15 mistakes that can make a breakup feel even worse — and what to do instead

old relationship, exes smiling
People often get stuck in the past when trying to move on from a relationship (stock photo).Katrin Engel / EyeEm/Getty Images
  • Breakups are never easy, but sometimes you might be making things harder on yourself.

  • Things like dating too soon, or not not going no contact with your ex can make the experience drag.

  • Here are 15 mistakes people make when they go through heartbreak.

Chances are you've been through at least one breakup in your life. Nobody finds them easy, but because of the way we're wired — and our desire for connection — we can fall into traps that make breaking up even more difficult than it has to be.

"Breakups happen for a whole host of reasons," said Jennifer B. Rhodes, a psychologist, dating coach, and founder of Rapport Relationships. "And I think someone's background and experience with relationships in general might dictate their behaviour during the course of a breakup."

Insider spoke to relationship experts about the biggest mistakes people make when they are trying to end their relationships, and how this can have a negative impact them and their future relationships.

All breakups are different, and there are no set rules, but sometimes it's helpful to know what you really shouldn't be doing. Here's what they said:

1. Actively seeking out the other person.

woman on phone
Oscar Wong/Getty Images

In the immediate aftermath of a breakup, the massive sense of loss is likely to fall down on you pretty hard. Even if ending the relationship was your idea, you might not have realized how lonely it would feel knowing you don't have that person there for you anymore.

This can mean people contact the other person and talk to them, because the habit is so hard to break. Ex-partners might find themselves falling into their old conversations, and even meeting up, because it feels familiar. But this won't do you any favours in the long run, especially if things get physical again.

"I think the biggest mistake people can make is that when you are in pain, to actively seek out and engage the other person," said Rhodes. "You're not really thinking things through, and you're just kind of reacting.

Within that first month of being single, people "might be likely to do something pretty impulsive," she said.

2. Not doing 'no contact.'

woman alone freedom
Not everyone will be understanding.The Good Brigade/Getty Images

This isn't to say exes can't be friends. They can, with enough time, and if both people have strong boundaries. But people are impatient, and this can mean they don't take enough time to reflect and really get over the relationship.

Sometimes people don't have the best intentions either, because they are impulsively reacting to the loss. This can make people behave quite strangely, like breaking into their ex's property, destroying their belongings, or coming up to them uninvited in the street, Rhodes said.

"I always think it's a good idea to just take some time, at least 21 days, to have no contact with the other person to clear your head and get your space, and think about what it is that you really want," she said. "Otherwise you end up escalating a situation and things can be really scary and ridiculous."

3. Getting back out there too soon.

A couple on a coffee date, with one person looking skeptically at their partner.
Watch out for partners with maxed-out credit cards.georgeclerk/Getty Images

It's not just the relationship you left behind that takes time. If you don't wait long enough before dating again, you'll probably be doing yourself a massive disservice.

"A lot of people, the minute they break up with someone they are back out online again," said Erika Ettin, a dating coach and founder of dating site A Little Nudge. "That's not something I would recommend, because you haven't given it any time to sink in."

If you jump back into the dating scene too soon, you haven't given yourself a chance to learn from the experience, or mourn the end of your relationship.

"You're not mourning a person's life, but you're mourning part of your own life that is now not there," Ettin said. "Too few people take that time to actually get back to the equilibrium of who they are, to heal, or to figure out what they have to offer again, or what they like to do on their own."

So take a deep breath and allow yourself to take that time. People will always be looking to date, so you're not missing out on anyone if you don't re-download Hinge the next day.

4. Thinking dating apps will make you feel better.

Dating App
Oscar Wong/Getty Images

We live in a world of instant gratification, which is why it's so tempting to re-download your dating apps as soon as you find yourself single again.

"People like things to happen immediately," said Ettin. "But just like if you cut yourself, it might takes weeks to heal, breaking up with someone is a different kind of cut, or injury. And that takes time to heal too."

It's so easy to make a new profile and find people, and you get a hit of dopamine when you realize someone else has matched with you. This might boost your self-esteem in the short-term, but Ettin said it isn't really the best idea.

"If you break up with someone and you go on Tinder the next day, and you get five people liking you, you feel you still have something to offer," she said. "I say your self esteem should not come from other people liking you — your self esteem should come from within. But unfortunately not everyone practices that."

5. Comparing your own experience to other people's.

Man hugging woman
Maskot/Getty Images

Everyone experiences the ups and downs of a relationship differently, and the same goes for breakups. If you feel like you're taking longer to get over your last relationship than your friends did, that's completely normal. Ettin said that, ultimately, you can't compare yourself to anyone else because your experience will be totally different.

"A woman who I was working with the other day had a break up four months ago, she kept saying 'I should be over it by now,' and I said 'You should remove "should" from your vocabulary.'"

"Should compared to who? You can't compare yourself to other people. You don't know other people's motives, or why they do what they do. You don't know anything about their relationship, so there is no should. And after I said that to her, she definitely felt calmer."

6. Asking too many people for advice.

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SolStock/Getty Images

Similarly, if you get advice from a lot of different people, this can confuse you even further. It's great to have a support network of people who will listen to you, but if they all offer their words of wisdom, you'll probably hear a lot of contradictory ideas.

"Friends will always give advice — usually conflicting advice — and ultimately the only person who knows what you need to do is you," said Ettin. "That same client, the one who said she should be ready, she was getting advice from her brother, her friend, her this and her that, and they were all different."

Ask 10 people the same question and you'll get 10 different answers, Ettin added. "But are any of them correct?"

7. Social-media stalking.

Man looking at woman's dating profile
Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images

Social media is more or less unavoidable, and your accounts may be littered with memories of your past relationship. As hard as it might be, the most popular advice is to delete your ex, or at least make sure you can't access their profiles easily.

"I think Facebook and social media in general can really trigger anger and grief, so I'm a big fan of restricting access or just unfollowing people if it's a difficult breakup," said Rhodes, the psychologist.

"Just because the constant notifications and reminders can really wreak havoc in your day to day."

When you break up, suddenly you find yourself without the person who was always around. This is hard for your brain to deal with, so it will tempt you into "just checking in" on your ex. Essentially, you're just fueling your brain's need for this person, and you're prolonging the process of getting over them by social media stalking them.

"Don't stalk your ex on social media," said Ettin. "It really depends on the person, but I find it's just easier to unfriend or not make that person as accessible to you, because who has that self-discipline not to look? But if the option isn't there then you're not going to look."

8. Or even worse, a social-media rampage.

Social media rampage after breakup
Georgijevic/Getty Images

You might find you act in a fit of desperation after a breakup, especially if your ex is ignoring you. This can lead people to be frustrated and, frankly, a bit out of control.

Rhodes said one of her male clients went on a Twitter rampage after his girlfriend broke up with him. It was so offensive that it led to repercussions at work.

"I think if you don't trust yourself to lock down your social media you really should have a friend who can control access for the first few days so you don't impulsively do something publicly that will affect your career," Rhodes said.

"When people are angry or they're feeling slighted, in that moment it feels really good to send out an angry Twitter message. And when you're young you don't realize what the repercussions are."

9. Minimizing the breakup.

Sad young woman sitting on the window, watching out
Sad young woman sitting on the window, watching out - stock photoTunatura/Getty Images

If the relationship was an abusive one, the time straight after the breakup is the most dangerous for the victim — and this continues for about a year. Rhodes said many domestic-violence victims minimize their risk during that time, because they think the worst is over.

"The abuser sees this as a loss of control," she said. "And many victims are relieved they are no longer in this situation but do not realize the extent to which this person will try to gain control again."

The best thing is to find support and share your story with people you trust, so you are as safe as possible. There are also organizations, like the One Love Foundation, that can offer advice for people in difficult situations.

"Whenever there's any kind of difficulty in a relationship, and a breakup is about to happen, I really think that people have to strategize for the first six months about how they're going to cope with this situation," Rhodes said.

10. Lining up someone new before your old relationship has even ended.

Couple flirting at a party
Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Some people are simply useless at breakups. These are the people who ghost the dates they aren't interested in, or act cold and distant until their partner eventually gives up (known as a "phase out.")

Sometimes they are also codependent, so not only do they not have the courage to break up with someone properly, they also line up someone new before the relationship is even over.

This will make your soon-to-be ex feel pretty bad when they find out, but also doesn't bode well for your new relationship. You won't have given yourself time to get over your ex, so even if the new person is perfect, it's not likely to work out.

"I had a friend who was living with someone, and was about to break up, and she asked me to help her with Tinder. Like, hold your horses," Ettin said.

"You don't have to line the next one up. It happens even in relationships. Don't plan for contingencies. If you're planning for it not to work out, it's not going to work out."

11. Comparing new people to your old relationship.

Old relationship in a polaroid, exes
Worayuth Kamonsuwan/Getty Images

If you have waited long enough to get back out there that your wounds are healed, and you're no longer full of resentment, that's great. But even if you think you've done everything right, you might find yourself comparing the new people you meet to your ex. It's hard not to, said Ettin.

"Generally after a relationship you're only thinking of the good things from the past relationship, and nobody can measure up to that," she said. "So you just need to focus on new people and what they have to offer, not how they stack up against your ex."

This is a challenge, but it's a case of practice makes perfect. In other words, the more people you meet, the less you will be hung up on how your ex used to be.

"It's hard to get over an ex — we've all been there — and I think there are two components to getting over someone: time, and eventually, somebody else," Ettin said. "Everyone's ratio is different of the time to the someone else. But the ratio that is never appropriate is zero time."

12. You're overthinking.


Dr. Rachel Hoffman, the chief clinical officer at the mental-health organization Real, told Insider it is typically our thoughts that prevent us from moving on — "thoughts about the other person and thoughts about oneself."

Some untruths people will say to themselves are that they'll never find someone as good as their ex, or that they were the best partner they will ever have.

"Reflecting on only the positive moments and times making it seem like the other person was a perfect match," she said.

You may exaggerate your ex's good points and also lean in too much to your own flaws. Hoffman said some phrases people think are: "I'm not good enough for anyone," "I'll never find someone," or "clearly something is wrong with me."

Going on a few dates and meeting new people can be a way to break this cycle — provided you've given yourself a little time to heal beforehand.

"You don't have to force yourself to date, but sometimes avoiding it exacerbates the thought of: I will never find someone," Hoffman said.

13. Drinking too much

bros drinking alcohol beer
Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

Drinking too much when you're going through a breakup may feel like it's helping, but it's probably not.

Licensed therapist Jennifer Klesman told Insider drinking, especially binge drinking, is a bad idea because alcohol is a depressant. The feeling of grieving the loss of a relationship is only going to be intensified as a result.

"While we think that it will help and make us forget, it only worsens our mood, our physical state, and postpones healing because the pain is still there when you're sober," Klesman said.

Ultimately, it's better to see your friends than go it alone — so if you want to have a drink with them, that's fine.

"Drinking socially will happen, but avoid excessive drinking," Klesman said.

14. Eating badly and not taking care of yourself.

A plate of salmon and veggies, with a glass of wine, bread, and salad in the background — a Mediterranean diet meal
Linda Raymond/Getty Images

Wallowing is important after a breakup, Klesman said. But that doesn't mean you should stop looking after yourself.

Klesman recommends finding a new project, investing in education or your career, reconnecting with friends, exercising in a way that works for you, and making sure you eat healthily and get good sleep. Not only are you going to feel better overall, you'll be the best version of yourself when someone else does come along.

"Taking care of yourself is so critical in all of this," Klesman said.

15. Feeling like you need closure.

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Poznyakov / Shutterstock

Looking for "closure" on your breakup isn't all that helpful, according to Klesman.

"The fact that this person no longer wants to be with you should be all of the closure that you need," she said. "Otherwise, we risk just learning more information and picking at a wound trying to heal."

Often, wanting to talk it through is just an excuse to see your ex again, she added. But going over what went wrong in the relationship isn't going to change the past.

"People sometimes get stuck in breakups and grief because they don't want to move on," Klesman said. "Because that means that they leave their ex in the past and its over."

You shouldn't judge yourself for taking your time to heal from your loss, she added, especially when the relationship was a long-term one.

"It will take time, but if you take care of yourself then you will absolutely make it to the other side," she said.

It's best to mourn in your own way and at your own pace.

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Eating ice cream on your own isn't tragic, it's great.Getty/Westend61

There are no rules for how to mourn the end of something so important, Hoffman said.

"Allow periods of mourning in the way that feels best for you," she said. "It is okay to spend some nights crying and other nights distracting yourself with a night out with friends."

Journaling can help, she said, as can support from friends. But the real work comes from your own self-reflection — thinking about moments in the relationship that made you anxious, uncomfortable, angry, or uneasy, and trying to unpick why. This can help you come to terms with the fact you and your ex were just not that compatible.

"Lastly, do whatever you need to do to feel a sense of confidence in yourself," Hoffman said.

"There can be an element of 'fake it till you make it' here. Just try engaging in activities or hobbies that help you to feel strong and independent."

This article was first published in June 2018 and was updated in March 2023 to include more experts and new information.

Read the original article on Insider