Breakups can cut even deeper when they come out of left field. You may feel ashamed that you didn't see the split coming, frustrated that you missed the signs, or even angry that your partner pulled the plug seemingly out of nowhere. While there’s no single “right” way to move on from an unexpected breakup (since everyone processes grief differently) there are some steps you can take to take care of yourself during this vulnerable time.
According to Chelsea Leigh Trescott, breakup coach and host of Thank You Heartbreak, unexpected breakups are particularly painful because they tend to demolish your sense of trust, which is what makes you feel secure enough to be physically and emotionally intimate with someone.
“Not only do we begin doubting whether we should trust that bonds can be sacred at all, but we lose trust in our own feelings,” says Trescott. “You can hear the uncertainty in the common questions we'll ruminate over, like, ‘How did I not see this coming?’ or, 'Did I even know this person at all?’”
Trescott notes that as a result of this broken trust, it's common to approach future relationships with caution, skepticism, or anxiety. Fortunately, there are several straightforward steps you can take to help you to navigate and overcome these emotional challenges, as well as avoid closing yourself off to love in the future. First, Trescott suggests writing a list of all the ways the breakup blindsided you.
Getting this out of your head and onto a piece of paper can kickstart the healing process. Then, underneath each item, write what you’re afraid it means for your future. Finally, next to each item, write yourself a promise about not blindsiding someone else in the same way. For example, if the breakup caught you off guard because your ex’s actions didn’t match their words, you might write that you’re afraid you may not be able to trust that someone means what they say, and then promise that you will never spare someone your true feelings.
While it can be tempting to start searching for answers and filling in the blanks about what led to your relationship’s demise, Trescott says it’s best to resist the urge. And introducing some new material into your everyday life whether a self-help book or a podcast about politics — may help you to avoid obsessing over what went wrong, or jumping to hurtful conclusions.
“Rather than replaying the same old tired story on repeat, this will help you shift the narrative and give your brain a breather from your breakup," says Trescott.
Another effective way to short-circuit the constant rumination about what went wrong is to meditate. Trescott suggests beginning your day with a guided exercise on a meditation app to clear your mind.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean you're not allowed to think or talk about your breakup. In fact, healing requires that you acknowledge and release all of your feelings. That said, Trescott stresses that it's important to be deliberate about how you talk to your friends, because otherwise, they may assume you want to commiserate (thus potentially prolonging your painful feelings). Keep in mind that if you need to hash out any fears or feelings with your friends, that's totally OK, too. When they ask how you're doing, you can also let your friends know how you want to feel, so they're equipped to keep the conversation as positive as possible.
In addition to making some headspace for new thoughts, try mentally reframing this breakup as the beginning of a new chapter. Shaping the narrative allows you to take back control of your life, which is key, given that an unexpected breakup can leave you feeling powerless.
"This breakup is a plot twist, not the last sentence or final play," adds Trescott. “Turn it into a series of you breaking through your own expectations."
So, how do you accomplish this? Trescott suggests finding fun ways to get out of your comfort zone, and hopefully, surprise yourself. For example, if you’re the kind of person who needs to always have a plan, consider taking an impromptu trip without a detailed itinerary to do some solo soul-searching. Or, if you’d never typically share your story, why not penning a personal essay about your experience or journaling? One way to open yourself up to new experiences and learn about yourself post-breakup is to try saying “yes” to every invitation that you’d normally reject.
“The goal is to exceed your expectations, rather than fall short of them, like your ex did,” says Trescott. “The more ways you shake up your sense of reality, the less your breakup will seem like a burden and more like the catalyst for a more surprising life.”
The next step Trescott proposes is to take an honest inventory of your life — your career, your friendships, your hobbies — and breaking up with anyone or anything that you’ve been engaging with out of habit or comfort rather than joy or growth. For instance, if you're feeling disengaged at your job, consider working with a career coach or school's guidance counselor or chatting with family and friends to figure out what will make you feel more fulfilled.
“Everything has a time and a place," adds Trescott. "So, rather than breaking away out of the blue (as your ex did), take the time to acknowledge how this person, activity, or belief has been supporting you and what letting go will redirect you towards."
If you’re still struggling after taking all of these steps, Trescott emphasizes that it’s crucial to remind yourself that you’re human.
“Maybe you’re struggling because you were getting too comfortable,” she says. “Consider how this struggle makes you more relatable. Try looking at what you're going through as a universal experience — a rite of passage even. As a breakup coach, what I know for sure is, everyone has something they want to share about heartbreak.” Whatever you do, remember: it's all uphill from here. Now that you know how resilient you are, you can approach future romances with open eyes and an open heart.
Chelsea Leigh Trescott, breakup coach