The Dreaded Breakup

Some practical tips for those ending a relationship.

Posted Aug 01, 2020

Courtesy of Pexels
Source: Courtesy of Pexels

The process of breaking up can be extremely painful for both partners. Even if you are the initiator, you still mourn the loss of what once was a loving union. While there are many “get over it” types of tips on the internet, the journey is different for each person. The experience of breaking up depends on your role in the breakup, the quality of the relationship, along with a host of other individual differences. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy. Below are some important ideas to keep in mind as you face a breakup. Remember that it is different for everyone, and your process is yours, so there is no need to apologize or feel sorry for the pain you may be experiencing.

1. You can’t force yourself to forget about an ex. In a research study that examined thought suppression, participants were asked to verbalize their stream of consciousness and not think about a white bear. Despite these explicit instructions, not only did participants have difficulty in suppressing thoughts of the white bear, but it surfaced with an unusually high frequency (Wegner, Schneider, Carter, & White, 1987).

Applying this principle to relationships, you cannot simply snap your fingers and forget your ex. Furthermore, you cannot force your ex to disappear from your mind. Do not fault yourself if your mind starts to drift to him/her. You need to remove your ex from your thoughts in your own time.

To try and forget about an ex-partner, it is best to get rid of any potential “triggers” that bring back memories of your relationship. While it is easy to get rid of some things, such as a teddy bear or his/her sweatshirt, other intangible items are more challenging to remove. To best handle this, keep busy and naturally distract yourself with other, more pleasant thoughts. Focus on a new activity or hobby that piques your interests.

2. It’s okay to be angry. There are many variables that can affect the amount of emotional distress you experience, such as the quality and length of the newly ended relationship, other sources of stress you may be experiencing at the time of the breakup, as well as your availability of social support (Sprecher, Felmlee, Metts, Fehr, & Vanni, 1998). A breakup is a painful experience. Even if the relationship ended on a sour note, you cared about your partner at one point, and ending the relationship will typically cause you to experience a sense of loss.

Grieving is a normal part of the breakup process, and can often be accompanied by anger. An upside to this anger is that it may serve as a motivating factor to assist you in moving on.

3. Breakups are difficult for most people. As previously mentioned, breakups are not experienced in the same way by each person. There are a lot of individual differences. Research has shown that individuals, especially those who are anxiously attached, tend to cling to their ex-partners because they are not confident about their future relationship prospects (Spielmann, MacDonald, & Wilson, 2009). This may be because they fear being alone or because they need validation from their significant other. Increasing their optimism about future prospects will allow anxiously attached individuals to let go of their feelings for their exes (Spielmann et al., 2009).

Research has also demonstrated that those who are broken up with may experience depression, loss of self-esteem, and continue to ruminate about their past relationships when compared to the initiators of the breakup (Perilloux, & Buss, (2008).  Those who initiated did not fare much better and were more likely to be perceived by others as being cruel (Perilloux & Buss, 2008). Therefore, both sides face difficulties.

Remember that if you are dealing with the pain associated with the end of a relationship, you are not alone. Other people have been through it, and are likely to go through it in the future. Be sure to lean on your support system and talk with your friends and family. Those close to you can help you cope during such a vulnerable time.

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Perilloux, C., & Buss, D. M. (2008). Breaking up romantic relationships: Costs experienced and coping strategies deployed. Evolutionary Psychology, 6(1), 164-181.

Spielmann, S. S., MacDonald, G., & Wilson, A. E. (2009). On the rebound: Focusing on someone new helps anxiously attached individuals let go of ex-partners. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 1382-1394.

Sprecher, S., Felmlee, D., Metts, S., Fehr, B., & Vanni, D. (1998). Factors associated with distress following the breakup of a close relationship. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 15(6), 791-809.

Wegner, D. M., Schneider, D. J., Carter, S., & White, L. (1987). Paradoxical effects of thought suppression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 5–13.