Relationship over? Try detox for 90 days

Richard Asa
Chicago Tribune

Aliya Brown has passed the one-year mark in getting over someone she loved. She hasn’t had contact with her ex in months, and his birthday just passed. Some days are easier than others.

Brown, a graduate student at New York’s Baruch College, says she broke up with her boyfriend thinking that they would get back together, but unbeknownst to her, he was dating and about to enter into an exclusive relationship with a new person.

Brown says she didn’t take the breakup seriously at first.

“I figured she was just a rebound and that he and I would figure things out like old times and get back together. It took a few hard rejections before that change really clicked for me and I completely fell back.”

It’s hard enough to have a relationship go sour. But when an ex is in a new relationship, the wound can grow deeper and healing may feel impossible.

It could be that you’re relieved the ex is in a new relationship if you did the breaking up because your guilt is assuaged and you can feel freer to move on.

More often, however, you’ll feel upset when your ex finds another person, says New York psychiatrist Gail Saltz, author of “The Power of Different.”

“You often feel jealous, finding that someone else wants your ex,” she says. “Suddenly the ex’s value goes up, and you want them back or at least don’t want someone else to have them. You often feel sad because this truly signals that the ex has moved on and you’re not getting back together.”

The best way to get past this is to turn the focus onto yourself, your own happiness and the life you want to create for yourself, says Miami Beach relationship coach Lisa Concepcion.

She suggests a 90-day “detox” from the relationship and its ending.

“No dating, no sex, just quality time with oneself to process, heal and rebuild emotionally,” she says. “Reconnect with friends and family you haven’t seen because you were busy in the relationship, get back into the gym, read, study and attend seminars. Use the time to better yourself and heal.”

Los Angeles therapist Stan Tatkin says you should be glad for the new couple. And if you can’t find that gladness, as the saying goes, “Fake it till you make it.”

He agrees with Concepcion that you shouldn’t rush into another relationship just because your ex has found another person.

People process things differently and at different rates. Knowing that you gave the relationship your best can be helpful. In any case, don’t define yourself by your ex.

“You’re much more than a former girlfriend or boyfriend,” says New York psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert. “You’re a friend, sibling, son, daughter, colleague and someone’s future partner.

“Don’t complain too much about your ex,” he adds. “That person is your ex, and whatever negative things plagued your relationship, you no longer have to deal with them. Repeated negative self-talk about your ex will only keep you mired in the past and reinforce just how incompatible the two of you were.”

One of the drawbacks of the social media era is the self-torture you can inflict. Social stalking your ex or the ex’s new flame is a sure way to make yourself miserable. There’s no need to watch their romance unfold in front of your eyes.

“No matter how many times you tell yourself, ‘It won’t be that bad,’ each new post will be like an accident on the highway. You don’t really want to look, but you can’t help it,” says Greenville, South Carolina, relationship expert J. Hope Suis. “Just remove it entirely, so the focus can be on your future, not theirs,” she says.

Research has shown that breaking up can be very stressful, producing physical and mental pain. The human brain creates chemical bonds of love that can be painful to break. When they are broken, the process can mirror the agony of withdrawal from a hard drug.

Like drug withdrawal, moving on will require you to work hard to heal, Columbus, Ohio, counselor Jonathan Bennett says.

“While it’s natural to have feelings of jealousy, sadness and confusion, when an ex gets into a relationship, ultimately moving on will require you to make yourself a stronger person. Take time to focus on yourself and your own needs. This can include both self-improvement and self-care.”

Brown says she started to refocus on accomplishing goals, getting her own place, starting graduate school, excelling at work and nurturing her friendships.

“It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve proven to myself that, although heartbreak is painful and debilitating early on, ‘weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning.’ My life overall is fuller now, and I take comfort in knowing that true love will find me soon enough.”