Married or unmarried, breaking up is hard to do

When hurt, it’s advisable to turn to your friends and family for emotional support

A common mistake following relationship breakdown is to assume  something is inherently wrong with you as a person.

A common mistake following relationship breakdown is to assume something is inherently wrong with you as a person.

 

Relationships are sometimes compared jokingly or otherwise to a battlefield, but the end of a relationship can be an emotional battlefield all of its own.

Conventional wisdom – you’ll get over it, plenty more fish in the sea, she/he is the loser – while often reflecting the truth can underestimate the suffering brought on by a break-up.

We all readily understand that the breakdown of a marriage brings a great deal of pain with it, to one and often to both parties.

But the same is true of unmarried relationships, particularly where people have been living together. A US study of 1,300 people found the breakdown of an unmarried relationship brought significant distress and a fall in life satisfaction to 43 per cent of participants.

The study is one of a number cited in a survey of psychological research into relationship breakdown by Dinsa Sachan and published in the latest edition of The Psychologist.

While the breakdown of an unmarried relationship can be devastating, this can go unrecognised by friends and colleagues, Sachan notes.

“If a person is undergoing a painful divorce, colleagues and bosses often show empathy towards them and grant days off. But break-ups in unmarried relationships aren’t taken so seriously. People have to often put their feelings aside, plaster a fake smile on their face, and head to the office.”

You don’t have to be a psychologist to know that what people most need to do in this situation is to seek emotional support and plenty of it. Tell your story to friends and family. Wrap yourself in whatever comfort you can get from them.

If you realise you’re wearing them out consider going to a professional counsellor who at least is paid to listen to you. But lean on friends and family first – we all have to be willing to provide a shoulder to cry on for those who are close to us.

It goes without saying that if one person dumps another the one who got dumped is going to find the whole experience harder. Even if you wanted the relationship to end, if you got dumped first the experience is painful because, well, you got dumped.

Clean breaks are more difficult to achieve than they used to be, thanks to social media and texting. For that reason, the question of whether to be friends after the break-up comes up more often now, I expect, than in the past.

Committed relationship

Some research suggests that people who had a really good relationships with each other when they were together are more likely to form friendships eventually. It may be that they are just good at relationships or it may be that something of value has survived the wreckage. The transformation of the broken relationship into a friendship, though could take months or years.

Watch out for the danger that one party stays friends just to get sex or money (some US research suggests that such people are more likely to seek to maintain a friendship). If you want the same thing that’s fine – but think about what you will do when you form a new, committed relationship with somebody else. Also, if one party is involved in the ‘friendship’ for sex and the other because they desperately want to rekindle the romance, somebody is going to get hurt.

Maybe a more common mistake following relationship breakdown is to assume that something is inherently wrong with you as a person and that this will always happen.

Actually, most people change quite a lot in life and if you can identify something unhelpful you did that contributed to the break-up then you can do something about that next time around.

The key point to remember if you are suffering a relationship breakdown is this: badger your friends and family for emotional support though not, obviously, to the extent that they run away and never want to see you again.

And if and when it happens to them, do the decent thing and offer them a shoulder to cry on, too. You can read Dinsa Sachan’s article at http://bit.ly/dinsasachan

Padraig O’Morain (pomorain@yahoo.com, @PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is ‘Kindfulness’. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email.

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