Banish bad breakup habits—yes, that includes rebound sex—and heal faster with these science-backed tricks
After a seriously messy breakup, never speaking of the split again may seem like the easiest way to leave your heartache in the past—but a new study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests otherwise. If you’re really struggling with a separation and want to make the recovery process as painless as possible, avoid these five bad breakup habits and you’ll feel better in no time. (Understanding why can help! Check out "What Went Wrong?" Dating Dilemmas, Explained.)
The study in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that people who consistently reflected on their failed relationship actually gained clarity and showed more signs of emotional recovery than those who barely thought about it. But by reminding participants of their loss, it forced them to focus on the big picture—i.e. who they are without their partner—and actually helped speed recovery. That means your support system post-breakup should be the friend who will listen. “Women tend to co-ruminate, so the friend who is super negative about your ex won’t make you feel any better,” says co-author Grace Larson of Northwestern University. The take-home message here isn’t just to immerse yourself in feelings and wallow, she explains, but rather look at the situation with a new perspective.
Sure, looking at the glass half empty is generally a bad stance to take. But you do need to give yourself some time to feel lousy after a breakup, says Karen Sherman, Ph.D., a relationship psychologist and author of Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, and Make It Last. It takes people roughly 11 weeks post-breakup to start viewing their new situation in a positive light, according to research in the Journal of Positive Psychology. Grieving—whether that means you’re having a good cry over a rom-com or going to town on Ben & Jerry’s with a girlfriend—will help the recovery process, says Sherman. (Skip the guilt when pigging out: SHAPE Best Blogger Awards: 20 Healthy Eating Blogs That Make Us Go Mmmmm...)
“Rebound sex is more of a Band-Aid than a remedy,” says Sherman. It may not hurt your recovery, but it won’t help much either. In fact, people who pursued new sexual partners post-breakup in a study from the University of Missouri didn’t show less distress, less anger, or have higher self-esteem afterward. That being said, other studies do show that rebound relationships can help ease the post-breakup burn. “Casually dating is less intense than casual sex and may be more helpful because it serves as a simple distraction,” says Sherman. Rebound relationships obviously shouldn’t get super serious, because you need time to process your feelings. But meeting new people can help you realize that there’s a lot more out there to look forward to, she says.
People who remain Facebook friends with their ex after a recent breakup actually feel less negative feelings towards the split, as well as less sexual desire and longing for their ex, according to a British study. However, using that access to stalk his activities negated all these positive effects—and caused more distress over the breakup. (It's not just ex stalking that's unhealthy: How Bad Are Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for Mental Health?) “It all boils down to your willpower,” says Sherman. De-friending a recent flame could actually make you think more about them because you know you can’t see what is going on in their life. Monitoring your behavior for the first week or two is the best way to know which method is best for you, she adds.
Getting rid of all of their personal belongings is a must, says Sherman. But literally eliminating everything that reminds you of him—i.e. a certain type of music or a certain type of cuisine—just isn’t logical. Rather than never going to karaoke again because that use to be your favorite date night, just go with new people to create more positive associates with that activity. New or unique associations tend to be the strongest in our memories, according to a study from City University London, so over time the new memories will replace the old, Sherman explains. (Might as well make the memories good ones: Try one of the Top 5 Get-Healthy Girlfriend Getaways.)