lot easier to keep things calm and professional too.

Otherwise, I'll echo the ideas of being kind to yourself and giving yourself space to mourn.
posted by joycehealy at 7:09 AM on August 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nthing going no contact as soon as you can (as soon as you have worked out all of the post breakup logistical stuff you need to). Even though it's already been suggested a million times, it's worth repeating because it is so healing.

Feel your feelings. What you resist persists, so if some strong pain of loss comes up and you need to cry it out, do so. If stuff comes up at an inappropriate time and you need to get to a more suitable place first, by all means do so. Then sit with it and feel it. I'm a big fan of vipassana (insight) meditation practice for helping with this process. Journaling is also very helpful here.

Along with feeling your feelings, stay classy. Feel it, but refrain from acting out on it (do not trash talk about him out of anger, refraining from calling him if you are feeling lonely, etc).

I'll throw in another plug for vipassana meditation here because folks quite often engage in post breakup activities to help them block and repress strong, difficult emotions. And of course, these activities may not be healthy. Vipassana will help you to be more mindful of when you might be doing that.

Take the extra time that you've freed up from the relationship and put that into other activities that you enjoy and/or need to do. If you didn't have a lot of those before, well, this is a great time to explore your interests and find some new ones. If you don't know where to start, check out what's available on in your area.
posted by jazzbaby at 7:39 AM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've been going through this and as much as I wanted to remain friends with my ex, I did not start to heal until I ripped the bandaid off and went no contact. An older and wiser friend told me to walk away and do not talk to my ex for at least six months. I rolled my eyes and thought "Ugh, advice from a paranoid divorcee with two evil ex husbands". But damn if she wasn't right. It doesn't matter how amicable the breakup is... your ex is NOT your best friend right now. Because what's best for you and best for your ex are sort of mutually exclusive at the moment.

It took me two months post-breakup to understand that. I realized that I was scared to go no contact so because I wasn't ready to let go; part of me still maintained hope that we could work it out. And I thought that severing contact with him would totally kill that last chance. I had to accept that was GOOD thing. Because keeping that hope alive was only hurting ME while he moved on with his life. It was hard to do it, but after I told him I wouldn't be able to talk to him for a few months I felt nothing but relief.

Be kind to yourself. Don't push too hard. Find distractions. Maintain space. You'll be okay.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:54 AM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

No contact/limiting contact as much as possible is the only rule.

The "break-up ritual" that's worked for me - dedicating at least one weekend to just, wallowing at home. Drinking, watching Annie Hall 10 times, ugly-crying in my pajamas, eating the junk food I want, staying in bed.

After that weekend, I make a pact with myself to be my own strongest ally in overcoming this transition with as much strength and grace I can muster. I sketch a new timeline for my life, reconnect with friends, plan for all the restaurants/museums/hobbies I want to check out and engage in, and do my best to move forward with gratitude and hope.

I wish you all the best.
posted by tackypink at 8:56 AM on August 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

All this "no contact" advice seems really wacky to me.

Unless the ex is psycho-level scary, or dangerously immature, it is possible to move on without cutting all ties.

I posted this question. Two and a half years later, we still live together. We've each had episodes of dating. We are actually getting along better than ever, as very good friends.

Every relationship is unique. There is no rule book for yours, except the one that you and your ex mutually create.
posted by yesster at 9:41 AM on August 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm against "no contact", I've been on friendly terms with my ex, break-up 15 years ago, together for 7 years before that, I want the best things for her and we just grew in different directions. However:

We did the "sure, keep a key, feel free to come over and use the washer/dryer any time" thing for a while (I had a substantially higher income, so stayed living in the house we'd shared). This worked fine for us, but did wig out other relationships.

So: Be aware that whatever mode you choose, other people have expectations of what your post-breakup relationship looks like. Because this is no longer the primary relationship in your life, take those other people into consideration. Don't automatically force your post-breakup relationship into that mold, but do be aware that those expectations now exist.
posted by straw at 9:57 AM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

For me, defining the breakup as a painful but singular event helped me move past it more easily than thinking of it as a process to be endured over a period of time.
posted by sm1tten at 10:25 AM on August 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

In the early early days of my most recent breakup (living together, five years, still in love (maybe) (ish) but it was no longer healthy for us to be together)(and very amicable and still close friends today), I remember wanting to put as much time as possible between now, whenever "now" was, and that terrible conversation late at night where we decided to end it.

No-contact wasn't possible, and I don't think it was necessary. In fact, I'm glad we had a few months where we were forced to share a house because it gave us time to get used to each other in a nonromantic way. We did agree not to bring dates back to the house, but we continued to split the grocery bill and stay up late watching Netflix. Sometimes we would end up kissing or having sex. I actually don't advise against this--it seemed like a natural, gradual transition out of romance. Eventually, we were both so wrapped up in new rebound dates we weren't tempted to touch each other.

Time really is the best thing. But until enough time has accumulated that the pain is neutralized, it's helpful to get back with your friends, dig in and invest in good friendships. Get some melatonin or some other sleep aid so you're not tempted to drink yourself to sleep at night. Avoid alcohol in general. Exercise and focus on feeling really really good, physically. Cry as much as you feel like. I read one of Carrie Fisher's memoirs in the early days of the breakup and it made me feel better--at least my situation wasn't that dark. Volunteer and be good to other people.

If you have a parent or other family member who was rooting for your SO (in the example of my mother, who was upset that I wasn't going to get married already), screen their calls and don't second-guess it. Surround yourself with loving, easygoing people during this time.
posted by magdalemon at 11:35 AM on August 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

For me, examining the motivation behind my umpleasant impulses and irrational thoughts was really helpful in understanding where I was at, where he was at, and what I could realistically expect. Basically, I spent last summer facing down/workign through ugly feelings as they arose. Part of that meant trying to avoid new entanglements until I was feeling more centered, which itself was a learning process.

In my case, I did not initiate the breakup and was resentful that along with my life changing beyond my control, I also had to alter my social life. There are things I gave up that I'm still coming around to reengaging in and then there's the whole new world of stuff that opened up to me once I was able to seek out things on my own terms.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 1:05 PM on August 3, 2014

nthing No Contact, rip off the bandaid, etc.

But slightly different take on the no booze policy:

Certainly don't make it a habit, and don't drink away your sorrows, etc.

But, for some people, one or two good pitty-party piss ups can be very helpful.

Get a bottle of something you like, put on a bunch of sad-sack country music (Whisky River, My Drinking Problem Left Today, anything by Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, etc), and get sad and weepy and drunk, just once. Maybe twice.

It feels great, and can really help with settling in to the No Contact policy.

Your Mileage May Vary, Not for Everybody, etc.
posted by colin_l at 3:09 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

No contact is certainly cleaner, but my dear old ex and I didn't do that. We were together almost 12 years, not married, no kids, big love, but outgrew each other. Not talking to this person you grew up with was too painful, the biggest fear was that we'd made a mistake, and then it was the fear of growing to hate each other or ending up not having space for each other after it was well and truly past. So we kept talking, checking in, arguing, making up, all the way through dating other people, right up until he got hitched to a lovely lady last year (with me to follow to an awesome guy in a few months).

They say it takes three years to get over an LTR breakup. I'd say that's true, it's how long it took us. It was a lot like that break up episode of TAL, from memory. We talked the whole way through it. And I'd say it officially stopped being weird when he got married, because his lady quite fairly couldn't quite understand it or feel safe until they were officially hitched, whereas I had a guy who was the exception to the rule and who couldn't have been more comfortable with it.

We don't hang out a lot together these days, but we text and check in a lot and have each other's backs. And I am super grateful that we were able to get there in the end. It might have been fine with a no contact period for us, but the continual willingness to talk and fix and talk and fix and negotiate through it with frequent apologies to each other because we had this common goal of getting to this place of understanding was what we hung onto. And if you know you have that, and can take the messiness of it, then I think you can stay in contact during this sad time. Take what you need and know that you'll be irrational and get things wrong, and be ready to acknowledge that whenever you can.

And boy, I'd be happy to memail with you about your situation if you want to get in touch. I also had A STACK OF THERAPY throughout and that helped me get back to reasonable when I went off the rails a bit. SO THERAPY FOR YOU. Can't recommend it enough. And FWIW, the therapist recommended no contact as well, just neither of us could do it.
posted by scuza at 6:21 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, I might have bucked the trend a bit on the "no contact" advice, but I do endorse one or both of you moving the heck out as soon as possible. For various reasons, we didn't, and it was not good.
posted by scuza at 6:24 AM on August 4, 2014

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