How Do I Get Over a Breakup?

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Reader’s Question

I used to date a wonderful woman. I really loved her, and I mean extremely. She broke it off. Since then, I’ve been thinking about her almost every day, and it’s been over a year now. When I think of her I get mixed emotions of happiness, longing, and hopelessness.

Do you think it’s a good idea to ask her to meet, and then tell her how I feel? It’s as if these feelings are being repressed in me, and letting them out will be a huge relief to me, even if she says no.

More importantly, how do I get myself to stop thinking about her and clinging to the past? How do I convince myself that I don’t need a relationship (or this woman) to make me happy?

Psychologist’s Reply

A lot of people make the mistake of holding out hope for a relationship that is over. If she broke it off and it’s been over a year since the two of you dated, I think you can safely take it that the relationship is gone. Instead of dwelling on what you’ve lost, perhaps working on closure and changing your perspective will be more helpful.

If you have a lot of repressed feelings about the relationship, I do think you should get them out, but not to her (unless she’s expressed a desire to hear about them). My guess is that she has moved on, and hearing your feelings will only make her uncomfortable and not be productive for you. Research supports the utility of venting feelings even if it’s not to a particular person, so a better idea might be for you to write her a letter. Pour out everything you would like to say and don’t hold anything back. Then, once it’s finished, get rid of the letter. Burn it, tear it up, bury it or push it to the very back of a drawer (if you think you may want to read it again some day). The only thing I wouldn’t advise doing with the letter is sending it. This letter is for you and you alone.

The act of getting out all of your feelings may help you achieve the closure you seem to need in order to move forward with your life. Another productive strategy may be to dispassionately analyze the relationship to see what it is you need to learn from it. What aspects of the relationship do you believe could have been improved? What was your role in the breakup? In short, start preparing for your next relationship by figuring out what you need to do differently.

Human beings are social animals, so we do need people to make us happy. However, there shouldn’t be one particular person who is necessary to your happiness. There are lots of relationships that are good for us, including family and friends. It might be best to start there. Spend time with people who care about you and make you laugh. Start meeting new people. Do things that will enrich your life. Once you do those things, you may realize that happiness is not a destination but a journey. Although others will share some of our travels, you are the only one who will follow the journey through to the end. As such, only you can make yourself happy.

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