Chances are you’ve been through at least one breakup in your life. Nobody finds them easy, but because of the way we’re wired — and our desire for connection — we can fall into traps that make breaking up with a partner even more difficult than it has to be.
“Breakups happen for a whole host of reasons,” said Jennifer B. Rhodes, a psychologist, dating coach, and founder of Rapport Relationships. “And I think someone’s background and experience with relationshipsin general might dictate their behaviour during the course of a breakup.”
Business Insider spoke to two relationship experts about the biggest mistakes people make when they are trying to end their relationships, and how this can have a negative impact them and their future relationships.
All breakups are different, and there are no set rules, but sometimes it’s helpful to know what you really shouldn’t be doing — especially in the emotionally confusing mess your mind will be in when you lose someone you really care about.
Here’s what they said:
In the immediate aftermath of a breakup, the massive sense of loss is likely to fall down on you pretty hard. Even if ending the relationship was your idea, you might not have realised how lonely it would feel knowing you don’t have that person there for you anymore.
This can mean people contact the other person and talk to them, because the habit is so hard to break. Ex-partners might find themselves falling into their old conversations, and even meeting up, because it feels familiar. But this won’t do you any favours in the long run, especially if things get physical again.
“I think the biggest mistake people can make is that when you are in pain, to actively seek out and engage the other person,” said Rhodes. “You’re not really thinking things through, and you’re just kind of reacting… I think when people are reacting to a breakup within that first month, they might be likely to do something pretty impulsive.”
This isn’t to say exes can’t be friends. They can, with enough time, and if both people have strong boundaries. But people are impatient, and this can mean they don’t take enough time to reflect and really get over the relationship before trying to be friends.
Sometimes people don’t have the best intentions either, because they are impulsively reacting to the loss. This can make people behave quite strangely, like breaking into their exes property, destroying their belongings, or coming up to them uninvited in the street.
“I always think it’s a good idea to just take some time, at least 21 days, to have no contact with the other person to clear your head and get your space, and think about what it is that you really want,” said Rhodes. “Otherwise you end up escalating a situation and things can be really scary and ridiculous.”
It’s not just the relationship you left behind that takes time. If you don’t wait long enough before dating again, you’ll probably be doing yourself a massive disservice.
“A lot of people, the minute they break up with someone they are back out online again,” said Erika Ettin, a dating coach, and founder of dating site A Little Nudge. “And that’s not something I would recommend, because you haven’t given it any time to sink in.”
If you jump back into the dating scene too soon, you haven’t given yourself a chance to learn from the experience, or mourn the end of your relationship.
“You’re not mourning a person’s life, but you’re mourning part of your own life that is now not there,” Ettin said. “I think too few people actually take that time to actually get back to the equilibrium of who they are, to heal, or to figure out what they have to offer again, or what they like to do on their own.”
So take a deep breath and allow yourself to take that time. People will always be looking to date, so you’re not missing out on anyone if you don’t re-download Tinder the next day.
We live in a world of instant gratification, which is why it’s so tempting to re-download all your dating apps as soon as you find yourself single again.
“People like things to happen immediately,” said Ettin. “But just like if you cut yourself, it might takes weeks to heal, breaking up with someone is a different kind of cut, or injury. And that takes time to heal too.”
It’s so easy to make a new profile and find people, and you get a hit of dopamine when you realise someone else has matched with you. This might boost your self-esteem in the short-term, but Ettin said this isn’t really the best idea.
“If you break up with someone and you go on Tinder the next day, and you get five people liking you, you feel you still have something to offer,” she said. “That to me is not the right reason to go on… I say your self esteem should not come from other people liking you — your self esteem should come from within. But unfortunately not everyone practises that.”
Everyone experiences the ups and downs of a relationship differently, and the same goes for breakups. If you feel like you’re taking longer to get over your last relationship than your friends did, that’s completely normal. Ettin said ultimately, you can’t compare yourself to anyone else, because your experience will be totally different.
“A woman who I was working with the other day had a break up four months ago, she kept saying ‘I should be over it by now, I should, I should,’ and I said ‘you should remove should from your vocabulary,'” she said.
“Should compared to who? You can’t compare yourself to other people. You don’t know other people’s motives, or why they do what they do. You don’t know anything about their relationship, so there is no should. And after I said that to her, she definitely felt calmer.”
Similarly, if you get advice from a lot of different people, this can confuse you even further. It’s great to have a support network of people who will listen to you, but if they all offer their words of wisdom, you’ll probably hear a lot of contradictory ideas.
“Friends will always give advice — usually conflicting advice — and ultimately the only person who knows what you need to do is you,” said Ettin. “That same client, the one who said she should be ready, she was getting advice from her brother, her friend, her this and her that, and they were all different. And I said if you ask 10 people the same question, you’ll get 10 different answers. But are any of them correct? I don’t know.”
Social media is more or less unavoidable, and your accounts may be littered with memories of your past relationship. As hard as it might be, the most popular advice is to delete your ex, or at least make sure you can’t access their profiles so easily.
“I think Facebook and social media in general can really trigger anger and grief, so I’m a big fan of restricting access or just unfollowing people if it’s a difficult breakup,” said Rhodes. “Just because the constant notifications and reminders can really wreak havoc in your day to day.”
When you break up, suddenly you find yourself without the person who was always around. This is hard for your brain to deal with, so it will tempt you into “just checking in” on your ex. Essentially, you’re just fueling your brain’s need for this person, and you’re prolonging the process of getting over them by social media stalking them.
“Don’t stalk your ex on social media,” said Ettin. “It really depends on the person, but I find it’s just easier to unfriend or not make that person as accessible to you. Because who has that self discipline not to look? But if the option isn’t there then you’re not going to look.”
You might find you act in a fit of desperation after a breakup, especially if your ex is ignoring you. This can lead people to be frustrated and, frankly, a bit out of control.
Rhodes said one male client she had went on a Twitter rampage after his girlfriend broke up with him, but it was so offensive, it has led to him not getting funding for his next project.
“I think if you don’t trust yourself to lock down your social media you really should have a friend who can control access for the first few days so you don’t impulsively do something publicly that will affect your career,” she said. “When people are angry or they’re feeling slighted, in that moment it feels really good to send out an angry twitter message. And when you’re young you don’t realise what the repercussions are.”
If the relationship was an abusive one, the time straight after the breakup is the most dangerous for the victim — and this continues for about a year. Rhodes said many domestic violence victims actually minimise their risk during that time, because they think the worst is over.
“Often times, but not always, the abuser sees this as a loss of control, and many victims are relieved they are no longer in this situation but do not realise the extent to which this person will try to gain control again,” she said. “And their actually at heightened risk of having an attempt on their life. I can’t tell you the number of people who minimise what happens after a breakup in those circumstances.”
The best thing is to find support and share your story with people you trust, so you are as safe as possible. There are also organisations, like the One Love Foundation, that can offer advice for people in difficult situations.
“Whenever there’s any kind of difficulty in a relationship, and a breakup is about to happen, I really think that people have to strategise for the first six months about how they’re going to cope with this situation,” Rhodes said.
Some people are simply useless at breakups. These are the people who ghost the dates they aren’t interested in, or act cold and distant until their partner eventually gives up (known as a “phase out.”)
Sometimes they are also codependent, so not only do they not have the courage to break up with someone properly, they also line up someone new before the relationship is even over.
This will make your soon-to-be ex feel pretty bad when they find out, but also, it doesn’t bode well for your new relationship. You won’t have given yourself an appropriate amount of time to get over your ex, so even if the new person is perfect, it’s not likely to work out.
“I had a friend who was living with someone, and was about to break up, and she asked me to help her with Tinder… like, hold your horses,” Ettin said. “You don’t have to line the next one up. It happens even in relationships… don’t plan for contingencies. If you’re planning for it not to work out, it’s not going to work out.”
If you have waited long enough to get back out there that your wounds are healed, and you’re no longer full of resentment, that’s great. But even if you think you’ve done everything right, you might find yourself comparing the new people you meet to your ex.
“A lot of people love to compare new relationships to the last relationship, and I understand that it’s hard not to, as that’s the most recent memory you have,” said Ettin. “Generally after a relationship you’re only thinking of the good things from the past relationship, and nobody can measure up to that. So you just need to focus on new people and what they have to offer, not how they stack up against your ex.”
This is hard to do, but it’s probably essentially a case of practise makes perfect. In other words, the more people you meet, the less you will be hung up on how your ex used to behave, or what they liked.
“It’s hard to get over an ex — we’ve all been there — and I think there are two components to getting over someone: time, and eventually, somebody else,” Ettin said. “But everyone’s ratio is different of the time to the someone else. But the ratio that is never appropriate is zero time.”
Originally published on Business Insider.
More from Business Insider:
Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.