How to Handle a Breakup When You Didn't Do Anything Wrong

Take care of yourself during a breakup by looking for the good in your life.
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It can be mystifying to suddenly find yourself single after weeks, months or maybe even years of dating a partner seriously. Even the most well-adjusted person is prone to extreme self-directed criticism after undergoing an unexpected breakup, according to psychologist Guy Winch, but understanding that the end of a relationship is not your fault may be the first step to recovery. No one is immune to self-doubt, and it pays to take better care of yourself when a relationship ends by focusing your energy on healing your emotional wounds.

1 Accept That It's Over

You can waste a lot of valuable time thinking about ways to get your ex back, especially if you're placing the blame for your split on yourself. You can make things easier on yourself -- and speed up the process of getting over the end of the relationship -- by not staying in contact with your ex and not trying to go back to the way things were. Research by anthropologist Helen Fisher and psychologist Naomi Eisenberger shows that breakups cause emotional pain not unlike withdrawal. Fisher's research shows that the negative brain activity people experience after a breakup slowly goes away, but even one e-mail or phone call could stop your recovery in its tracks by wounding you further.

2 Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

Going through a breakup is an emotional roller coaster, but doing things that make you feel good physically will also lower the levels of stress hormones floating around your brain -- and these may be even higher if you are obsessing about the reasons behind a breakup you didn't cause or initiate. Remember that people who experience or perceive rejection attack their own self-esteem, according to Winch, so you need to fight back against any confusion or resentment you're feeling now with activities that will improve your feelings of self-worth, rather than lower them further. You may want to withdraw and stay inside, drowning your sorrows in a pint of ice cream, but moderate exercise and healthy eating will do more to improve your mood, according to marriage therapist Sheri Meyers. Work on good habits like eating vegetables, fruits and fiber instead of under- or overeating to cope with your feelings of loss and rejection.

3 Grieve In Moderation

You need to take care of your mind as well as your body. This means giving yourself time to grieve -- but not to obsess -- about the loss of your relationship. Most people who go through breakups experience grief, but yours is unique -- you might have more to process than others in different situations. The emotional pain of rejection works on the same areas of the brain as physical pain, according to Winch, so it's no wonder that a breakup has left you reeling. Winch reports that paople are more likely to find fault with themselves in the midst of their pain because humans tend to turn frustration at being rejected inward. Be gentle with yourself during this time, but get your emotions about your complicated breakup out now by writing or by turning to a friend or therapist. You need to be especially careful not to overdo it, however. Don't let your concerns about what went wrong get in your way by taking up too much of your mental energy.

4 Focus on the Positive

You can help lift yourself out of that down-in-the-dumps feeling if you devote some time to your own happiness. You may have spent years thinking of yourself as part of a unit and may be unsure of where to begin when you suddenly and unexpectedly find yourself single. But Meyers emphasizes that dwelling on these understandably negative thoughts will not help you get over your split, but reframing your situation in the most positive way possible, as early as you're able, will. Even putting on a fake smile has been shown to slow heart rates in stressful situations in a study by University of Kansas researchers. So fake it 'til you make it, and keep a list of things you're thankful for along the way to remind yourself of all the good in your life. This is also a great opportunity for you to rediscover favorite activities and rekindle friendships that were stronger before you started dating your ex, no matter how long ago that might have been.

A graduate of Oberlin College, Caitlin Duke has written on travel and relationships for She has crisscrossed the country several times, and relishes discovering new points on the map. As a credentialed teacher, she also has a strong background in issues facing families today.