You haven’t really lived if you haven’t experienced a breakup with a romantic or potentially lifetime partner. That’s not to recommend that we should seek out opportunities to do so because we’re otherwise missing out on something exciting.

It’s to say that it’s a standard part of any human search for love and intimacy. There’s probably a breakup of lovers taking place somewhere in the world at any time of day or night, including right now while you read this.

What that means, of course, is that no one is alone when they end a relationship and that no one is the first or sole person to have the feelings they do about it no matter how singled-out they feel at the time. It means that though it’s likely to feel awful, it’s not the end of the world or the end of one’s life.

Sympathy, even empathy, should be easy to come by because the experience is all around us. Only the hard of heart can walk away from a relationship without any emotions.

It’s even produced an industry of breakup apps and breakup specialists. These remind us that when a split occurs ,we’re not unusual or unique in our experiences and their accompanying emotions.

At the time of the breakup, there’s usually little a friend or family member can say that sounds helpful, no matter how true it is. People want to try, though, because they identify from their own lives with how bad we feel and it triggers something in them that they certainly don’t want to feel again.

But other than listening, we’re not ready for wise advice. It might be the case that: “in the long run you’ll see that this was a good thing for you,” but such words don’t help until some of the strongest of the feelings have subsided. And that takes time.

Feelings aren’t good or bad; they’re just emotions meant to be felt. Human beings have emotions, though some of us have been told that we “shouldn’t” feel them.

We don’t have to think, act or decide on the basis of how we feel, however. And just doing something, anything to repress the feelings (especially, we know, jumping right into another relationship to save us), though often suggested, is only helpful if we get stuck in debilitating emotions for an extended period of time.

But one of the things we can do so as not to contribute to the worsening and prolonging of our depressive reactions to a breakup is to stop repeating any messages that place more blame on ourselves than is necessary. These blaming messages are often hidden in the questions we ask ourselves – and obsess over – after a breakup.

This is not to say that we’ve been perfect partners – that would be to require us to be more than human; and it does take two to tango. It’s to get us to stop questioning a relationship that has changed or ended when those questions are not yet productive.

Even though possibly some of the questions might be good ones when we look back at a later time when the emotions aren’t still raw, hidden in their repetition to ourselves is a subtle punishment of ourselves for what’s happened. There’s also more emotion behind them then logical, educational inquiry.

Here are some of those questions we might obsess over:

  • What did I do to deserve this?
  • What’s wrong with me?
  • Am I too old? too plain? too set in my ways? too picky? too…?
  • Why didn’t I see this coming?
  • Were there signs I missed?
  • Will I ever get this right?
  • Am I doomed to never have a lasting romantic relationship?
  • What could I have done to make this relationship last (and making a list in our heads)?
  • Why didn’t I listen to….?
  • Why do I feel so bad?
  • Will I ever be happy again?

There are a lot of emotions to be felt immediately if the relationship really mattered to us. There will also be time to look back and learn from any breakup.

It’s not a bad long-term strategy to even get someone to listen to us therapeutically as if a psychological checkup is overdue before we move on.

But let’s be careful not to subtly, or not so subtly, enter a pattern of punishing ourselves on top of everything that’s just plain normal to feel about the end of any relationship. It’s just not helpful.

Contributed by

Bob Minor

University of Kansas
Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies
A national resource for information on gender issues and gay/straight relationships for organizations, businesses, educational institutions, and media outlets such as NBC and USA Today, Bob Minor, Ph.D. …

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