Breaking up with a romantic partner can be pretty unpleasant. Psychological stress, emotional lows, and even depression are not uncommon after a relationship comes to an end.
So what can you do to repair your broken heart? Is it best to forget your ex and the time you spent together? Or will reflecting on the relationship make it easier for you to get on with your life?
To answer this question, US researchers found 210 brokenhearted students and split them into two groups. Over a period of nine weeks the first group reflected on their breakup through different activities and questionnaires which they repeated four times. The other group just showed up twice – once at the beginning and once at the end of the study – to fill in questionnaires.
The researchers looked at how well the students did over the course of the study, evaluating things like emotional distress, loneliness, and their sense of self-identity now that they were single.
Learning to be single
So… what works best? Just trying to forget the whole thing and get on with life? Or doing all that reflecting-on-the-relationship stuff?
Well, it turns out that taking the time to reflect on a past relationship does seem to be the way get over a broken heart, according to this study. There was no doubt about it: students in the first group had more success moving on with their lives.
What was it about the study that helped these brokenhearted students? It could be that self-reflection helped them "build a stronger sense of who they were as single people", says researcher Grace Larson. At the end of the study, the students in the first group had a clearer idea of what made them individuals without their former partners.
But there’s another possible reason these students were able to move on with their lives. On each visit, those in the first group spoke privately about their breakups into voice recorders. It could be that regularly expressing their emotions is what really helped them.
Talking into a voice recorder in a research study is clearly not an option for most people. But the good news is that writing down your feelings in a good old-fashioned diary after a breakup is another way to express emotions. It’s a strategy that’s been shown to help people with difficult life events like getting over a relationship.
So if you’re dwelling on a past love and struggling to get on with your life, taking the time to write down your deepest thoughts each day could be one of the keys to moving on.
That’s just what Larson suggests: “A person could complete weekly check-ins related to his or her emotions and reactions to the breakup and record them in a journal," she says. Another approach she believes could work is to regularly write about your breakup as if you were discussing it with a stranger.
Source: Participating in Research on Romantic Breakups Promotes Emotional Recovery via Changes in Self-Concept Clarity, Grace M. Larson, David A. Sbarra
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