One of the biggest misconceptions around breakups is that the person who instigates the split doesn’t suffer nearly as much as the person they break it off with. The truth is, there are so many factors that can impact how someone deals with a breakup. And just because you’re the one who decided it was time to end things doesn’t mean you won’t struggle in the aftermath. There are two things experts want you to know if you initiated the breakup but still feel sad: This is totally normal, and there are strategies you can use to ease the pain.
Unfortunately, Chelsea Leigh Trescott — breakup coach and podcast host of Thank You Heartbreak — tells Elite Daily that friends and family often nurture the person who's been broken up with back into good spirits, but the initiator rarely gets quite the same level of TLC. Why? Because it's assumed that they aren't hurting as badly.
"In other people’s eyes, the initiator chose to break up — so the fact that they’re now single must mean they’re happy," she explains. "This misconception often leaves the initiator to fend for themselves post-breakup, which is isolating. Having the courage to break up is often confused with caring less about the relationship and, as a result, the initiator can actually feel lonely post-breakup, for the simple reason that their feelings are being overlooked and their heartbreak is being minimized."
But according to dating and breakup coach Lee Wilson, who has witnessed thousands of breakup cases over the last 20 years, feeling sad after breaking up with someone is super common, even if you carefully thought your decision through and ended things on OK terms. Sometimes, your personality can come into play here (shoutout to my fellow empaths).
“You likely have witnessed the pain the breakup has caused your ex and because you are empathetic, you hurt for them,” he explains. “That makes you an emotionally healthy person — as long as you don’t take it too far."
Wilson also notes that if you had high hopes for this previous relationship, and envisioned a future together, then it’s understandable for the split to take a toll on you emotionally. If you thought this person was “The One,” it makes sense why you might feel some lingering disappointment and sadness after ending things.
"Just because you ended the relationship doesn’t mean you weren’t invested in the longevity of it or believed it might last forever," adds Trescott. "It also doesn’t mean that your feelings didn’t run deep. Those who initiate a breakup are still left to grieve the future they’d anticipated as well as the familiarity and comfort they had developed with their ex."
One of the best things you can do to cope with the sadness is to surround yourself with loved ones. In fact, Wilson recommends whipping out your phone right this minute, scrolling through your contacts, and setting up lunches, drinks, walks, and other plans with friends and family. Not only will quality time with these people help to distract you somewhat from the heartache, but it will also help to remind you that you have plenty of other love in your life outside of that last relationship.
Just don't expect your loved ones to know exactly what you need from them.
"Your friends might assume you’re okay because you’d been talking about breaking up for a while," says Trescott. "Get real with yourself and others about the expectations you have for your friendships post-breakup. If no one’s rushing to your side, it’s on you to get comfortable initiating yet another experience. Start inviting others to the places you need to go."
In other words, your squad probably doesn't have the perfect post-breakup rescue plan ready to go. So, you might need to let them know what's most helpful, whether that means going to some new bars and restaurants that don't remind you of your ex, planning a trip to look forward to, or talking out your feels over some frozen sangria.
While a degree of distraction can be healthy for helping you to heal, be careful of distracting yourself so much that you don’t have a chance to work through all of those difficult and painful post-breakup feelings.
“It’s important that you reflect on the relationship,” says Wilson. “You will learn from it but you will also likely reinforce your reasoning for ending it.”
This reflection can take place in therapy, in a journal, or even chatting with your bestie. And it can prove to be immensely beneficial if you're second-guessing your decision to break up. Trescott proposes asking yourself: If I had to do it all again, what would I do differently? Keep in mind, though, that while giving some thought to what you learned from the experience is productive, beating yourself up for your decisions is not.
"What’s done is done," says Trescott. "The way you handled this breakup was a step in a new direction. The next time you’re making a big decision, you now can adjust accordingly thanks to what initiating this breakup has taught you."
And if you're still struggling hard after trying all of these strategies, Trescott suggests reminding yourself of several key things — like your intention for leaving, if you're doubting your decision. If you're feeling guilty that you caused your ex pain, remember that breaking up meant honoring your needs as well as your ex's — which means it was probably the right thing to do.
"Many people stay in relationships that have long since expired, not because love is calling the shots but, because their own fear and dependency is keeping them stuck," she explains. "The consequences of staying because it’s comfortable, convenient, or too overwhelming to leave and/or break someone’s heart, however, are much more tragic to one’s esteem than leaving when love is still in the air."
Also, if you're having a hard time because the sadness feels too heavy to bear, remind yourself that it's only temporary.
"Sadness is closer to a healed heart than anger is," says Trescott. "By staying longer than you should have, it’s likely that you would have grown angry with yourself, your partner, and love in general. But, by getting out before anger ensued, you now have one less stage of grief to cycle through. Lean into the sadness with confidence that painful emotions will soften and pass the less you resist them and the more patience you have for them."
Lastly, Trescott recommends focusing on the immense courage it took to break up with someone. By reframing the experience in this way, you may realize that the break up is actually a testament to your inner strength, integrity, and fearlessness.
While it may be counterintuitive, Trescott says you should celebrate your sadness. Why? Because it's an indicator that you allowed yourself to be vulnerable. As they say, when one door closes, another opens. And if you were able to open yourself up to the possibility of love before, you'll eventually be able to do so again.
Lee Wilson, breakup coach
Chelsea Leigh Trescott, breakup coach