The truth about relationship break-ups

It's time to rethink what you know about relationship breakdowns

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A lot of people say that a break up of a romantic relationship is a lot like grieving. Well let’s start by putting that straight. It is NOTHING like grief. When someone you love dies, they are gone forever. Grief is the process of coming to terms with the fact you will never ever see them again. When you lose a loved one there is a huge shock to your mind and body. Even if they have had a long illness you still feel utter shock when it finally happens. They didn't have a choice. Humans have evolved to process grief. It is the one certain thing in life which everyone has to face at some point. Everyone deals with it in their own way and their own time but most people find a way to live with it however hard.

Contrast that to a break up. What if the person lives near you? You might see them. Or even if they don't well they are only a phone call away (or a whatsapp). It is much less final and this can wreak havoc on your healing process. God forbid you have children, then you are going to have to learn fast how to manage this.

There is a very clear difference between reviewing a memory and re-living it and this is where the problems start. If you are reviewing something that happened to try and learn from it, you are looking from the outside in. Your brain is being objective and you are not feeling the feelings that you felt. It's as if you are watching a movie. Reviewing things that happened can be helpful in moving on.

Visualisation on the other hand is powerful and it’s been shown that visualising something (for example an athlete visualising winning a race) actually produces responses in the brain as if they had just won a race. So every time you re-live a memory and you are actually in it, chances are you are actually feeling the same responses you felt. It is almost as if the person is still there. Rather than deal with the new feelings of loss, separation, sadness etc. Some people get stuck in a cycle of re-living the "happy" times over and over.

Remembering all the good times and all the happy memories can actually be helpful when you are grieving. It's good to be grateful for everything someone brought to your life. This is not true when it comes to a relationship break down. What is helpful would be to sit and write a list of all the reasons they were wrong for you. Put it in your wallet and read it every time you feel yourself slipping on the rose tinted glasses and heading towards re-living the happy times. At the least, be aware of what you are thinking and ask yourself if it is true.

What grief and break-ups DO have in common, is that you will go through several emotional stages. I'd like to talk about some of these and what you can do to help move on.

Anger - this is normal. It doesn't matter who dumped who. Tempers are going to flare. This is linked to hurt and hurt people lash out, it's irrational but it happens. Before you send that angry message, sit for a bit and think about what you are feeling. You cannot take these back. If someone has dumped you and you are sending furious irrational messages you are now fuelling their belief that they did the right thing. Even if they did something awful try and decide if this is a good use of your energy.

Disbelief - So a lot of people tell me their relationship breakdown "was a complete shock". I've got bad news for you. If someone chooses to end a long term committed relationship, they've more than likely been weighing it up for a long time. Months or even years. Yes it is true that there is often a final catalyst which pushes them. It doesn't change the fact that no-one wakes up one morning and finds love has vanished. There will have been signs and you will have chosen to ignore them for whatever reason. Again the best way over this is to actually think it through and then add those things to your list of why it wasn't right.

Denial - This is an attempt to derail your healing process. This is isn't final, they will change their mind. You put in so much effort don't worry in a minute they will realise and want you back. Maybe I'll call them and it will all be normal. Or there's a worse kind of denial which people don't talk about. It's the "I'M FINE" denial. I’m fine and I'm going to prove it by: Insert one of the following [losing loads of weight, going on crazy adventures, posting happy photos all over social media, buying new clothes, meeting someone new (see rebound)... the list is endless]. All of these things are great, if you are doing it for yourself. If you are doing it to try and prove some sort of point then think about it hard and don't waste your energy.

Guilt and self-doubt - as per the above. You start to wonder if there was something you could have done differently. Maybe there was, maybe there wasn't. The point is that you can't change what has happened and you have to start learning to accept it. Let those thoughts come and then go. Dwell too long in this phase of questioning and you are start to eat away at your own self-esteem. People generally struggle here to get "closure" (I hate that word but it is appropriate). Take the explanation you have been given however lame it might seem or make up your own one. Don't waste years of your life suspiciously searching for some sort of dramatic alternate reason. (Trust me even if you find one it won't make you feel better).

Bargaining - uh oh. Bargaining. This is a baddie. I made a mistake? I could get them back? Actually I can fix the thing which was the problem. I can change. This was a mistake. Step away from these thoughts. I'm not saying "never" but very very rarely returning to a broken relationship results in it being better. I can hear you saying "but what about that couple I read about that got divorced and then re-married and were happy". Well that was them and they are the extreme minority. In my experience this is habit forming. Someone leaves to get what they want and then they do. Next time they want something they leave again. It is a form of control. This is the start of a horrendous see-saw that you really do't want to be on.

Sadness - Again completely normal. You've got to ride this one out. The only thing I can offer you here is be self-aware. Look after yourself. If you want to stay in watching slushy movies, drinking wine and crying then you do that. You want to eat ice cream out of the tub? Then do it but only for a short while. Try and re-frame these thoughts in terms of your future happiness. Are you ever going to move on and be happy if you are miserable and you've got Ben and Jerry's all down your t-shirt? What if instead you picked yourself up, got a haircut, went to the gym and started trying to work on feeling good again? What if every time you felt sad you let the feeling pass and then focused on your new future life? It could be amazing. This might be the best thing that has ever happened to you. You're not going to find out by locking yourself away and watching Marley and Me.

Loneliness and identity loss - another baddie. Chances are you've lost the person you spend the most time with. The person you come home to and talk about the woes of your day with. Perhaps you had a lot of joint friends. Or they were the sociable one and you are facing the gap of an absent social life. You can fix this, it will take time and effort but you can fix this. (p.s. replacing them with someone else is not the answer). Rediscover some hobbies, go to the gym, take up something new or do whatever you need. This will pass. There was life before them and there will be life after. If this one person was your only human contact you've got bigger things to be focusing on than a break up. If you dumped all your friends for this relationship (it happens), they will understand if they are true friends. Just don't expect them to suddenly be there 24 hours a day, they've gone off and got on with their own lives.

Rebound - I'm not even sure what to say here. You might meet the love of your life the next day. We both know it's unlikely. But feeling attractive and desirable can be pretty powerful and it can be helpful. Think hard about your motivation before you drag someone else into this. Everyone has feelings. I'm going to lump self-destruction in here because rebounds are as self-destructive as drinking binges or binges of any sort. You know deep down you're not helping yourself. So try and resist the temptation. Classic reaction here is to start going through your list of exes (which didn't end as badly) and seeing if you can get together. Unless you are extremely self-assured and then this is not going to help.

All of these things come and go in any order. Each lasting for minutes, hours or weeks and then they can start again. There are no rules or patterns and we are all different. Try and allow your feelings to happen and don't squash them with alcohol or drugs or whatever it is you do. It all passes in the end. Be kind to yourself but not over-indulgent. 

Turn your thoughts to hope, it is an amazing thing. If you can find a little hope that it will all get better focus on that and try and let the negatives go. There are other people out there suffering unimaginable things. Look for small gratitudes where you can find them. Most of all stay open to love don't let this one thing deny you of future happiness.

Dav Piper

Professional Gardener, Piper Gardens

Pro Gardener / Psychologies Ambassador/ Blogger / Health Foodie / All things nature / Rescue dog Momma


Go to the profile of Jane Kirk
over 3 years ago

Not only does this resonate with me for a past relationship, but reading it makes me see how being in an extreme relationship, as I am, is not a reason to run, rather a reason to love. Thank you