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Why People Ending a Relationship Need Support, Too

Breaking up is always hard to do, but it can be harder on the initiator.

Key points

  •  You decided to leave a relationship, you deserve support, too.
  • We’re all not meant to be with everybody. It takes courage to do the leaving.
  • Why is there more support for the one who is left versus the one who actually leaves the relationship?

It’s really hard to leave a relationship. Deciding to end a relationship, whether a marriage, a friendship, or with someone you’re dating is never easy. I’ve spent many therapy hours with patients in the throes of discerning whether or not to stay or leave a relationship. It is a painful, difficult, emotionally draining process, even if it is a no-brainer, and the relationship is abusive. But the interesting phenomenon is that once you decide to leave, you are more likely to be seen by others as "the bad guy."

It seems like support goes to the person who was left, regardless of any other facts. It could have been that both were close to deciding the relationship wasn’t working, and yet the one taking the stance to leave not only deals with the aftermath of the breakup but also shoulders much of the responsibility for the decision to end the relationship. With that come some hard realities, such as having people say to you, “You wanted to leave so why are you so upset?” or other guilt-evoking statements and implications of fault regarding the pain of the other.

The role of the leaver is consistently disparaged and vilified. I hadn’t really thought about it as a phenomenon until I started doing some research on support for the leaver. Support for the process of the decision to leave exists, but not as much in terms of support for the official “leaver” after the fact.

When someone experiences a breakup and is not the one precipitating the break, the very role of the one left does elicit sympathy from the get-go. “How could they have left you? You were amazing.” Being left can be, and is often devastating, but there is usually more to the story. Relationships are ridiculously complicated but it’s notable that the one who does the leaving often has to defend their actions to others. No one asks of the one who was left, “So what did you do to be left?”

Neither role is great, and on some level, we humans root for “happily ever after.” Nevertheless, it’s important to have some perspective regarding what it must be like for someone to have put in the work of “leaving.”

We humans are hardwired for survival, and staying together is more expected than ending a relationship. Deciding to leave a relationship is often a thought-out decision, and requires courage in many cases. Knowing it would create pain likely factored into the decision-making process. But a breakup can be good for both parties. It makes it possible for either former partner to find someone who is truly a good fit, and begin a relationship that very well might lead to "happily ever after."

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