Answering Your Questions: Surviving Heartache after being Ghosted in a Relationship
When it comes to heartache, “being ghosted” might be one of the hardest things to understand and cope with. Almost like a death, the sudden disappearance of connection, without explanation, is as much a shock as it is deeply painful. Recently Julie wrote in asking for some targeted advice on this topic, and with her permission, I am including her story and request.
My boyfriend of two years suddenly stopped communicating with me after an argument. I have tried multiple times to reach out to him but he will not answer any of my calls or text messages. It has been approx. three weeks now. This has been one of the hardest things I have had to deal with. I am assuming that he does not plan to speak with me ever again. I don’t know how to cope with the heartache. Do you have any tips on getting over the pain?
Working through a painful breakup is hard enough without having to work it through in a vacuum. Closure and moving on is harder without the ability to understand what it is, and why it happened. A lack of communication demands we somehow make sense of the silence and work through a loss without the information we feel we need.
And as time goes on the shock of silence turns into an emerging reality of loss. It is disorienting to believe your last argument was the end of the relationship, and confusing to understand how that could be. What tipped the balance this time, and why didn’t you see it coming? There are so many questions, so many feelings, and no concrete answers. What had been an accessible connection is suddenly a hard wall of rejection, without warning, without explanation. Being ghosted is possibly the hardest break up there is.
Getting used to this new reality can be maddening in no longer having access to him, disorienting in the new reality of what has happened, guilt-ridden over what you said, and what you wished you’d said, and so deeply painful in facing a loss you didn’t want. It is a complicated slew of powerful emotions that can make it feel impossible to move forward and hard sometimes to simply get up and live life.
But it is also a place that will not last, you will learn powerful lessons from, and an experience in your life that will set a healthier stage for your future.
Here are my 10 best tips to getting over the pain of a sudden breakup, and surviving heartbreak.
- Expect to grieve.
Heartbreakis real pain, as you get used to a new physical and emotional reality. You won’t be with him again, you won’t talk to him again, and you no longer are together. You have been thrust into a new reality, and accepting it is your number one priority. Expect to have a range of feelings that will ebb and flow, and that some days you might even wonder if you will be ok. This ishow grief works, and you will be ok.
- Beware of the “highlight reel”
Making sense of what happened, and how what happened could have happened is the work of processing this new life without your relationship. Of course you miss what you had, and your mind will naturally find itself thinking often about the best of what you had, or could have had. I call this the “highlight reel”– that place you go to remember, to visit the happy memories, to escape the painful reality of now.
While the highlight reel is a natural part of grieving, it can become a trap when it is visited too often, or used as a tool to ignore a more painful reality.
- Aim to make sense of what happened
While it isn’t easy to know why your partner ended things when they choose to end it without closure, your job in making peace with this new reality is to understand how this breakup could have been predicted. Yes, predicted. Recognize the avoidance in the ghosting break-up, and ask yourself what other ways he avoided things he didn’t want to face in his life, and in your relationship. How problematic was that strategy?
Look for other clues you might not have noticed, or ignored at the time, that predicted his ultimate behavior? What led up to the end? What did you fight about in that last conversation – how central was it to issues that were problematic? Aim to tell a story about how it happened, looking from both sides, yours and his. Then ask yourself how it made sense. The ultimate test of acceptance is to recognize an outcome as exactly what should have happened given the trajectory of the relationship. Aim for clarity, and when in doubt pick the most reasonable explanations.
- Rewrite history
As you gain a deeper clarity about the problems in your relationship, look to infuse your relationship narrative with the clues and data points you collect. Texturing the “highlight reel” with the real problems of your partnership can help keep you grounded in the reality of what happened, instead of the fantasy of what could have been. Make sure to infuse your good memories with the not so good ones.
Absorbing this new reality and his unexpected behavior requires working backwards in your experience and memory and layer in the pieces of his behavior that are consistent with this final blow. This will help you do the very important work of holding him responsible for his behavior so that you can better understand yours.
- Rest, Sleep, and Day Dream
Your brain is busy processing a new reality, and it needs space and rest to do that. Make sure to get at least 7.5 hours of sleep (and probably more) and if you are having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about an appropriate sleep aid. Sleep is possibly the most important thing you can do to maximize your recovery – make sure not to short change yourself.
Expect to dream more, but not just at night. Your brain needs time during the day for spacing out, since this is the brain mode associated with processing social stress. Long drives, long walks, and mundane tasks that allow your mind to wander are great opportunities to give your mind the opportunity it needs to process. When processing any new reality, spacing out can help.
- Get busy
Losing a relationship can suddenly deliver you more time on your hands. Instead of dreading the time alone, use the void of time you used to spend together to do something healthy and constructive for yourself. A new exercise routine, a new hobby, reconnecting with friends, a house project, cooking again. Getting into action for yourself, no matter what it is, can be a wonderful way to take control, and channel your feelings into something positive for yourself.
If aerobic exercise isn’t yet in your routine, work to make it so. As little as 15 minutes of elevating your heart rate elevated can produce brain benefitsthat boost your mood, your ability to problem-solve, and how efficiently you process new information. There is never a better time for the benefits of exercise than when you are processing a new reality and the anxiety that comes along with it.
- Socialize with your friends
The support of friends and family is well known to help maximize your resilience. Spending time with supportive friends and family can limit loneliness, social withdrawal, and the negative emotional spiral that can accompany a sudden loss and breakup. Even if you don’t feel like it, try to be social wherever you can. Reach out to your friends, see them, and have conversations where ever you can. This will help you not feel so alone, and also orient you to the world beyond your relationship.
- Talk and write about what happened
Labeling your experienceis a powerful tool in managing emotions and working them through. When you express your feelings to yourself or someone else, you are activating more of your brain to process those feelings than if you simply felt them quietly.
Any chance you get to talk about your feelings will help. With one important caveat. Research showstalking and writing about our feelings facilitates optimal recovery when told with a healing story arc. Feel free to describe your painful feelings, but make sure to land on something positive (ie. what you’ve learned, how you’re recovering, how you have survived).
I know this is a biggie, but it is important. Regret, anger, frustration will naturally come up at many points along the way. As you work through your feelings and develop a deeper understanding of what happened and why, you may find places where you feel stuck in anger, either at him, or at yourself. These growth impasses are often opportunities for further understanding andforgiveness.
While there are many things you can do to help yourself recover from a sudden unexpected loss, there is no magic bullet, and no one right way. Recovering from heartbreak is a process unique to every individual, and there are no rules. As much as possible enact a spirit of curiosity and be gentle with yourself as you learn your way through this process.
If you stumble on roadblocks you can’t surpass, don’t be afraid to seek help. Heartbreak is intensely painful and can stir up other complicating issues that a professional can help you further understand and cope with.
Wishing Julie and other ghosting sufferers peace in working through heartache to heal.
If you struggle to do this, some support may be in order. I suggest you begin by downloading my free eBook,“Naming Your Feelings: A Guide to Understanding Your Emotions.” For more targeted help with managing anxiety, preorder my book, Hack Your Anxiety, and receive free bonus offers here.