Relationships: Breaking up is hard to do
Prepared by Dr. Lori Mac, C. Psych., Counselling Psychologist, Student Counselling Centre, University of Manitoba
Did you know that the break-up of intimate relationships are one of the biggest interrupters of educational careers?
Almost everyone goes through the break-up of a relationship in their lifespan. Not only does it hurt and feel bad, but there’s a period of time where, emotionally, it feels like there will never be another relationship………………and it will never change. Even if intellectually we know differently, our emotions can override us.
Break-ups can also bring up emotions related to other relationships and experiences. We often experience a range of emotions that can feel really intense and lead us to feel like we are “all over the place”. It can be hard to focus or concentrate, or even feel like taking care of ourselves. All of this is completely normal. Each person’s reaction is unique to them and there is no right or wrong way to grieve the loss of a relationship. There is also no timeline for this.
When we’re grieving, we’re missing the “ideal” person and/or relationship and not necessarily who or what the relationship was when it ended. There will likely be things we miss about the person and relationship even while we’re remembering things that didn’t feel right or were hurtful. Sometimes, we might realize that the person and relationship isn’t meeting our needs. This doesn’t mean that anyone is “bad” or “wrong” necessarily; they might just be a poor “fit” with the other person.
Have you thought about the loss of a relationship as being a similar process to when people lose other things? We often go through similar stages of grief, and they can look like this.
- Often the first reaction to a sense of loss
- State of emotional shock, numbness, denial of feelings
- Robot-like phase acting as though nothing is happening, repressing anger and becoming depressed
- Best manners are extended to the former love partner
- Don’t want to tell friends, neighbours, or family that relationship is ending
- “This isn’t really happening to me. If I just wait awhile, everything will be okay and my partner will come back”
- Inward depressive anger is now turned outward to others
- Expressing anger may feel good, but there may be some guilt and ambivalence
- Frustrations that have existed in the relationship for some time may begin to come out
- Started working through the grief process when you admit and express the anger
- It’s an investment in self and an investment in any present and future relationships
- Beginning to face the fact that the love relationship is ending, yet reluctant to really let go
- “I’ll do anything if you’ll just come back. I’ll change my ways and put up with anything. Just take me back!”
- May be dangerous if get back together for the wrong reasons such as a very strong need to be with someone regardless of how healthy the connection is.
- Final letting go of the love relationship
- Depression is common, but different than denial depression; more of a “blahs” feeling
- Much internal dialogue about the meaning of life
- Why am I here on earth? What is the purpose of my life?
- Stage of personal growth to build a stronger identity, to find a deeper purpose for living, to make life more meaningful
- Some people feel suicidal during this stage
- If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts please call crisis resources provided on this webpage
- Awareness of this stage helps to get through it easier
- Begin to feel free from emotional pain of grief and to feel no need to invest emotionally in the past relationship
- Can begin to move up the mountain toward fuller personal freedom and independence
Self-Care in the aftermath of relationship breakup
Caring for ourselves is one of the most important things to help get us through this difficult time. It is also an investment in ourselves, as well as in our present and future relationships.
How are you coping? How are you taking care of yourself these days?
- If you’re not doing anything right now, then what have you done for yourself in the past?
- There are different dimensions of self-care, i.e. mental, physical, emotional, social, spiritual/existential, etc.
- Sometimes when we feel like doing self-care the least is…
- When we need it the most
- When we would benefit from it the most
What’s the littlest thing you can do for yourself that you’ve been ignoring?
- Here are some examples”
- Physical exercise
- Good nutrition
- Drink water
- Lots of rest/sleep
- Accept help from others (talk, talk, talk)
- Re-invest in friendships and other relationships
- Meditate, Mindfulness
- Make plans to do things you enjoy – and then do them
- Acknowledge your feelings – do not stuff
- Journal about feelings
- Anything else that takes care of you…
- Consider how you can “re-claim” activities for yourself that you previously used to do with your former partner. For example, if you frequented one shop for ice cream, consider going to a different shop if you like ice cream or try to return, eventually, to your favorite shop to create new memories.
We can also sometimes feel the urge to act impulsively. Especially when triggered and/or feeling overwhelmed, i.e. “flooded”.
- Ask yourself “Am I doing something that I am going to feel bad about tomorrow?”
- Distract yourself and do something else to calm yourself for minimum of 20-30 minutes
- …Then decide what you want to do
Some questions to consider after the end of a relationship
- What did you like about how you operated/interacted in the relationship?
- What didn’t you like?
- What red flags did you ignore? – It is common to ignore things that seem obvious after the relationship has ended.
- Why did the relationship end?
- What did you learn about yourself?
- What kinds of things will you do differently in your next relationship?
How do I let go?
- Invest in your own personal growth rather than in the past relationship
- Go through your place/room and remove things that remind you of your former partner
- Take off the “rose coloured glasses”
- Rearrange your space
- Become assertive when your ex-contacts you
- Write a letter saying goodbye to the person/relationship
- Don’t censor yourself – this is for you and not something that ever needs to be sent
- Create & engage in your own letting go ritual. We do this for other forms of loss,, like when someone passes away. Why not for the loss of a relationship?
- Select something that symbolizes the relationship that you have been holding on to
- Think about how you would like to destroy this symbol
- Shred, delete, put away in a box, throw out, give away, etc.
- Afterward take some time to write about what this was like for you
- This can help to give a sense of closure
We invite you to join one of our workshop or groups focused on relationship break-up or relationship topics if you would like additional support. Workshops and groups you might find helpful are:
- Relationships: WTF! (Why they’re frustrating)
- Relationships: Breaking up is hard to do
- Stress and Distress Management
- Communication and Conflict: Skills to Build Positive Relationships and Improve Your Interactions with Others