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5 Hard Truths About Breakups

It's never easy, and there could be collateral damage, but you will heal.

Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock
Source: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

1. It's rarely easy to do.

There is a golden-oldies record called “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.” The song’s title conveys the difficult effort required to end a relationship. No matter how confident you are that it is time for a relationship to end, there can be a fair amount of pain associated with the process of cutting yourself loose from a partner—or a friend.

2. It can hurt—a lot.

Pain can accompany even necessary break-ups and emotional gains. While many of us may be relieved to see an unsatisfying relationships take its last gasp, some may feel acute pain when forced to acknowledge that a relationship or friendship has run its course. When a relationship ends—no matter how valid the reasons may be—not only has a partner or friend been lost, but your assumptions and beliefs about the future of the relationship have been lost as well. If this person has been cut out of a social group or group of friends, the absence may be noticed and keenly felt, even if it is only because group time together is less drama-filled or more tranquil.

Women in particular typically “tend and befriend” others, as an evolved survival mechanism. If women are unable to maintain a relationship or friendship, they may feel disappointed in themselves, not just their partners or friends. The inability to keep a relationship on track, even if the other person is to blame, can be perceived as a personal failure. In terms of friendships, when one has few friends or only a single close friend, such a loss can represent a virtual shut-down of an entire support system. This may lead to a knee-jerk response and one may rush to build new friendships that turn out to be ill-fated. If you recognize yourself in this situation, remember that being a friend to yourself first is an essential prerequisite to establishing healthy friendships with others. “Rebound friendships” may be every bit as fated to fail as “rebound romances.” Stick to your personal expectations about a potential friend’s traits and values before investing too much into a new relationship.

3. Mutual friends may be lost.

When a marriage, romantic relationships, or friendship is dissolved, it will likely result in “collateral damage” within intersecting friendscapes. This can be especially difficult when the sacrifice of a partner or friend leads to the loss of mutual friends you cherished as companions and confidantes. When friendships or romantic relationships fall apart, one of our first instincts is to find a sympathetic ear. When a former confidante shows allegiance to the former partner or friend with whom you’ve fallen out, it can lead to a double dose of emotional fallout. You may be angry at the friend whose behavior led to the break-up—and sad and confused that another friend sided with the other person over you.

4. You will be lonely.

When your regular routine of shared experiences is disrupted, without having something positive to fill in the void, you may feel acutely lonely, even if you're glad to be free of a toxic relationship. Even as you find new engaging activities, the sense of loneliness may linger. This is normal and not necessarily a sign that you made a mistake in breaking off the relationship or friendship. However, if the loneliness grows with time and impedes your normal functioning, you may want to speak with a counselor to help you work through this emotional response. Missing companionship is normal; obsessing or dwelling on your misery is not.

5. It will get easier.

While many say that time heals all wounds, it is probably more true to say that distance allows us to keep our focus on other, more current concerns. Humans are remarkably resilient, and while a longing for a former partner's or friend’s presence may not evaporate completely, with time it will take up less space in your head and heart. When a relationship ends on an unpleasant note, you may experience anger and sadness, relief and disappointment. Luckily, our hearts and minds are able to tolerate such sensory overload for only a limited period of time, so the red-hot anger will begin to fade and the lingering sadness will recede. (Caveat: If anger burns red-hot too long or thoughts of revenge or retribution grow stronger, you might benefit from speaking with a counselor who can help you handle these unproductive and potentially dangerous feelings.)

Eventually, the loss will begin to feel more like your history, not your present. Ending even a difficult or unsatisfying relationship can create another set of emotional challenges. However, being able to free yourself from a relationship that is holding you back from enjoying life to its fullest, or feeling as good as you can about yourself, is well worth the short-term difficulty. In fact, research suggests that relationships that are unsatisfying or marred with unpleasant interactions are worse for your emotional well-being than an absence of romance or friendships.