The Unsung Benefits of Breaking Up
I couldn’t decide whether to write an article or a country-and-western song about breaking up. Neil Sedaka already had the classic of popular music with “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.” But he only told half the story. He sang about the agony and dismay, while overlooking the other side of the experience.
First of all, many people go their separate ways for good reasons. They tried to resolve differences and couldn’t. They gave their relationship their best shot and it didn’t work. They concluded, after all their effort, that breaking up was the best solution.
True. Breaking up hurts even when both individuals want to go apart. True. Breakups are not always mutual. They are much more painful to the person who is left behind.
But let’s look at the other side of the story. One important characteristic of the “other side” of breaking up is the fact that pain diminishes with time. There is a natural mourning process, which when allowed to occur, enables people to deal with their feelings and regain their equilibrium.
The most important characteristic of the other side of breaking up is the opportunity it presents. Even from the start, when the pain is most intense, breaking up is an opportunity to take power over one’s own life and make important changes.
Here is an example: The day after Michael’s partner moved out, he stopped eating junk food. He thought about his diet and nutritional needs and lost 15 pounds that he had recently gained.
Within a week, he was outside jogging on a regular basis.
He started calling friends again, especially those he had not seen while the relationship was deteriorating.
He started going to some of his favorite places. He watched less television.
He thought about the connections between how bad he was feeling about himself and the turmoil of his unhappy relationship. He talked with his friends and analyzed the problems of his previous relationship. He made decisions about how he would do things differently in the future.
Did this mean that Michael had a painless separation? By no means. Breaking up is hard to do. Michael simply seized an opportunity; a chance to begin to think about himself and his future and made the most of it. He decided to take care of himself.
There are two processes at work when people break up. At first, the mourning process is the most dominant. However, right from the beginning there is also the potential for something else, an opportunity for personal growth.
There are several important reasons for recognizing the unsung side of breaking up. First, people sometimes stay too long in unhappy relationships because they only see the negative side of a breakup.
Second, people who do break up sometimes quickly get involved with someone new. In so doing, they never deal with their feelings and miss an important learning experience.
Finally, people benefit from knowing about the other side of breaking up because it gives them strength and hope when they do separate. They realize that the pain will eventually diminish and, if they use the opportunity, personal growth will ultimately be the most profound feature of the experience.
For 8 years, Robert Schwebel Ph.D. wrote a weekly psychology column for the Sunday edition of the Arizona Daily Star. This article is one of many.