Have you recently walked away from a long-term relationship?

Acknowledging the relationship was no longer working can be difficult and walking away even harder. Often, people think they’re going to immediately start on a new path and jump into the next long-term phase of their lives; but both my personal experience and experience working with clients show that’s not how it usually works. Normally, there’s a little phase in between long-term situations, and it’s absolutely critical to let this phase play out.

We’ll call this phase the “Rebuilding Phase.”

We’ve all heard the concept of the rebound relationship — the one that evolves almost immediately after you’ve exited a long-term relationship. It’s universally understood that rebound relationships usually fail. Why?

Often this rebound situation is a reflection of whatever pieces you felt were missing from your last relationship. For example: If you dated someone that was logical but not very affectionate, chances are your rebound will be the opposite. If she was outgoing, your rebound may be more quiet and reserved.

When people enter these rebound situations, they often genuinely feel they are moving on to the next phase of their lives. Their new partner fills the deep emotional voids that had been developing in their last relationship and they think they’re the exception to the “rebounds-fail” rule.

They feel like they’re healing, and in some ways that is true. But as you truly start to heal from the long-term relationship you just left, you also become clearer in what you actually want out of life, and that’s the moment things start to unravel.

So why does this happen?

Let’s back up for a second.

Ending something long-term isn’t easy, and it usually means several aspects of your life are going to be uprooted. Sometimes the ending of one long-term relationship also means the ending of others as well, like the relationship you’ve had with your friends, city, and career.

That’s a lot of long-term endings at once, so it makes sense that people often cling to something comfortable through this transition, like a rebound relationship. But once you’ve moved through the transition, your dynamic with your rebound partner changes and often no longer works.

There is a better way to move forward, one that makes you stronger in the long run and helps you move onto your next long-term situation with more stability and less heartache. Here’s how it works:

  1. Acknowledge there’s a rebuilding phase. Recognize that you need time to regroup and focus on you. The goal during this time is to heal and get clear about what you want your next step to look like. It’s important to let this phase last as long as it needs to.
  2. Create someplace safe to explore.It’s difficult to know what you want when you’re in the midst of ending a long-term relationship. Rather than searching for the next long-term situation, find situations that make you feel safe to explore. This might be a city that’s familiar, a career you know you’re successful at, or a location close to loved ones. The key is that this space allows you to take a deep breath, heal, and focus on you.
  3. Commit to relying on yourself. This is not the time to be dating or entering into other relationships. The purpose of this rebuilding phase is to focus on you — to rebuild your sense of self, confidence, and identity as an individual. You do this by learning to rely on yourself. Become financially stable if you aren’t. Decorate your apartment in a way that makes you happy. Learn to address your emotional voids by relying on you, not somebody else.
  4. Get the help you need to heal and move forward.Reflect upon your last relationship and find the resources you need to heal. Perhaps it’s emotional counseling. Perhaps it’s career counseling. Whatever you want to work on personally, now’s a great time to start.
  5. Identify your trusted support network.Distance yourself from people who don’t have your best interest in mind, cause you to doubt your decisions, and are unsupportive. Identify people who have proven to be worthy of your time and energy. Focus on quality of relationships, rather than quantity.
  6. Develop a daily practice.Get to know yourself by spending time on yourself each day. Develop a practice for self-reflection of your inner world, and a practice to get outside on your own and explore your outer world. Try new things and uncover your likes, dislikes, wants, and needs. Challenge, question, feel, and reaffirm your beliefs and values.
  7. Trust the process. As you build up your confidence and regroup, you’ll get clearer about what you want next. Some pieces from your past may continue onward, but some may completely change. Be selective about what you bring along for the ride and trust the process as it unfolds. Don’t cling.

The rebuilding phase is the time to be a little selfish. By focusing on you, you’re setting yourself up to be the best version of yourself and attract situations that are more aligned with the life you want to create in your next long-term phase.