One Woman’s Guide to Breaking Up

Recovering after heartbreak is about boundaries, space and finding yourself.

Kris Drewry doesn’t consider herself an expert in breakups, but she is confident that she is better at breakups than you are. After her first marriage fell apart, the image she’d carefully constructed for herself as a modern-day Martha Stewart — the sort who was a contributor to “Today,” who always hosted the perfect dinner party, who globe-trotted at a breakneck pace with her husband — fell apart along with it.

What ensued was a period of what she describes as bitterness, anxiety, resentment and depression. But out of the ashes of her first marriage and the seemingly perfect life she had constructed rose something more beautiful than perfection: happiness.

“I don’t want to tell anyone that I’m the best at breakups or the best at divorces,” said Ms. Drewry, the author of “Breakup Positive: Turn Your Heartbreak Into Happiness.” “I made a lot of mistakes. I don’t have regrets, because I recovered well and I’m a better person now. And, looking back on it, I feel like I can help others — like it’s my duty to help other people going through breakups.”

If someone cares so much about helping you through your breakup — your messy, heartbreaking, excruciatingly boring breakup — shouldn’t you listen to what she has to say? I mean, everyone else but you is done with talking about your breakup.

“I love to talk,” Ms. Drewry said. So, let’s listen.

Don’t ask all your friends for advice

Why? They are probably just as clueless as you are. If you’ve been through a breakup, you have undoubtedly been on the receiving end of advice, including and especially, advice of the unsolicited variety. Ms. Drewry suggests deciding exactly which people you’ll accept advice from.

Ms. Drewry herself talks to a therapist. If you are fortunate enough to be able to afford therapy, it can be especially valuable because therapists often are not as swayed by their own past experiences when listening, unlike many friends and family members.

Ms. Drewry is firm that you should trust yourself more than you trust others to know what’s right for you. And sure, sometimes you need to call your family to vent, but state your intentions upfront: “Say, ‘I just really need to get this out. I’m not looking for advice.’ It’s not being defensive, it’s not being rude.” It’s about creating boundaries and being explicit in how you need support.

Let go of control, without losing it

Ms. Drewry is a believer in the restorative power of throwing caution to the wind. For her, this phase included learning to surf; for others, it can be doing anything that’s scary and forces a relinquishing of control.

But, she acknowledged, there’s a need to draw a line in the sand between self-care and neglecting responsibilities — to others and to yourself. “There is a fine line between kind of kicking your heels up and having that wild phase, and hurting people,” Ms. Drewry said.

Wallow, but with clearly defined limits

Ms. Drewry takes a hard line and, for herself, enforces a one-day rule: Take one day to be angry, indulge and isolate (if that’s what you feel you need). But if you let that behavior bleed into a second day, it can easily become a way of living that causes you to spiral.

And speaking of spirals, Ms. Drewry has one more piece of tough love to offer: “You are the only one who can stop your own downward spiral.” Way harsh, but true.

Make a self-love list

When you are in a good place mentally, make a self-love list that you can go to when you feel down. This list is a recording of the activities that help you learn to love yourself again. It can be particularly helpful if, post-breakup, you’ve found yourself engaging in extreme behaviors or becoming self-destructive.

For Ms. Drewry, exercise, dining solo and travel were important entries on her list. When it comes time to make your own, write down the things that you love to do, particularly things you may usually feel guilty about doing. She also advises that you create a budget to fund your self-love activities.

Make some mistakes — on purpose

Casual dating, especially if you’re a person who finds yourself bounding from one serious relationship to the next, has its place in picking up the pieces after a breakup.

First, it gets you out of the house and away from binge eating a sleeve (or, let’s be real, a full box) of Girl Scout Samoas. Also, if you’ve lost yourself in a relationship that wasn’t working, dating casually can help you figure out who you even are, because you’ll be explaining it over and over.

Ms. Drewry suggests approaching dates with an open mind and with no intention. “My expectation was it would be cool to meet different people from every walk of life, every age group, every different profession,” Ms. Drewry said of her own casual dating.

And keep it moving

She also points out that you’re bound to encounter some jerks along the way and that you should not fear that. They have lessons of their own to teach you, and the encounters may spur you into action, or they should.

When you find yourself in the company of someone who is rude, or mean, or simply who makes you feel bad, walk away. Don’t look back, just keep moving forward. That forward momentum will help you heal by helping you to get really clear on what you don’t want, and by reminding you that you have agency; you’re not merely a person to whom things happen.

Embrace your part

In her own life, Ms. Drewry made a list what she felt she had done wrong in her marriage. She didn’t want to be a victim. In the wake of a divorce or breakup, or even a difficult-but-necessary separation from a friend, she wants you to find empowerment in taking responsibility for your part and asking: What am I going to do about it?

“The hard stuff in your life defines you,” she said. “You can use it as a crutch and say, ‘Oh poor me this happened to me,’ or you can use it as an empowering thing and say, ‘I’m going to learn from this and I’m going to be better from it.’”

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