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14 Ways to Heal After a Rough Breakup (#4: Resist the urge for sex with the ex)

Image of a system deleting feelings.Why do breakups have to hurt so badly? If we all ran amok and naked—cuddled with those we liked with no consequences, like an episode of Bachelor in Paradise—the world would spin off its axis. There must be some societal checks and balances.

Evolutionary biologists conclude that post-breakup pain and reflection are required for us to learn from loss. In other words, the agony following a breakup is an evolutionary adaptation that ensures the maintenance of close social ties.1

Understanding the pain of rejection

Rejection hurts so that we are hesitant to enter social situations in which rejection is likely. Think of it as a safety mechanism to protect us from our own wanton desires.

Develop some empathy and realistic expectations for your breakup recovery. Unchecked emotions can lead to despondency and a sense of hopelessness. Feelings of self-blame and even thoughts of self-harm or suicide are not uncommon. So it’s vital to consider professional help. Every person and split is different. We may have handled a prior breakup just fine, while the next one has us clutching our chest and making deals with God.

Breakup and divorce recovery were less grueling when the world was offline. Before social media, breaking up was a discrete event. A split used to occur when phones were dumb and tethered to a wall. Imagine a time when you answered every call, hoping it was your ex calling, but it was Aunt Edna asking if you wanted ambrosia salad for Sunday brunch.

Now more than ever, we have commoditized ourselves and have made dating transactional. 

Today, a breakup can go down via text sans any emotion or actual interaction. Even worse, they can take the form of a social media post, thereby becoming a spectator affair rife with the trimmings of public comments, crying emojis, and indiscriminate shares, all forever memorialized in the cloud.

For some modern-day breakup sufferers, the outing of their emotions so publicly online is a frantic form of catharsis. They post colorful block quotes of how freshly independent they are while deluging us with selfies donning new clothes, bangs, spray tans, sports cars, or posing with any attractive being of the opposite sex, or worse—a flexing gym selfie.

How to heal your heart

What can you do when someone takes your relationship back to the previous level? The following are techniques to greatly accelerate your rise from cupid’s neglect:

  1. Social media is neither social nor media. If you post over-the-top or sexy pictures as evidence of your thrilling new life, you are only showing how much you still care. Breaking up with someone includes breaking up with his or her social media. If you skip this fundamental step, you might as well slip on camouflage, squat in the bushes, and ogle them through their windows.
  2. Alcohol gives you a bummer brain. Alcohol is a depressant that impairs judgment. One does not need a root causal analysis to see the results that sad drinking can yield. Alcohol whispers silly things like, “You should totally text him.” Any amount you drink can make you more miserable. It also leads to bad decisions, like eating cereal for dinner, and impulsivity, like buying something from Tiffany’s website or your local Lexus dealership.
  3. Do nothing. Any moment that you want to reach out or take an action that has anything to do with your ex—especially if it’s trying to get them back—do nothing. Doing nothing ensures that you have nothing to regret. You can’t go wrong if you avoid any action that gets you reengaged with your ex. It’s the smallest tactic with the biggest return. Your panic and desperation to get them back in your life is a crushing desire that lessens each time you don’t try.
  4. No ex-sex. There are endless reasons why sexual reunions with your ex are inadvisable. Go on a “love fast” for 30 days to begin dissolving the neurological processes your brain has formed. In a study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers found that people who use sex to cope with breakup anger and distress or to get back at their ex may be slower to recover from the breakup.
  5. Be “opposite” you. In the case of a breakup or divorce, the primary “opposite you” is to ‘go ghost.’ If you and your ex have children together, then you will unavoidably need to discuss issues such as welfare and access. However, it is best to keep these interactions to a minimum and at a McDonald’s Playland just off the freeway. Otherwise, continuing to see your ex prevents you from moving on with your life. It also exposes you to extreme distress and hinders your emotional recovery, leading to an increased longing for reconciliation.
  6. Never use one person to get over another. Rebound relationships are a great way to boost your ego at the expense of someone else’s well-being. Rebound dating is not. If you are hurting, you should be healing, not dating. Reconnect with old friends. They’ll remind you of how epic you were prior to your ex falling from the internet into your arms. A rebound simply postpones healing in a cerebral purgatory.
  7. Radically accept. When faced with a breakup, rather than focusing on how much you want things to be different, try radically accepting the situation as is. Radical acceptance is not the same as liking or condoning. It’s simply accepting what is out of your control to lessen your anxiety, anger, and sorrow. Controlling your reaction to what is happening is the only thing over which you have control. In life, you can let go, or you can be dragged down.
  8. Be DTF (Down-to-Forgive). Practice some breakup dementia. You’ve been forgiven in life, so pay it forward. And if you believe you were at fault, forgive yourself not just once but again and again until you feel peace. Once you accept your flaws and mistakes, no one can use them against you. The truth is, most of us are doing the best we can with the skills we have at any given moment.
  9. Soothe thyself. The goal of breakup self-soothing is to engage as many of the five senses as possible. Consider taking a hike by water or in nature while paying close attention to the sights, smells, and sounds around you. Or get a massage somewhere that’s not open 24 hours with blacked-out windows. Go out for a meal or just dessert with a friend, if possible. Even when you don’t feel like eating, food goes down much easier under the distraction of conversation.
  10. Send a knee-mail. I don’t care if you are Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, or wondering if there’s a God—negotiating a breakup is the perfect time to spend in prayer. Every moment that you are centered in the past or future, you suffer a temporary loss of this life. Prayer keeps you rooted in the now. Add mindfulness meditation training via a meditation phone app or YouTube. With practice, an inner balance and peacefulness develop, and you become a master of chill.
  11. Do some comeback cardio. Any type of exercise or vigorous activity is an effective means to burn off the breakup flotsam in your bloodstream. Exercise will cause your muscles to create lactic acid to help counter the change in pH resulting from anxious breathing. Don’t overdo it. If you weren’t an American Ninja Warrior contestant prior to the split, you don’t need to be one now. But you do need to spend time outdoors, get regular sleep, eat right, and move.
  12. Designate a BuB (Breakup Buddy). The breakup recovery process is fraught with pitfalls and regression. It’s counterintuitive to feel worse while supposedly on the track to healing. One minute might pass where you don’t think of your ex at all. The next, you’re chewing off your bestie’s arm to retrieve your phone and send an ill-advised text. These are dangerous moments of relapse, hence the importance of a “breakup buddy” (aka BuB). Choose someone empathetic and able to handle the mood swings and random lunacy you will fire at them.
  13. Take the write way. “Dear Diary, Today everything sucked….” Research has shown that breakup journaling helps reduce stress, solve problems more effectively, and even improve your health by strengthening immune cells called T-lymphocytes. Eventually, you will start to see that you’re a damned rainbow, and your ex was colorblind.
  14. Don’t get kicked in the nostalgias. Nostalgia has a utopian aspect due to the substantial role that imagination plays in it. When reminiscing about a previous romantic love, your past difficulties are often overlooked due to the idealization of your ex and the time you spent together. The image in your head that the past looks so perfect is a mirage created by nostalgia. The past holds nothing for you now. Stop looking there.

Yeah, breakups are sad. But have you ever accidentally stepped on your dog’s paw?


Rhoades GK, Kamp Dush CM, Atkins DC, Stanley SM, Markman HJ. Breaking up is hard to do: the impact of unmarried relationship dissolution on mental health and life satisfaction. J Fam Psychol. 2011 Jun;25(3):366-74.

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