Student sitting in the dark with her phone as it illuminates her face on the couch.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been with someone for a matter of weeks, months or years. The end of a relationship can leave us feeling uneasy or uncertain about what comes next. Here are a few things you can do to cope with a breakup and move on in a healthy way.

1. Allow for mixed feelings

Breakups can elicit a wide range of emotions, including sadness, resentment, jealousy, regret and relief (to name a few). All of these feelings are a normal part of grieving, and allowing yourself to experience your feelings without judgment can be an important part of the healing process. In fact, avoiding your feelings can sometimes cause them to become more intense or they may sneak up on you in unexpected ways. Keep in mind that these feelings will likely go away or become less intense over time. While you may be in pain now, it’s important to remember that it won’t last forever.

2. Set healthy boundaries

Breakups can be hard. Setting healthy boundaries with yourself and those around you can help protect your mental and emotional health. Here are some examples of boundaries you can set around a breakup.

  • Details. Remember that you’re not obligated to share the details of your relationship or breakup. If you’re not comfortable discussing the topic with friends or family members, let them know by saying something like, “I appreciate your concern, but I’d be more comfortable not talking about my relationship right now.”
  • Contact. Whether you’d like to stay friends with your ex or not, it’s usually a good idea to take time apart from communicating or hanging out with one another after a breakup. Try to set boundaries with each other by agreeing to a ‘no-contact’ period. This will provide you both with the time and space you need to heal. If your ex contacts you before you’re ready to talk, don’t feel obligated to respond. Similarly, try to respect your ex’s boundaries by not reaching out to them before the ‘no-contact’ period has ended.
  • Time for mourning. It’s natural to wonder how your ex is doing, think about your relationship and even imagine a future where it all worked out. It’s normal to find yourself browsing their Instagram, keeping an eye on their Snapchat or reading through old texts. However, setting boundaries around how you ‘check in’ on an ex can help give you peace. Schedule time to mourn by setting a timer for 10 minutes in the morning and at night to check their social media or texts and just feel bummed. When the time is up, stop scrolling and focus on other activities. After a while, try cutting back to five minutes. This method allows you to experience your feelings and satisfy your curiosity without consuming your entire day.
  • Unexpected encounters. Sometimes there’s no way to avoid an ex. Whether you have classes together, work together or have the same friends, it’s a good idea to plan for unexpected encounters. If possible, have a conversation about how to handle running into each other. For instance, you might agree to keep conversation to a minimum, wave while walking past or only talk about work or school as needed.
  • Just friends. If you are working on being friends with an ex, try to set physical and emotional boundaries that help draw the line between just friends and something more. For instance, you may want to set boundaries around cuddling, close contact, spending the night, treating each other to meals or being each other’s primary source of support.

Harmful or abusive behaviors

Intimate partner abuse and dating violence can happen in relationships or after breakups. It’s important to remember that there is support available if you or someone you know is currently experiencing harmful or abusive behaviors from a significant other or ex. The Office of Victim Assistance (OVA) offers free and confidential support for students who may be experiencing these types of behaviors.

Examples of harmful or abusive behaviors include:

  • Trying to control/make all decisions related to the relationship or breakup
  • Preventing a current/previous partner from socializing, working or hanging out with others
  • Destroying personal property or threatening pets
  • Trying to control what the other person does, how they look, who they see or talk to
  • Using money to control or trap a current/previous partner
  • Manipulating a current/previous partner by using threats, insults or guilt
  • Keeping close track of where the other person is at all times
  • Pushing, shoving, slapping or hitting
  • Engaging in continuous, unwanted contact in-person and/or online. 
  • Asking for updates from family or friends
  • Spreading rumors about a current/previous partner

3. Reconnect with those around you

After a breakup, you may find yourself busy making plans or you may find yourself feeling more withdrawn. Regardless of how you cope, it’s important to take some time to reconnect with the people closest to you, including friends, family or roommates.

  • Make a point to sit down for lunch or dinner with a close friend to talk through how you’re really doing and feeling (and how they are, too).
  • Check in with a parent, sibling or other family member about what you need right now.
  • If you haven’t been as involved at home or fulfilling your share of roommate responsibilities, talk to your roommate(s) to minimize potential frustrations or disagreements. 

This can also be a good time to reconnect with yourself. Take some time to reflect on who you are outside of your relationships. Jot down a list of things you’re grateful for in life today, hobbies you want to get back to and other sources of joy in your life.

4. Catch up on self-care

Practicing self-care can feel like a chore when we’re feeling down, but it’s important to make sure your most basic needs are being met, especially after a breakup. Here are a few examples of self-care activities that are worth a try.

  • Journal. Organize and work through your thoughts and feelings. What was good about today? What was challenging?
  • Take a shower. Use your private time in the shower to dance and sing, scream, cry or simply relax.
  • Get outside and move your body. Take a walk around the block, enjoy window shopping or visit a local park.
  • Phone a friend. Catch up with people you haven’t seen in a while by texting, calling or going out for coffee.
  • Get some sleep. Breakups can be tiring. Ensure you’re getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night. If you feel tired during the day, opt for a 20-minute nap.
  • Stay hydrated. Try to drink water throughout the day. Carry a reusable water bottle with you for quick refills.
  • Eat regular meals or snacks. Grief can sometimes make us over or undereat. Try to listen to your body’s natural cues related to hunger and fullness throughout the day.
  • Take small steps. You don’t have to tackle everything at once. Approach new emotions or experiences one step at a time.

5. Take some time to reflect (when you’re ready)

Reflecting on your relationship with an ex can help you find silver linings, learn about yourself and discover healthy ways to move forward in the future. It’s okay if you’re not quite ready to dive into the details yet, but when you are ready, here are some helpful tips for reflecting. 

Who were you at the start of the relationship? Who are you now?

Relationships can be catalysts for many things in our lives. Take some time to reflect on who you were when you entered the relationship versus who you are now. Here are a few questions that can help you get started. 

  • Did you grow as a person? If yes, how? If not, why? 
  • What did you learn about the way you handle conflicts?
  • Did you strengthen your communication skills? 
  • Did you discover your love language? 
  • What did you learn about the way you navigate romantic relationships?
  • Are there any habits you want to continue outside of the relationship?

What are your non-negotiables?

Dating provides us with an opportunity to explore our likes, dislikes and deal-breakers. Think through some of the things that are most important to you in a relationship (e.g. lifestyle choices, time together, similar goals, religious or spiritual beliefs, wanting kids, etc.).

  • Did you discover deal-breakers you didn’t expect in your last relationship?
  • What about things you’d like to keep in future relationships?

Being aware of these factors can help you know what you’re willing to compromise on and what you’re not.

Is there anything you’d like to do differently in the future?

Let’s face it, nobody is perfect. While it’s important not to dwell on all the things we wish had gone differently, understanding the role we have played in relationships can help us learn to approach relationships differently in the future. Think back on your time with your ex.

  • Are there things that you did or said that you’re not proud of?
  • Do you wish you would have handled a situation differently than you did at the time?

Try to avoid beating yourself up about past mistakes. Instead, use this as an opportunity to accept that mistakes happen in every relationship. Be mindful of how you have approached different situations and what you might be able to do differently in the future.

6. Reach out for additional support

Breakups can be tough, but you don’t need to go through it alone. Check out these resources for additional support.

Let’s Talk

Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) provides free drop-in consultations through Let’s Talk. Counselors are available in person and online to help provide insight, solutions and information about additional resources.

Peer Wellness Coaching

Peer Wellness Coaching is a free service available that can help you set and achieve your goals. Peer wellness coaches are familiar with a variety of topics, including stress, time management, academics, self-care, sleep, finances and more.

Office of Victim Assistance (OVA)

OVA provides free and confidential information, consultation, support, advocacy and short-term counseling services for students, grad students, faculty and staff who have experienced a traumatic, disturbing or life-disruptive event.

Student Support and Case Management (SSCM)

SSCM is here to help students identify issues and appropriate resources. They also work collaboratively with students to develop an action plan. This is a great option for those who would like someone to reach out to another student or friend directly for support.

Thriving Campus

If you are looking to connect with a local mental health provider in your area, Thriving Campus can help you connect with a variety of providers based on specialization, needs and insurance. 

Feel Better Fast Workshop

This three-part workshop is designed to help you learn mindfulness techniques and cope with distressing emotions/thoughts. You will learn how to make balanced decisions and take a step back from your thoughts.