If you have experienced a relationship breakup, you may be experiencing a range of difficult feelings, including pain, sadness, anger, and despair. These are common, almost universal experiences in response to a breakup. We are wired to feel connected and attached to others, and the loss of the closeness we feel in a romantic relationship can feel devastating. Psychological research has shown that the intense feelings after a breakup strongly resemble reactions to other traumatic losses, such as the death of a loved one or the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness. The following are common emotional reactions to the loss of a romantic relationship:
- Denial – It may be very difficult to accept that the relationship is ending. It can take time to process, make sense of what happened and adjust.
- Grief and despair – It is normal to feel sad and lonely, and to cry a lot. You may feel an intense need to contact your ex-partner. Sleeping and eating can become hard. Particular times during the day, such as waking up in the morning, maybe especially difficult.
- Fear – It may be frightening and difficult to imagine life without your significant other. You may fear that you will never find love or feel happy again.
- Anger – Anger with a partner who has caused pain by initiating or contributing to the breakup is normal and may even feel helpful in getting some distance and perspective on the issue.
- Self-blame or guilt – You may obsess over what you could have done to cause the breakup and may attempt to “bargain” with an ex-partner to give the relationship another chance. If you initiated the breakup, you may feel guilty about causing pain to your partner.
- Jealousy – You may experience jealousy or panic about your partner potentially being with someone else.
- Confusion – Life may feel strange or incomplete without your significant other. You may question who you are, and the meaning of life without your partner.
- Relief – You may feel some sense of relief from negative feelings associated with the relationship that resulted from fighting, insecurity, or boredom.
- Anxiety – Though not strictly a feeling, big changes often cause a spike in anxiety. For example, if your partner was your best friend, it would be normal to have a transitional period of rebuilding existing relationships or making new close friendships to feel supported again.
Will I Ever Feel Better?
Though the process may feel long and difficult, painful feelings of loss and longing resulting from a relationship breakup will diminish over time. However, anything that disrupts the letting go process, such as seeing your former partner or continuing to follow them on social media may temporarily rekindle feelings or spark hope for reconciliation. Moving on from a breakup sometimes means accepting that there may be no satisfying answer to why the relationship had to end, and coming to terms with limits in being able to control or “fix” the situation.
You might be tempted to want to put this behind you and distract yourself with other activities, friends, or new relationships. Distraction is a coping mechanism, and it can work well at alleviating pain, at least for brief periods. However, it is helpful to have additional coping approaches as well, such as finding safe spaces and trusted people with whom you can share some part of what you’re going through, so you can feel less alone. Consider that your feelings, though painful, are not bad or unhealthy. Feeling pain is a reflection of how important that person was in your life, as well as an indication that you have the courage and ability to be emotionally vulnerable and close to another person – a critically important part of having meaningful and close relationships. Though feeling pain is a necessary part of healing, there are steps you can take to care for yourself and help ease your distress during this time:
- Seek support from friends and family. Social support is one of the most important factors in coping with a loss. Reach out to people who care, and who will listen to your feelings and provide encouragement. Spending time with others may be difficult at first but will help you to realize that there are other people in your life who care about you and are there to support you.
- Take steps toward closure in the relationship. Ongoing contact with your partner may hinder your healing and diminish your sense of self-esteem. Ask for help from others when contact with your partner leaves you feeling increasingly upset. “Loss rituals” such as writing a farewell letter (which you may or may not choose to send), returning belongings, or boxing up photos, letters and other reminders of the relationship may help in the process of letting go. It also may be a good idea to stop following the person on social media or take a social media break to prevent the constant reminders of them from popping up on your phone.
- Make a daily schedule. Structuring your time and having a schedule for the day can be helpful in lessening distress and preoccupation with your ex-partner. Try to redirect your mental energy to accomplishing projects and tasks, such as academic work, which can boost feelings of control and competence.
- Allow for openness to new interests or a sense of coming back home to yourself. Develop new interests, activities and relationships in your life separate from your ex-partner that allow you to remember what is important to you outside of a relationship. Plan new events with friends or family on holidays or anniversary dates of the relationship. Engage in activities that help you recover a sense of meaning and balance, such as religious/spiritual practice, art, poetry or music.
- Meet with a counselor. Consider making an appointment with a counselor to talk about your feelings about the breakup. Caring, experienced psychologists are available to meet with Villanova students for confidential sessions at the University Counseling Center in Room 206 Health Services Building. To make an appointment, stop by or call (610) 519-4050.
HOW TO GET HELP
Free, confidential counseling is available at the University Counseling Center, 206 Health Services Building, 610-519-4050.