Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Breaking Up: Positive View Despite Emotional Turmoil

One of my posts here on breaking up has garnered over 850,000 hits.

Wikipedia, Creative Commons © Nevit Dilmen
Source: Wikipedia, Creative Commons © Nevit Dilmen

The Museum of Broken Relationships was recently in New York where people had the chance to see donated items from failed romances. As a reminder and an inspiration, it prompted me to look at my own piece on the museum after friends returned from Zagreb, Croatia. It is there that the permanent collection is housed.

The museum's "The EX-hibitition" in New York also inspired me to look at previous articles that I had written on love and breaking up. Love stories generate fewer hits than those on breaking up. One piece, which is still highly popular is "35 Ways to Tell if It's Over, and to Tell Your Partner."

Why are such articles so compelling? A break up can be so painful that it will trigger physical symptoms that mimic a heart attack, the broken heart syndrome. Those affected by this condition are generally seen in a hospital emergency room. Broken Heart Syndrome: New Research and Tips on Recovery. From an emotional perspective, a break-up can signal the onset of depression or even suicidal thoughts.

Mitigating the pain of breaking up

Despite the turmoil and pain of a relationship that fails, the work of Gary W. Lewandowski, Jr., P.h.D., Professor and Chair, Department of Psychology Monmouth University, shows us the value of finding a positive side to this emotional upheaval. In an article posted in the American Psychological Association Journal, we learn "Breakups aren't all bad: Coping strategies to promote positive outcomes."

Dr. Lewandowski's article originally appeared as “Promoting positive emotions following relationship dissolution through writing,” in The Journal of Positive Psychology. In discussing positive strategies, it notes that “this should encourage those who have experienced a romantic relationship's end to purposefully focus on the positive aspects of their experience while simultaneously minimizing negative emotions.”

Keep in mind that despite the number of trips to the altar over the past 10 years, the divorce rate has remained consistent. Approximately half of all marriages end in divorce according to recent figures from the National Center for Health Statistics at the CDC. Even couples in a committed relationship, who are not married, can experience heartbreak when their relationship ends. In the Journal of Family Psychology, a report focused on those in unmarried couples' relationships: “Breaking Up is Hard to do: The Impact of Unmarried Relationship Dissolution on Mental Health and Life Satisfaction."

Write your way to peace

Despite many suggestions on how to overcome heartbreak after a relationship ends, it may be time to look again at a writing-based intervention in which three groups took part in the exercise. In Lewandowski’s research we learn that each group spent 15 to 30 minutes a day for three consecutive days without receiving any feedback from the experimenter. The subjects were 100 single participants who had a break-up within the past three months. Each group wrote about the following:

  • Positive: This group wrote about the positive aspects of their break-up.
  • Negative: A separate group wrote about the negative aspects of their break-up.
  • Superficial topics: A third group wrote about a superficial topic unrelated to the break-up.

Findings: It was determined that “those who focused their writing on the positive aspects of their break-up (factors leading up to the break-up, the actual break-up, and the time right after the break-up) reported experiencing more positive emotions regarding their relationship's end and did not experience an increase in negative emotions.” Further:

The increased positive emotions included feelings of such as: comfort, confidence, empowerment, energy, happiness, optimism, relief, satisfaction, thankfulness, and wisdom.

Writing about positive writing aspects of a break-up was most effective, particularly if the break-up was mutual, while those in the negative and neutral writing conditions only increased in positive emotions if the break-up was initiated by the participant. Writing was equally effective for males and females. (Lewandowski 2009).

Can communication help prevent breakups?

For singles or married couples, if your relationship seems rocky, you can have the relationship talk to figure out how to get your relationship back on track. Or you might try the writing experiment in which you explore the positive and negative aspects of your togetherness, and then compare notes.

If you have the relationship talk, the most important question to ask yourself is this: "In my heart of hearts, do I believe that he or she is my one and only?"

If your answer is, “I’m not sure,” it may be that this person is not ‘the one," but you are afraid to be alone. If you fear being alone, it may be time to say, "Good-bye" and leave open the door for a committed love. And after a bit of time, consider the positive aspects of a rebound relationship (Braumberg and Frawley, 2014).

And keep in mind that if it is “over,” leave on a high note -- with dignity and integrity. You might even express gratitude for the time you two shared together and then say, "Good-bye."

Here are some tips for moving forward -- "The Breakup Museum and 11 Tips to Heal Your Heart."

Copyright 2017 Rita Watson


Lewandowski, G. (2009). Promoting positive emotions following relationship dissolution through writing. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(1), 21-31.

Brumbaugh, C.C. and Fraley, R.C., Too fast, too soon? (2014) An empirical investigation into rebound relationships," The Journal of Social Relationships.

Galena K. Rhoades, et al, Breaking Up is Hard to do: The Impact of Unmarried Relationship Dissolution on Mental Health and Life Satisfaction (2011) Jun; 25(3): 366–374, Journal of Family Psychology.

More from Psychology Today

More from Rita Watson MPH

More from Psychology Today