Heartbreak is a part of even the greatest love stories. When that heartbreak is beyond repair and breakups are necessary, we have to learn to move on and heal, even if we don’t want to or believe we can. Most of the questions I’m asked about love and relationships are actually more about loss than love. We wrap so much of ourselves and even our future plans into romance that when those romantic relationships end, we’re often left feeling gutted, wondering if we’ll survive.

The question is never whether we will hurt, because hurting is an inevitable part of the human condition, but more importantly how we can pick up the pieces and move forward with our lives.

We all have our own formulas for how to heal after the love is gone, but there are important universal laws we should follow when those goodbyes are upon us. I recently had the pleasure of discussing four collective steps towards moving forward with Dr. Michelle Callahan (more affectionately known as Dr. Michelle)—psychologist, author (Ms. Typed), TV host (Wedlock or Deadlock) and relationships expert extraordinaire who always provides brilliant, straightforward advice on how to navigate affairs of the heart. 

Let’s take a peek at what Dr. Michelle discussed about surviving the letting go.

Seek support: “Breakups leave us feeling rejected and alone. We naturally withdraw into ourselves. It’s important to get out and speak with people we can trust to give us sound advice and offer us the comfort we sometimes can’t offer ourselves. When we talk to others, and literally pull ourselves out of the ruts that come with heartache and isolation, we heal quicker.

“If a breakup hits us harder than we expect and we’re unable to bounce back, it’s important to seek help from a professional, possibly a relationships expert or counselor who can assist in helping us reframe our thoughts about ourselves, the relationship and moving forward after it. This help is sometimes paramount, because in addition to dealing with the devastations of breakups, we often tend to replay the good and bad over and over. Seeking support outside ourselves is the key to getting back to our lives, or better: the live we want for our futures.”

Be gentle with yourself: “Sure, when we experience breakups, we often blame the other person. But many times when we’re alone, we think about what we could have done differently, or what we wish we’d never done. There’s no value in too many ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ contemplations.

“Although we know both partners share responsibility in many breakups, when we are dealing with being on the receiving end of hurt, we often take the lion’s share of the blame. So not only are we dealing with the rejection from the person we loved, but those feelings are compounded by us also rejecting ourselves.

“We have to stop beating ourselves up when our lives don’t turn out the way we pictured them, and know that either we gave our best in the relationship that is ending, or we have learned lessons that will guide us on how to give our best the next time around. There is absolutely no one on earth who will treat us as tenderly as we are capable of treating ourselves. Period.”

Don’t live in the past: “What usually happens when we are going through tough times is we end up holding on to the ‘good old days.’ We look for the silver lining and the redeeming qualities of the people we fell in love with. If we are the ones being broken up with, we search for reasons to stay with those people, and we often view things as being better than they really are. We habitually don’t want to face the reality of our relationships and the truth of us by admitting that things probably hadn’t been good for a long time. But we have to. Being honest about the current state of our relationships is the only way we’ll heal and eventually open ourselves up to something new.”

Learn to release your attachments: “We naturally form strong emotional bonds with people we fall in love with, and as I stated earlier, we generally make a lot of plans for our lives that include those people. Frequently we simply can’t cope with our lives not turning into the fantasies we’ve created in our heads. It’s important to acknowledge that every relationship isn’t meant to last forever. If our relationships are no longer serving us, it’s okay to move forward and connect with people that support and represent the current visions we have for our lives. Change is necessary; we cannot change anything in our lives if we can’t release harmful attachments.”

Dr. Michelle was spot on in her observations on how to move forward after breakups. She’s currently working with autotrader.com to research how our relationships with cars often mimic our relationships with people. Interesting, right? Catch the good doctor on Twitter and Facebook for more goodness.

Josie Pickens is a cultural critic, educator and soldier of love. Follow her musings on Twitter @jonubian.