Breaking up…so hard to do

Breaking up is hard to do. It doesn’t matter if you’ve ended a marriage, living arrangement, or friendship. Losing someone you care about takes its toll. Especially when it ends like this…

Break up recoveryJulie and Jim* dated for several years. Theirs was an on-again, off-again relationship. When Jim needed or wanted Julie in his life, they were on; when he needed space, it was off. Julie wanted a long-term relationship; Jim said he wanted one too. Julie often suggested they “talk,” but Jim was always too busy. One day, seemingly out of the blue, Jim sent Julie a text message saying he did not want to see her anymore. Julie was stunned. She called, texted, and emailed Jim saying “we can work this out.” After weeks without a response, she suggested “Let’s talk…just one more time, for closure.” Jim would have none of it. He blocked her phone, blocked her from his social media sites, and disappeared behind an impenetrable wall. He was done. He had moved on. “How could this happen?” she thought. “We just spent a beautiful weekend together.”

Break up recovery

Emotional cutoff hurts. Being left without an opportunity for closure can leave you feeling powerless, flattened, in shock. In the beginning, all of your energy and attention rushes to thoughts about what you could have done differently. What you did wrong. But maybe it wasn’t you.

Break up recovery starts there.


  • the breakup is not your fault.
  • the breakup is no one’s fault.
  • the person you wanted to build a relationship with lacks the tools or the skills to tolerate intimacy.
  • you lack the tools or skills to tolerate certain emotions or intimacy.
  • you and your partner grew apart.
  • you and your partner were never a good match for each other.

And while those thoughts may not lessen your disappointment and pain, it can give you a perspective you can work with.

Regardless of what happened and who did what to whom, breaking up hurts. It’s not uncommon to feel angry, resentful, sad, lonely**, fragile, scared. Sometimes all at once. Fear of the unknown and sadness over what’s been lost are common. Activities that used to be fun now remind you of her or him. A song, a fragrance, or visit to her or his social media page can elicit torrents of tears. And what are you doing there anyway? You might eat more or lose weight. Sleep more or wake in the middle of the night. Energy? Pfft. What’s that? Research compares breakup recovery to addiction recovery and you are in withdrawal.

I have suggested, and this metaphor seems to help, that you are in ICU and need lots of TLC or in today’s terminology, self-care. If you have friends and family who can visit you and check your temperature (listen), great. If not, how can you take care of yourself?

  1. First, acknowledge the loss. Cry. Shake. Rant. It’s not just the relationship you’ve lost, it’s your identity, your go-to person, mutual friends, quality of life, your routine, financial stability. Losing a relationship is a kind of death. Denial, Anger, Negotiation, Depression, Acceptance. Sound familiar? They are the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross stages of grief.
  2. Second, when you are ready, and even if you’re not, start building a new life for yourself. That does not mean getting on or OKCupid. Get out of the house. Exercise. Walk around the block. Meet a friend for coffee. Practice gratitude. Take a breath. Therapy can help.
  3. Discover who you are now that you’re not you and ____. This is the exciting part of the process. Scary at first because you might not even recognize your face in the mirror. As half of a couple, you might have made compromises, been influenced by what she/he wants or needs, and put YOU on hold.
  4. Now is the time to try something you’ve been putting off because it didn’t fit with the we that was. Take a class or just a new route home from work. Read poetry. Stop at the beach and watch the sunset. Let your imagination soar. You get the idea. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to do this.

With patience and work (yes this will take effort), the worst thing that ever happened to you just could turn out to be the beginning of the best of you. According to Gary Lewandowski, a psychologist at Monmouth University, who is quoted in this January 15, 2015 NPR article, “Coping with breakups can help people realize how resilient they are…”

If you have children, be sure to consider their feelings in everything you do. Children do much better when parents don’t argue in front of them.

*Julie and Jim are fictional characters in a fictional relationship. Their roles could be reversed. People like Julie and Jim could be in your life or in the news. They are everywhere.

**When you think about it, you’re now part of the main stream. More than 50% of adults living in the US are unmarried. Now if we can just find a way for everyone to meet each other…

Gary Lewandowski’s Ted Talk Break-Ups Don’t Have to Leave You Broken.