Every relationship you get into in life appears to be unique. Even if you have a certain type of person you always seem to date, one boyfriend or girlfriend is rarely exactly the same as the other. The same can be said for the breakup. At the close of one particular romantic relationship during my undergrad, I was shocked to find myself devastated not by the breakup that had just happened, but instead by a relationship that had ended 6 months before. The older relationship seemed significant enough for me to mourn twice, while the newer one I shrugged off with ease. This left me with a lot of questions, the most important two being: Has this happened to anyone else? and Am I simply a terrible person?
It turns out, there are different ways to manage (and perceive) a breakup. Some lead to devastating mourning periods mixed with pain that lasts for years, while others make the pain a little easier to take.
“I am unloveable”
There are usually a few reasons behind a relationship ending, and sometimes those reasons can be extremely personal. How we perceive our own personality as being the cause of a breakup plays a big role in how we handle the rejection. If the breakup seems to reveal a new, negative truth about ourselves, it becomes a heavier, more painful burden.
Those who find themselves questioning who they really are, or perceiving the rejection to have happened because they themselves are unloveable, clingy, uninteresting or any number of negative things, have long lingering affects post breakup. Pain remains from rejection that happened even years before
“I can never change”
Going hand in hand with the perception of a faulty personality causing the breakup, whether we see ourselves as being fixed in place or able to change influences how hard rejection hits us. If, along with the thought that you are a terrible communicator, you can only think, “I will always be this way,” breakups can have a devastating impact. You are faced with the knowledge that you brought this pain on yourself, and it will happen for the rest of your life. How bleak.
How to Have a Bearable Breakup.
“We just weren’t compatible.”
As hard and as painful as breakups will always be, keeping in mind that you were not the sole cause of a relationship failing will vastly improve your experience. Shifting from “I am so clingy. I drove them away,” to “they didn’t need the same things as I did,” makes a dramatic difference in your perception of self, and removes blame from being completely on your shoulders.
It doesn’t mean you were less committed to your relationship to know that rejection happens, but it does mean you can see how this breakup won’t be the end of your life.
“I can work on that.”
So, what do you do if your clinginess did play a significant role in your breakup? Reminding yourself that you have a potential to improve and change allows the sense of rejection to remain in the past. With this perception, it does not matter that your high school relationship failed because you were X, Y, and Z, because you have grown and aren’t who you were in high school.
For my two undergrad breakups, one seemed to mark a horrible personality flaw in me, leading me to fail myself and my boyfriend. The other, I saw that we were different people, and I would not always be rejected.
Remember that getting into close relationships causes an intertwining of two selves; when we’re in a relationship, we begin to think of our romantic partners as part of ourselves. We mix up the traits, memories, and identity of our partner with our own. This can be a massively positive experience in many cases. Getting to know a new partner usually includes a period of new exploration where you immerse yourself in new interests and identities, expanding your worldview as you are exposed to new things. Because of this, when a relationship ends, the loss of a romantic partner can feel like a loss of self. It is normal to feel loss and sadness. By keeping a forward perspective, however, your breakups can be a healthy part of your personal history, rather than the horrible wound that you can still not touch.
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Written by: Melece, Master’s student in Marriage and Family Therapy. Reviewed by Brian Willoughby PhD.