How To Survive A Break-up

Feeling lost and lonely after a brutal breakup? Heed these words of wisdom to help you get through the three stages of grieving so that your heart can heal — and move forward.

By Theo Pauline Nestor

y first bad breakup came when I was 28. What made this one so bad? It wasn’t my idea. While there are no good breakups, many would agree that the ones sprung on you out of nowhere are especially brutal. I was taking a French class at the time and for some reason we had to translate the phrase “He has left
I thought I’d never survive, but I did.
his wife.” I broke down weeping as I translated the words (and fellow students passed me tissues). I thought I’d never survive, but I did. In fact, I got through the whole ordeal a bit quicker than I might’ve with the help of a rather dog-eared copy of the timeless classic, How to Survive the Loss of a Love, which my grandmother had passed down to me.

If you’re not nursing a broken heart, you might look at How to Survive the Loss of a Love’s skimpy chapters, corny aphorisms and poetry that frankly might’ve been ripped from a 14-year-old’s journal and think you’re above this type of help. But if you’re suffering through the four-alarm fire that is breakup grief, you’re not feeling particularly above anything that might lift the pain even a smidge — and this slender tome can help. In fact, when I was teaching at a community college, I kept a copy handy to lend to the stream of students who poured through my office with stories of love gone wrong. Inevitably, they’d return a few days later, saying they couldn’t quite understand how… but the little book had made them feel just a little bit better.

First published in 1976, How to Survive the Loss of a Love is coauthored by Harold H. Bloomfield, Melba Colgrove and Peter McWilliams. The bulk of the book is divided into three sections: Surviving, Healing and Growing which are composed of 94 miniscule entries, each one containing a grain of wisdom small enough to be digestible by even the most distraught of us. Let’s take a look at the three stages as outlined in the book:

Stage One: Surviving
The theme of this stage of breakup recovery is just getting through the day… and the next day and then the next day, until you’re finally at a point where you feel a good deal better. The first entry in this section of the book, simply titled “You Will Survive,” reminds readers that “the healing process has a beginning, a middle, and an end.” No matter how bad you’re feeling, you will move through this process and, slowly but surely, begin to feel better.

During this stage, it’s very important to take care of yourself in the most basic ways — to get enough rest, breathe, reach out for help and to stick to a schedule if at all possible. The authors remind us that “while your inner world is chaotic, maintain a modified (lightened) schedule in the outer world. This gives you a
Use this experience as a springboard for greater growth.
sense of order — also something to hold onto.” There are loads of great concrete suggestions in this section: Find others who’ve gone through a similar loss, get help if you need it, surround yourself with things that are alive (“a new plant, a stray kitten, the puppy you’ve always wanted”). But the primary focus is on helping readers recognize the grieving process, take life a little bit slower and do some personal caretaking as they move through this initial — and mostly likely, painful — stage.

Stage Two: Healing
The Healing section of How to Survive the Loss of a Love focuses on the work of actively moving through grief — an experience that the book cautions against delaying. The first entry urges readers to engage in active mourning as soon as possible: “Don’t postpone, deny, cover or run from your pain. Be with it. Now…The sooner you allow yourself to be with your pain, the sooner it will pass. The only way out is through.” Here are some highlights from the book’s suggestions for getting through the healing stage:
  1. Realize that earlier losses may surface at this time. A breakup can often trigger grief from prior unresolved losses. “Give yourself permission to mend it all,” the book advises.
  2. Don’t try to rekindle the old relationship. “Futile attempts at reconciliation are: painful, anti-healing, anti-growth, a waste of valuable energy, stupid, irresistible.” The authors challenge the reader to stay resolved: “Resist. To give up this final hope may be the most difficult challenge of all.”
  3. Get mementos and photographs out of sight. “Put them in the attic, sell them, give them away or throw them out,” as the book advises.
  4. Expect to feel afraid. Don’t be afraid of fear: “Fear is, in fact, extra energy to successfully meet the challenges of healing and growing ahead.”
  5. Beware of the rebound. “If your healing isn’t complete, an initial rebound is likely to be followed another loss, a second rebound, another loss, then another, until your emotional life is lived in the ricochet pattern of a handball court.”
  6. Laugh! Rent a comedy to watch, read a funny book, call up the friends who always have a hilarious story to share. Eventually, you’ll be able to see things with a sense of levity after time has passed. “Seeing the humor in your loss, your reaction to the loss and even your memories about what was lost can be healing.”
Stage Three: Growing
The final section of How to Survive the Loss of a Love acknowledges that you’ve survived the worst of your breakup misery but cautions the reader, “Don’t just settle for surviving and healing. Use this experience as a springboard for greater growth.” Some of the suggestions for growth are listed below.
  1. Let go of the loss and move on. “You will, of course, occasionally look over your shoulder, but, for the most, focus on the future and moving ahead,” the book advises.
  2. Forgive the other person. Bitterness does nothing except make you feel bad and has no effect on the ex.
  3. Forgive yourself. Learn from any mistakes you made and resolve to learn from them instead of living in regret.
  4. Take stock of the good things that came from it. Focus on what you gained from the relationship. A new interest in a hobby or sport? Memories of travel you both shared? A greater knowledge of yourself and what you desire in a relationship? There’s always a takeaway.
  5. Develop new interests and enjoy your old ones. Shaking up your routine while doing the things you find familiar and comforting will distract you from dwelling on painful memories.
  6. Invite new friends into your life. Meeting people who never knew you in the context of your failed relationship allows you to focus on the future, not who you were or what happened to you before today.
  7. Enjoy your solitude. According to the book, “Enjoying yourself is a prerequisite for genuinely enjoying the company of others.”
Theo Pauline Nestor is the author of How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed: A Memoir of Starting Over (Crown) and a regular contributor to
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