Moving On | How to Thrive After an Unexpected Breakup

The End

Okay. It’s over. You were on the receiving end of the ‘we need to talk/it’s not you/we can still be friends’ speech. This comes as a shock to you. They seem perfectly okay with moving on. Meanwhile, you struggle to eat, work, and even breathe. You may have even been toyed with or cheated on. What you do now, at this point, is critical. How do you move on after an unexpected breakup?

What Next?

Most people either tell themselves ‘it’s no big deal’ and deny the pain or they wallow in the pain until they can hardly claw their way out. Neither approach is healthy. Neither leads to healing.

But, healing and getting healthy is exactly what needs to happen next. Moving on in a healthy way means facing reality, forgiving your ex, refocusing, and giving yourself some time to heal.


Now is not the time for magical thinking, denial or exaggeration. Now is the time for facing reality head on and dealing with it. Moving on in a healthy way means working your way through it. Unfortunately, in times like these, we tend to engage in things that are at best useless and at worst harmful.

Magical Thinking

One of the most common reactions to a breakup comes in the form of magical thinking. The things that led to the breakup are probably deep rooted and have been growing unseen for a long time. That is reality, but we still think there is some magical quick fix we can apply that will make everything better. If we just do this certain thing everything will go back to ‘normal’.

Deal with reality. If, and that is a big if, your relationship is salvageable, it will be a long-term project. Everything is different now. There are no quick fixes. There is no going back to the way things were. 

All My Fault

A lot of us tend toward another untruth – it’s all my fault. If only I had (fill in the blank)                       they would still want me. Or, if only I hadn’t (fill in the blank)                       we would still be together. That may or may not be the case. Don’t assume. Look at it more critically. Don’t let your default assumptions shape your thinking. It’s usually more complicated than what your default thinking allows for – especially if you tend to be harsh on yourself.

All Their Fault

On the other extreme, many people make the assumption that it’s all their ex’s fault. Some people live under the delusion that they are always right. If there was a problem, it must have been with their ex.

Because of their inability to see their own shortcomings they never grow and make the changes they need to make to have a better relationship next time around. They are probably headed for another breakup at some point which they will again see as all the other person’s fault.

The Truth

Relationships rarely come down to one specific event or failure. Usually, there is some event that brings everything to a head, but that event is not the cause of the breakup. And, usually, there is at least some shared blame. It is rarely a simple black and white matter where one is all wrong and one is all right.

Don’t spend too much time on the post-mortem. You do need to move on. But, do think it through enough to realize that it’s usually not entirely one person’s fault. So, think it through. What part of it was your fault? What part was their fault? Then, take 100% responsibility for your part. If it is only 10% your fault, own 100% of your 10%.


Whatever percent of the blame you assign to your ex, forgive them. Even in the unlikely event that you are perfect and it is 100% their fault, forgive them. This is essential. You will never heal or grow as a person, you will never move on and thrive until you forgive your ex.

Why are we so hesitant to forgive? There are many reasons. it’s hard. It goes against our nature. We don’t want to feel like they got away with it. Some people kind of get off on the raw feelings of anger and righteous indignation they feel. Other people love the sympathy they get when they play the martyr.

Sometimes, I believe it is because we don’t understand forgiveness. I don’t have enough time here to do a thorough study on this, but let me make a few quick points.

It Wasn’t That Bad?

Forgiveness does not mean minimizing or excusing. People confuse I forgive you with ‘it’s okay’ or ‘it’s not really that bad’. But, if it was okay or not that bad it could simply be excused and would not require forgiveness. You can only offer true forgiveness if you were truly wronged.

Forgive and Forget?

When I was younger I was the victim of some bad theology. Because God promises to forgive us and not remember our sins, I was taught to forgive and forget. Well, for starters, I’m not God. I am not capable of forgetting what they did to me. I think about it less as time goes on, but forget about it? It is permanently and indelibly etched into my being.

Also, to forget would mean to lose the lessons learned from what happened. Plus, remembering the pain of it helped keep me from jumping into a new relationship prematurely.

That being said, we should not strive to keep it alive in our thoughts. The thoughts should lessen as time goes by and we move on and heal up.

Forgiveness and Trust

Another misconception we encountered a lot in our DivorceCare groups dealt with forgiveness and trust. People assume that forgiving someone means trusting them and letting them back into their life. It does not.

Forgiveness is freely given. Trust must be earned. Forgiveness is instantaneous. Trust is rebuilt over time. Forgiveness could allow someone the opportunity to regain your trust. But, that trust must still be earned and proven over a significant period of time.

Forgiveness Frees You

In a way, forgiveness is for the other person. But, in a greater sense, forgiveness is for you. Not forgiving someone gives them power to control your thoughts and emotions. Forgiving sets you free from their influence in your life. Moving on requires forgiveness.

Focus on Other Things

You are not moving on if you are wasting time pining for your ex. In the process of moving on you will need to spend some time reflecting on what really went wrong in your relationship. But, you also must spend some time not thinking about your ex. Don’t let them and what they did dominate your thoughts. Don’t give them the power to control your life now and in the future.

As I mentioned earlier, forgiving them is vital. And, as I mentioned in a previous post, trying not to think about something leads to thinking about it more. So, besides forgiving them, how else can you get them out of your thoughts?

The best way to get them out of your head is to think about other things – good things, positive things. Fill your mind and spirit up with so much good that you don’t have any bandwidth left to waste on your ex.

Give Yourself Time to Heal

By filling your life with good things, I don’t mean a new relationship. A rebound relationship will only stunt your growth and retard the healing process. They rarely end well. There will be a time for that, but that comes much later. Now is the time for recovery, healing, and growth.

The biggest mistake I see people make is getting into a new relationship too soon. See my post about that here. The best outcomes usually come about the way I did it. For many years I stayed truly single and unattached. I spent those years healing, growing, and learning to thrive. I spent those years becoming the kind of person who could attract the kind of person I wanted to marry.

Moving On

You are free to do this however you want. I’m just telling you what worked for me and what I have seen work for many others.

After a divorce or the breakup of an engagement or a long-term relationship, there are three possible outcomes. You can end up bitter, angry, and broken. You can end up the same person you were before. Or, you can deal with reality, forgive, refocus, take time to heal, and end up a better, stronger person in a great position to make your next relationship last.

So, here are four steps for moving on in a healthy way.

  • Deal with reality – no magical thinking, denial, or exaggeration.
  • Forgive your ex – it’s good for you.
  • Refocus your mind – stop focusing on your ex, focus on good things.
  • Take time to heal – and grow into a stronger, healthier person.

This is by no means a comprehensive program, but these steps are a good start to moving on in a healthy way.

So, keep it real, forgive, refocus, heal up and thrive on!

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