How to get over a break up... Without having a break down
Unfortunately, January is the month when more couples split up than at any other time. Could it get any bleaker? So, it’s also the month when the most pieces of break-up advice are trotted out by family and well-meaning friends. But should we believe these tips? To stop any new singletons blindly following break-up clichés that don’t work, we’ve put them to the test…
Break-up cliché: “The best way to get over someone is to get under somebody new”
Let’s start with the friskiest cliché—the idea that having “rebound” or “revenge sex” is the fastest way to set yourself on the road to recovery.
True or False? False
Sorry to wrench away your only silver lining, but rebound sex is not shown to have any uplifting effects at all.
An American Study conducted in 2012 surveyed 170 university students who’d recently been through a break-up. The group was split into two sections: those who admitted to having had rebound sex with a new partner, and those who had chosen to process their emotions alone.
The study showed that the students who’d rushed to sleep with new people were no happier than their chaste peers. Both groups experienced exactly the same levels of anger, distress and self-esteem—but the raunchier group had all the complications of a new relationship to process, on top of their existing emotions.
It’s might feel easier to look to another person to cure your heartbreak, but it’s not always the best solution. Instead, boosting your own self-esteem is never a waste of time. See below.
Break-up cliché: Get a haircut
For many women (cough—me—cough), a break-up isn’t official until they’ve stared themselves down in a hairdresser’s mirror. Men aren’t immune to this makeover urge, either. An article in Glamour magazine revealed men often grow their facial hair as an act of rebellion after a split. But is it wise?
True or False? True!
Change your hair, change your life—or at least treat yourself to a whole new sense of identity with a “breakover”. It seems there are psychological benefits to updating your look after a split.
Grace Larson, a researcher at Northwestern University, says: “You’re going to try to be attractive—that makes perfect sense. In light of research, it makes sense that you would try really broadcast this new, strong identity.”
So it’s really a case of showing the world that you’re OK with losing your partner, even while you’re still waiting for your heart to catch up.
Pro tip? Don’t go too extreme with the new look. If you’re feeling anger or humiliation after your break up (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t?) then you’re more likely to leap into a hasty, impulsive decision. Researchers have long suspected that intense, negative emotions impair our self-regulation skills, leading to self-defeating behaviour. So treat yourself to a new do by all means, but don’t demand to have eight inches off. Now is not the time.
Break-up cliché: Stop moping and look to the future
There comes a point in your break-up recovery where you sense you have grieved enough, and that your friends have had enough of your wet face buried in their shoulder. At that point, it’s healthy and helpful to draw a line and stop going over what went wrong… Or is it?
True or false? False
Talking about your break-up helps you recover. Fact.
A 2015 study conducted by Grace Larson split recently separated young adults into two groups. The first group received regular assessments, including discussing the break-up in depth, over nine weeks. The second group only received a brief intake and exit assessment. At the end of the study, the first group retained a much higher “self-concept clarity”—that is, the ability to see themselves without a negative bias—than the first, and lower levels of depression and loneliness.
A break-up requires time and effort to heal. In fact, research has shown that emotional pain is felt in the same neural system as the body uses for physical pain. (And painkillers also relieve your feelings.) So just as you wouldn’t rush to leap back into life with a broken leg, you shouldn’t try to do it with a broken heart. Take as long as you need. And maybe a couple of aspirin.
Break-up cliché: Stay friends
You’ve been in each other’s lives for some time. You’ve shared moments, friends and important parts in your lives. To cut all of that off just because you’ve split up is just immature and churlish—right? Actually…
True or False? False
If your instinct is telling you to cut yourself off from your ex, do it. You’re not being grumpy, you’re putting yourself on the quickest road to wellness.
A study from Western Ontario University found that staying friends with your ex on social media slows down the recovery process. The reason is that your brain becomes addicted to your partner during a relationship. Love and drugs stimulate the same reward centres of your brain, releasing dopamine and a rush of endorphins whenever you’re together. When you break up, your brain longs for your ex, simply to experience another release of those feel-good chemicals. The quickest way out is to go cold-turkey.
This is especially important for women. In a relationship, especially sexual relationships, men and women both release oxytocin, the bonding hormone that keeps us committed. But when we split up, men naturally experience a spike in testosterone. Unfortunately, testosterone lessens the effect of oxytocin, meaning a man breaks his bonds to an old relationship much faster than women can. That explains why men seem to move on so much more easily; they have chemical help.
The difficult truth
When all is said and done the truth is break-ups are horrible. It’s a time to be kind to yourself, and do whatever makes you happy. And the good news is, whatever you think will make you happy, probably will.
A study by University of Colorado Boulder showed that placebos work unexpectedly well on the newly single. MRI scans of singleton’s brains showed that people who’d been given a placebo nasal spray they were told “lessened emotional pain” showed far less distress when looking at pictures of their lost partner than a group who’d been told it was a simple saline solution. So, follow your nose—or your heart. If you believe a pint of ice cream, a duvet day and watching Beaches on repeat will cheer you up during this dark month, I’m happy to say it will.