The Catholic University of America

 

Ending a Relationship

Breaking up is hard to do…
…For both the person who decided to end the relationship, as well as the person being broken up with.  Whether it’s the breakup of a romantic relationship or experiencing the end of a friendship, breakups are hard because we have invested significant emotional energy into another person, and now the support which that relationship gave us is no longer there.  Psychological adjustment following the termination of a romantic relationship is especially important to attend to.  It is expected that there will be some degree of distress following a breakup, even for the person who decided to end the relationship.  Losing a major support takes time to adjust to.  During a breakup you are likely to experience different emotions, many at the same time!

Normal feelings after a breakup
  • Sadness: “Things will never get better.”
  • Denial: “I can’t believe the relationship is over.”
  • Guilt: “I don’t want to hurt him/her, but I can’t stay in this relationship.”
  • Loneliness
  • Anger: “How could he/she DO this to me?”
  • Anxiety
  • Sense of loss
  • Avoidance
  • Self-blame: “If only I had…”
  • Fear: “I may never  be loved again.”
  • Disorientation and confusion: “My world has totally changed. What do I do now?”
  • Hope: “Maybe we’ll get back together.”
  • Bargaining: “If you’ll stay I’ll change.”
  • Relief: “It feels good to not be fighting with someone I care about.”
Getting Over a Breakup
Allow yourself time to grieve the loss of the relationship
You may not be functioning at your best right now, so don’t push yourself to “be strong” and keep it all inside.  Take it easy and don’t make any big life decisions at this time!  Remember that it will take you longer to get over the relationship than your ex-partner; because they made the decision to end the relationship, they’ve already had more time to resolve their feelings about it ending.
 
Give yourself space from your ex-partner
With all the ways we can connect with people using social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc), there are too many temptations to “check up” on your ex-partner.  Checking up on your ex through social media or through mutual friends prevents you from healing and forming your new identity without that person.  Additionally, you’ll most likely find out things you wished you hadn’t, like your ex starting to date again.  Block or unfriend your ex, take their phone number off your phone, and politely explain to mutual friends that you need some space from the relationship and do not want to talk about your ex-partner.  Taking these steps does not mean you are shunning them forever, but it’s giving you some time away just for now.  Removing access to your ex means that you will be less likely to casually contact them and potentially feel hurt if they do not respond or respond in a way that re-opens your emotional wounds. 
 
Avoid “hooking up” or rebound relationships
Give yourself time to resolve your feelings about losing an important relationship; carrying around “baggage” into new relationships only slows your healing and complicates forming a genuine connection with a new person.
 
Engage in self-care practices.
Make sure that you’re eating healthy foods, getting enough rest, and continuing healthy physical activity.  Avoid abusing alcohol and drugs in order to escape painful feelings.  Take care of yourself and do what makes you feel good.  Self-care activities can include taking a long soak in a bathtub, calling friends, going to a museum, taking a walk, attending a concert, watching a silly movie, or anything else that feels nurturing.
 
Remember what was “less than perfect” about the relationship
It’s easy to idealize people and relationships when we feel lonely.  Remembering what some of the conflictual issues in the relationship were can help clarify what you want in other relationships.

Lean on social support

Reestablishing bonds with positive and affirming friends is important right now.  Not only can they give emotional support and nurturing, they can also help you remember unhealthy aspects of the relationship.
 
Express yourself creatively. 
Draw, paint, write poetry, or use a journal.  Get your feelings out!  Not only will you feel better immediately afterwards, but you can look back on your creative expressions later if you feel “stuck”, in order to remind yourself how far you’ve come!
 
When You are Ending the Relationship
Acknowledge your feelings about it ending. 
It’s normal to feel guilty and sad about ending a relationship, even if you are the one who decides to break-up.  Just as no person is “all good” or “all bad”, relationships, even unhealthy ones, have good moments, as well.  It can be hard to say goodbye to someone that you care about, even when you realize that you are not happy in that relationship. 

Give your ex-partner some time and space away from you.
 
As the initiator of the break-up, you’ve had more time to work out your feelings.  Your ex might feel angry, confused, and sad, and may even say hurtful things to you.  Seeing you might be painful, so don’t try to force a friendship too soon.  You both need time to adjust to not being in the relationship.
 
Avoid giving mixed messages. 
It’s natural to want to decrease the amount of pain your ex-partner might feel at the end of the relationship.  It’s also natural for you to miss your ex-partner at times.  However, giving false hopes, such as a possible reconciliation, will not help you or your ex in getting over the relationship.  If you are confused about your feelings, talk to your friends or family.
 
Lean on social support
Reestablishing bonds with positive and affirming friends is important right now.  Not only can they give emotional support and nurturing, they can also help you remember unhealthy aspects of the relationship.
 
Avoid “hooking up” or rebound relationships
Give yourself time to resolve your feelings about losing an important relationship; carrying around “baggage” into new relationships only slows your healing and complicates forming a genuine connection with a new person.

Engage in self-care practices

Make sure that you’re eating healthy foods, getting enough rest, and continuing healthy physical activity.  Avoid abusing alcohol and drugs in order to escape painful feelings.  Take care of yourself and do what makes you feel good.  Self-care activities can include taking a long soak in a bathtub, calling friends, going to a museum, taking a walk, attending a concert, watching a silly movie, or anything else that feels nurturing.
 
If you would like some help in addressing some of these issues, or you feel that your mood is not improving over time, the staff at the Counseling Center is available to help you identify and work through concerns.  The Counseling Center is located on the first floor of O’Boyle Hall and appointments can be scheduled by calling 202-319-5765.  

 

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