People yelling at each other and breaking up

How to Deal With a Break-Up

The definitive VICE guide to ending a relationship, getting over it and moving forward.
You want to learn. The VICE Guide can teach you.

Break-ups, as the pop girlies have long been attuned—see: Whitney Houston, Gwen Stefani, Robyn—are wholly unpleasant affairs. Whether you’re breaking up with someone or being broken up with (or involved in one of those mature, amicable situations you hear about), you’re effectively saying goodbye, which is, generally speaking, A Sad Event. 

What makes it even worse? Over the next week/month/year you’ll live out multiple clichés, thus adding a layer of frustration and potentially even embarrassment to proceedings. Your person was really special and what you had was genuinely unique? I don’t doubt it! But you’re still on track towards entertaining several silly tropes before you’re properly healed. Sorry about that. 


Of course, knowing you’re not the only one can also be a welcoming comfort. Vogue columnist and VICE writer, Annie Lord pens particularly wonderful words on relationships and intimacy. In her debut book Notes On Heartbreak, she muses that “heartbreak is like a chronic illness I have learned to live with,” while Jennifer Wright, who literally wrote the book on historically bad break-ups, reminds us that “there are a lot more break-ups in this point in history than there ever have been before.”

While there’s no perfect way to say farewell and all heart’s ache differently, there are plenty of methods that can help to avoid feeling like a dick, and may even stop the pain quicker. So we’ve put together a definitive guide for when you’re really going through it. 

How to know when a relationship is over

This should be pretty obvious right? Well, not quite. Not every break-up is the culmination of months spent arguing, a single act of malice, or some deeper mistreatment. Some start to unfold before you’re properly in control of what’s happening, and others kind of unravel like a secret you can’t hide. “Our brains will always go to the path of least resistance,” explains relationship expert and neuropsychotherapist Joanne Wilson. “So if there’s the thought of breaking up with someone, it is far easier just to keep doing what you’re doing. Our thoughts can be limiting, so it’s important to push past that resistance and get to the core of the issue.” 

Love isn’t fair, but you can’t let guilt be the reason you stay—it’s not fair to them, or to you. Do you still enjoy their company? Does it feel like your lives are becoming too different? Is there an element of resentment creeping in? Are you thinking about other people to the point of yearning? Then quit stalling for time and make your feelings known. 


How to break up with someone

There’s no single correct way to break up with someone, but there are plenty of wrong ones. As a general rule, in person is best. No one wants to hear ‘it’s not you, it’s me’, and fewer still will take well to being ghosted. “Do what you can to leave them in the best possible position to feel heard, understood and ready to move on,” suggests Beth McColl, in what is frankly sound advice. “It’s all about treating someone the way you want to be treated,” adds Wilson. 

There are some obvious barriers to a healthy break-up (read: when it means removing someone’s name from the mortgage), but even people living together can separate sans anguish, with some care and understanding. Be clear in your communication, acknowledge your own faults, and don’t make it go on forever if it doesn’t need to. 

In turn, don’t ask questions you don’t want answers to if you don’t want to immediately enter an emotional tailspin, beyond the one building up already. Discuss boundaries up front if you think it might be helpful—as Anna Pulley explains, co-deciding on the timeframe to take space can prevent harmful abandonment fears—and make sure you stick to it. As much as you might think being mature means staying friends, this isn’t kind for either of you in the immediate aftermath, even if that’s not how it feels at the time. 


How to get over it

You might think the hard bit’s over, but to quote the old adage, it’s only just begun—now you’ve got to figure out what your life looks like without them in it. It’s worth remembering that everyone heals at their own pace and there’s no clear pathway for this. Also, be kind to yourself! Let yourself feel sad—it’s going to happen, so why fight it? One thing to do with those emotions is get them out. “Write a letter that you’ll never send. This will give you the space to say anything and everything you want to your ex,” recommends therapist and ADAA member, Rachel Aredia. “Getting all your emotions on paper can be healing.” 

You’re going to suddenly have a lot of time and, for a period, little emotional capacity, so make sure you have somewhere to be in the morning so you don’t stay in bed all day (though, if you fancy that for a few days, who’s to stop you?). “After a break-up I try to say yes to everything my friends ask me to do,” shares Megan Barton Hanson. That person you always text isn’t going to be around anymore, so make sure plenty of others are. “Focus on your health, friends, or moving your life forward. Focus on your interests and passions,” suggests dating coach and expert, John Keegan. “Don’t worry about jumping into the next thing and trying to replace the person. You can’t. What you can do is focus on your life.”


How to handle social media

Shouting about it on TikTok might be therapeutic for some, but if you didn’t spend 2009 writing cryptic Facebook statuses about an ex, you’re probably not going to find comfort on TikTok today. The more graceful approach to social media in a time of heartbreak is avoidance: Disable any features that remind you what you were doing on this day last year, and for peace of mind and your mental health, block, mute or unfollow your former respective other on all platforms (it doesn’t have to be forever). 

When freshly broken up, distance is key… Later, if they are a legit friend, you can engage,” says former Editor-in-Chief of Ebony, Kyra Kyles. Meanwhile, psychotherapist and relationship expert Sarah Mandel suggests that only you can decide what works for you regarding the big block. “Remember, friends will offer a lot of advice but at the end of the day, you need to do what is best for you to heal and recover from the break-up. Create the boundaries that are best for you.” 

How to move forward

You’ve had space to think, spent some time being indulgent, made peace with the fact they’re going be sleeping with other people (sort of), and you’re ready for the next bit. Congrats! Sign up for some classes, entertain new hobbies, become one of those people who quietly sits in the corner of the pub with a glass of wine and a book, or treat yourself to a new sex toy. You deserve it.

When it comes to your next relationship, get on the apps, but take your time. “It’s a good time to ask ourselves if we want to be in a relationship or if we need to be in a relationship. They’re different,” explains psychotherapist Laurie Singer. At this time, “being compassionate, and practical with your goal of enjoying singledom” is vital, adds counselor and therapist, Dan Stanley. “We can decide to frame things positively.” Good luck.