The title of Neil Sedaka’s 1960 hit song perfectly captures how difficult and challenging it can be to end a relationship, as well as to adaptively grieve/mourn its end. Painful emotions are likely to develop when relationships end, even if you are the one deciding to break it off. These emotions often develop as a result of losing the relationship, losing that person as a friend in your life and even losing any beliefs you once held about the future of the relationship. When a relationship ends, the emotional experience can be varied and unique. Common experiences include disappointment, stress, sadness, anger and worry. These emotions arise because a relationship ending disrupts one’s life. It disrupts one’s sense of routine, home life and relationships with friends/family. One’s sense of identity is also impacted when relationships end. Worry can arise when having doubts and uncertainty about one’s future. Oftentimes, these worries and the unknown at the time can bring about negative emotions, which can feel even more intense than being in an unhappy relationship.
Knowing this can be crucial in being able to adaptively grieve the end of the relationship. As mentioned, grief (which can look like stress, worry, sadness, anger, shock or loneliness, just to name a few) is very natural and appropriate to experience when a loss takes place. The thought of actually wanting to allow yourself to feel this pain may seem daunting and even scary at times. Common concerns are that the painful emotions may be too intense for one to bear, or that this intensity of pain will be present forever. During these times, it is crucial to remind yourself that grieving and feeling/experiencing these negative emotions are part of the healing process. It is exactly these negative emotions/pain that help one close the chapter on this relationship and move forward in life without this relationship.
Healthy coping strategies are needed in order to allow one’s self to grieve adaptively. Below are several tips for coping during a breakup.
1. Avoid alcohol and/or drugs. Substance use is often a maladaptive way to cope, attempting to numb pain. This may offer some short-term relief, but is more destructive in the long term.
2. Rational self-talk. Remind yourself that it is normal and OK to have different feelings. Allow yourself to acknowledge and label the emotions when they occur. Encourage yourself to accept and welcome emotions instead of wanting to fight or push them away.
3. Allow time to grieve the end of the relationship. Have realistic expectations about the time it will take to adaptively grieve the loss.
4. Seek extra support through counseling, friends or family. Talking to someone can often allow for processing of emotions, which can help decrease their intensity.
5. Cultivate new friendships, especially if the end of the relationship meant a loss of your social network.
6. Focus on making healthy choices including exercise, healthy eating and regular sleep.
As discussed above, with time and healthy coping, painful emotions are likely to decrease in intensity and frequency. If you experienced a relationship loss and are having difficulty coping, or if you would like to learn more about healthy coping/grief, you can contact Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500 to schedule a confidential appointment. (Information for this article adapted from www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lifetime-connections/201410/5-hard-truths-about-breakups and www.helpguide.org/articles/grief/dealing-with-a-breakup-or-divorce.htm?pdf=13252.)