Skip to main content

Surviving the Pain of a Break Up

M. D. Jackson has studied psychology since 1989. While her specialty is family relations, she also loves neuroscience and behaviorism.


Breaking Up Breaks Us

Breaking off a relationship is one of the most stressful psychological events in a person’s life. It creates symptoms of grieving similar to the grieving for the death of someone. In some respects the pain is worse because, the person is still somewhere yet the two of you have chosen not to carry on together. It can be difficult to get over a break up and even tougher to realize the day to day implications of that break up. To navigate a break up successfully is to come out of the relationship emotionally healthy. The most important part of enduring a break up is keeping you emotionally healthy.

Why Did We Break Up?

"Assumptions are the termites of relationships" – Henry Winkler

There are so many answers to this question. The short answer to this question is that someone in the relationship wan not getting what they thought they needed. That thing they or you needed maybe someone who is loving, giving, financially responsible, sexually compatible, or intellectually stimulating. Any one of these things can be a deal breaker if they are a priority for one of you. Do not dwell on the idea that you were not enough for someone. Compatibility is a key to a lasting relationship. Staying with someone who makes you feel inadequate is not a life anyone should live. While you can try harder, you cannot live up to an idea. Some people get an idea of the person they want that is not realistic. Let that person go and know they may find out later how unrealistic they were.

The other side of a break up has to do with life circumstances. People also break up because of distance, step-children, and differences in life style, work situations, timing, and emotional state. Sometimes you meet the right person at the wrong time. Life partners do not always show up when we are at our best. I’ve seen relationships end simply because one person wasn’t ready to commit. Military relationships tend to fall into this category. When someone is deployed for long periods of time, one or the other person gets lonely. The same can be true for long distance relationships or relationships where one partner is gone from home.

Having children prior to the relationship is also an issue. While some people seem to flow seamlessly into the role of step parent, others don’t. Step parenting is a tough gig. It’s like parenting without the parental attachment. It takes a special person to pull his off.

Differences in life style is actually a big reason relationships end. Have you ever seen a person who likes to go clubbing end up with someone who is a home body? It happens and concessions are made. You should have some common activities with your partner. Without those common activities you are going to either start resenting each other or spend a lot of time apart.

One last thing that can cause a break up is someone crossing personal boundaries. Every person has a list of non-negotiable items within relationships. Non-negotiables can be anything from cheating to abuse. If you are a reasonable person, you have a line that cannot be crossed without consequences. Years ago I knew a couple who had a very average marriage for their age. They had a couple of kids, were do ok financially. Somewhere in their relationship one of them decided they should have an intimate encounter together with a third person. This situation ended their relationship. While your non-negotiables are probably not written down anywhere, they are in the back of your mind. Sometimes we break up when that switch is flipped.

I’m going to say one more thing concerning reasons for break ups. If you were in an abusive relationship, there are two things I want you to do. The first is going to counseling to work out your issues, the second thing I want you to do is take self-defense classes. People who are abusive are good at picking out people who won’t fight back. Get your head on straight and empower yourself to NEVER be in that situation again.


Cry It Out!

“Crying is all right in its way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair

I said it, you need to cry. Grieve, feel that pain of rejection. Watch sad movies and eat some dessert products. Let yourself feel the death of the relationship. This is a normal part of your grieving process. While this can’t be confirmed through studies, I believe men have a tougher time grieving a relationship because they won’t cry it out. If you’re alone, cry. If you have that one friend you can trust call and cry to them. The point is let that emotion out. Let it go.

Depending on how long the relationship was and how long you were together this may take a while. Be careful that you do not lock yourself in a room and cave into this for an extended period of time. That is unhealthy behavior. Once you have had your initial cry day, there may be sporadic moments when you feel like crying. As long as you are not in public, go for it. No one wants to see someone losing their crap on the subway (although this may prevent someone from robbing you).

Now that you have cried, why are you crying? No really why are you crying? Are you crying because you miss the person? Are you crying because they betrayed you? Are you crying because you lost yet another relationship? Are you crying because an idea of your life has died? Right now identify the reason for your suffering. You may find it wasn’t the person at all.



We all learn lessons in life. Some stick, some don't. I have always learned more from rejection and failure than from acceptance and success. –Henry Rollins

Rejection is always difficult. To be rejected is to have someone say “you weren’t good enough”. As a relationship guru I can tell you that is not what rejection means. Sometimes rejection isn’t about you at all. I will give you an example. I had a great high school friend that I loved dearly whom I dated in my early 20’s. He was terrific person; we had great things in common. However, I broke off the romantic relationship with him after our first fight. The reason wasn’t the fight itself. The reason was that I was wrong in the argument but he came back and apologized. I realized that he was going to let me walk all over him. The reality was that I loved him enough to not want that for him. I knew I wasn’t going to change, and I could have made him miserable for a long time. Sometimes you leave to save that other person. It happens.

Rejection brings growth. When we are rejected we reflect on who we are and try to be better people. Rejections forces introspection even if we blame the other party. We are forced to look at our short comings and make adjustments. There are people who blame their rejection solely on the other person to survive the break up. To people who do this I say “if you were perfect everyone would want you”. None of us is perfect take this opportunity for introspection. Write down the things you would like to be as a person and practice them. Become better.

Scroll to Continue

Steps to Ending a Relationship

“Everything has to come to an end, sometime.” L. Frank Baum

Get away from that person! I mean it. Unless you have a mutual child do not talk, text, meet up, or call. Get away. It’s over. It can be very tempting to call or text someone, don’t do it. Get a note book and write down all the things you want to say to that person. Keep that notebook close, continue writing in it until you have said everything you need to say. Once you are done (this can take months), burn it. That’s right, burn it.

Do not call other people and ask about that person. If you can do it, distance yourself from that person’s friends and family. Families are a nontransferable commodity, you do not get to keep your ex’s family because you liked them. Let them go too. No one who ends a relationship should have to worry about their mother calling and saying how you hurt them. That is their mom, let it go. Do not call their best friend or their sister. I can tell you from personal experience, nothing is more horrid than having a member of your family hang on to your ex. If you were unfortunate enough to make your ex’s friends and family your whole life well then that is the lesson you learned from this, always have your own people. Clean out your Facebook friend list. This can be hard, but it must be done.

Get your own life. I mean that. Life is about to change and you can either let it happen or you can be proactive in that change. I wouldn’t even stay in the same home. Get a new place, across town, go to a new coffee shop, and hang out at a different restaurant. Change is going to happen now anyway, you might as well embrace it and make decisions that will bring about better changes. If you always liked another area of town, move there. If you always wanted to try that Mexican food place on the corner, go there. Maybe the end of this relationship is a whole other chapter of your life and you should move to somewhere completely different. Maybe this is your opportunity to move across country or out of the country.

Of course you have the option to sit sadly in the café you use to go to with that other person. Ask yourself why would you do that? Nothing positive will come from stabbing yourself in the heart on a daily basis by doing things or going places you went with that other person. Have new experiences. Let it go. Everyone rather they admit it or not has things they wanted to do that their ex wouldn’t do, now is your chance to go do those things.

Be proactive in the breakup process. Post positive quotes around your house. Work out. There is nothing more healing for a break up than physical activity. Whatever your favorite physical activity is, do that. I once lost 45 pounds in a spin class because I visualized pedaling away from someone. It’s cathartic to exercise.

It Was My Mistake

“Man has no greater enemy than himself” Petrarch

Technically a mistake is a decision that did not produce the intended result. We are going to be honesty about your “mistake”. If you cheated, you cheated because you no longer felt the value of your current relationship and considered it expendable. Instead of leaving the person that you are with, you chose an avenue that is passive aggressive by going behind their back to cheat on them. This is a sort of way to get back at them for not being good enough or not providing something you wanted. The most important thing you should know about what you did is that it means you are dishonest with yourself and others. There is also a good chance that you are a coward. A good person will see an issue in their relationship and try to work it out. Maybe you put effort into that and the other person refused to fix their short comings. However either way, you didn’t make a mistake, you just ended a relationship badly.

Real mistakes are when you try something a different way and it doesn’t work out. When you cheat, you are not trying something different. You are making a decision to end the relationship you are in with the most hurtful action. Maybe the other person did something to you and you subconsciously are getting them back. If that is the case then you didn’t make a mistake.

If you have ended a relationship badly and realized that you made the wrong decision, then you have some serious issues and should seek counseling. Your dishonesty in relationships is a problem that won’t go away. The fact that you were willing to hurt another person in this manner says something about you as a person. Do not get into another relationship without fixing yourself. Somewhere in your life it became ok to treat people with this type of disrespect and you need to track down the source of this and fix it.

Maybe the mistake you made was a continuous behavior that your significant other could no longer tolerate. An example of this is drugs, alcohol, unemployment, or gambling. I am speaking solely from the perspective of the injured person, if you were not unwilling to give up an addiction for that person that is not love. Addicts often pick someone they believe will be an enabler of their dependency. They pick someone who will make excuses and someone who will pay their way when they screw up. That is not love. If you made an addiction mistake, get help. Do not keep getting into relationship after relationship torturing other people with your addiction.


Letting Go of the Relationship

“The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.” Steve Maraboli

Often we have trouble letting go because we attach a person to what we want out of life. Maybe we see someone as being the catalyst for an idea we have of our life. We think of being old and playing with grandkids and that person is there. Or we see a life we were building and that person is the reason for that life. When a relationship ends it ends those ideas and often it is the idea of what our life will be that becomes the thing that we can’t let go of. That person becomes the representation of the dream instead of the object of our love. Make sure you are not holding onto the person because of the idea you had of life with them.

The truth of life is that we only have control of our own actions. We may think we have control of people, work, or children. Sometimes we hold onto objects just as hard as relationships and take it just as hard when they are destroyed. If all you can control is yourself, then you can control your actions, attitudes, and emotions to let things go. Letting go is a verb, it doesn’t happen to you, you make it happen. You decide to let go.

By coming to terms with the reality of the relationship you let go of it. In life not everything works out. All things in life are transient. We do not get to hold onto anything forever. Be open to the changes. Enjoy right now, enjoy your life. Be willing to accept the next things that are coming your way. Choose your path and your actions, choose to let go.


MD Jackson MSIOP (author) from Western United States on December 18, 2017:

One of the biggest problems I see on a regular basis is people who are impatient for a relationship. They take Mr/Mrs right now verses Mr/Mrs right. In a world full of instant gratification, love will never be an instant gratification situation. you can date a lot of people without getting serious or exclusive. I've know people to put more thought into their shoe purchases than they do in their spouse choices.

dashingscorpio from Chicago on December 17, 2017:

Every ending is a new beginning!

dashingscorpio from Chicago on December 17, 2017:

Good advice!

I believe there are 3 basic reasons why couples breakup.

1. They chose the wrong mate. (They're too incompatible.)

2. A "deal breaker" was committed in the eyes of another.

3. They fell out of love/stopped wanting the same things.

Ultimately a breakup happens when one person decides they would be happier without the other person in their life.

A breakup/divorce is just a public admission that someone made a {mistake} in their mate selection process.

In my opinion the most important step is {accepting it's over}.

You can't get to second base if you insist on keeping one foot on first base. That's replaying conversations/incidents in your mind, openly keeping reminders laying around, still being in contact or having sex with them, Romanticizing the past through rose tinted glasses, and on some level hoping for a reconciliation...etc

Put things in perspective!

In order for your (ex) to have been "the one" they would have had to see (you) as being "the one". At the very least a "soulmate" is someone who actually wants to be with you! (And vice versa).

In a world with over 7 Billion people rejection just means: NEXT!

"Never love anyone who treats you like you're ordinary."

- Oscar Wilde

"Some people come into our lives as {blessings} and others come in our lives as (lessons)." A breakup is not the end of the world.

Related Articles