Shelley J Whitehead

Good boundaries after a breakup

28 February, 2023

As you leave a relationship, in the early stages of  a breakup, you may find yourself struggling with fully separating and differentiating your thoughts (from the place of ‘we’ to ‘I’) and reclaiming your boundaries. If you’ve ever had any tendencies towards codependency or enmeshment this will be particularly hard. But there are a few, very practical, things you can do , to put in emotional and physical boundaries, to help support you on your healing pathway. I’m going to cover some of these boundaries that can be really helpful to work on, in the early stages of a breakup…. 

  1. Going ‘No Contact’

If you don’t share children or a business, I recommend that you set the intention to make no contact for three months. After that, if you still crave connection, you might want to make this last a little longer. Set the boundary for yourself that you will not be in contact with them until you no longer wish to be in a partnership with them (and are in a place of wanting a genuine friendship, without any lingering feelings of physical attraction). In some cases, it’s eventually possible to be friends with your ex – but ONLY if you feel uninterested in them once the oxytocin connection goes. And to break this bond, you need to cut contact. 

This no contact time also allows you to refocus your energy on yourself. Your energy is one of your most precious resources and now is very much the time to be reinvesting it in yourself. So, if you can, extend the ‘no contact’ to a mental distance as well by becoming aware when you are ruminating and are in some kind of mental dialogue or argument with them in your head. 

This critical first step is the most important one in ensuring you are setting good boundaries and a healthy distance.

  1. No stalking

After a breakup, it’s so easy to mine social media for endless details about what our ex is doing now. The brain goes into overdrive seeking what it’s lost, and this can spill into stalking. Dwelling on their ‘happy new life without you’ <<do the gesture to show the air-quotes>> can make you feel like your heart’s being ripped out. Often it’s just a story you are telling yourself – that they have already moved on and have already forgotten you… and sometimes it is the case that they are already in another relationship. If you happen to see them with the new partner in person, it’s a billion times worse! Brooding about all the things you did together – which they now do together – can drag your self-worth down to a very dark place. You can never really know what’s going on for someone else… and nor should you want to. Remember: it’s time to refocus your energy on you, not them. 

In some ways, being dumped by my second husband felt worse than dealing with my first husband’s death. When someone dies, there’s no more bargaining you can do. It’s over. But it was painful seeing my ex move on as I struggled with heartache. 

  1. Block and delete 

A breakup is sometimes the ideal time for a complete social media detox. Not only is social media designed for social comparison (which some psychologies describe as a subtle form of self -harm), it can also be a way of staying in a form of denial (where you are hoping you might ‘stumble’ across something that relates to them). It’s not a very healthy place to spend time. 

For the sake of good boundaries, I also often recommend deleting their number altogether (if you can and if you don’t have physical assets, like a house, to separate, or children to co-parent). If the relationship ends quickly and all contact stops, YOU need to be the one to disconnect. This jumpstarts the healing process. If they really need to reach you, there’s always a way. But once you delete their number, it will stop you from doing things like checking when they last WhatsApp-ed.

If you don’t do this, you get ‘coping fatigue’, constantly picking at that wound. The one thing my clients always say they feel when they finally block and delete is RELIEF. You can breathe deeper. The compulsion stops and healing begins.

  1. Avoid too much information with your ex’s friends & family

You may be close to members of their family or wider circle. While it’s possible to maintain this kind of connection, you need to make it clear to them that you don’t want your chats to stray into discussing how your ex is doing. 

  1. Limit gossip with friends

Well-meaning pals may want to share information about your ex’s new life. Even if you’re dying to hear the gritty details…  don’t get drawn in. It’s like being dragged underwater when you want to breathe freely. Rather, tell friends how hard you’re working to move on and ask them to skip the subject so you can heal. Bad-mouthing or manipulating a situation to show your ex up as a terrible person isn’t an option either. If you need to explain, the ideal one-liner is: We had different values. Because this IS generally the reason for an ending. One person wants commitment and something to change, the other doesn’t. One values something or someone else more than the other. Whatever the reason was, that one-liner lets you offer the perfect explanation without going into detail.

There are many other boundaries that can be helpful in the early days of a breakup – follow your gut and do what works for you. Hopefully these examples will be good inspiration to get you going on your pathway towards strength and freedom.

Shelley J Whitehead
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