“Go, even though you love him. Go, even though he is kind and faithful and dear to you. Go, even though he's your best friend and you're his. Go, even though you can't imagine your life without him. Go, even though he adores you and your leaving will devastate him. Go, even though your friends will be disappointed or surprised or pissed off or all three. Go, even though you once said you would stay. Go, even though you're afraid of being alone. Go, even though you're sure no one will ever love you as well as he does. Go, even though there is nowhere to go. Go, even though you don't know exactly why you can't stay. Go, because you want to. Because wanting to leave is enough.” — Cheryl Strayed
Breaking up does not mean you’ve failed
Breaking up is often viewed as a personal failure. Many people stay in relationships for the sake of deeming them “successful.” But in cases such as these, one equates longevity with fulfillment. Viewing relationships through this lens fails to realize that a long-term relationship isn’t inherently a healthy one.
We stay with romantic partners for many reasons. We are afraid of being alone. We are nervous that we will never find someone else. We can get comfortable and fear big changes in our lives. We choose longevity over satisfaction. We receive societal messages that our beauty and desirability will “expire” with age, and starting from scratch becomes daunting.
Staying in a long-term relationship can feel safe and convenient. Yet so many people settle for unfulfilling relationships – and in doing so, we often develop resentment towards our partners for not meeting our needs and desires within the relationship. And thus we carry on, going through the motions of an unfulfilling relationship. Now, I’m going to say something taboo: it’s okay to break up. Breaking up with someone that you no longer want to be in a relationship with can be a radical act of self-love. It is a way of honoring one’s ever-changing needs and wants. It is an acknowledgment of the ways in which we have grown and evolved. It entails a great deal of reflection upon and contemplation of our romantic desires and how we can more readily find them.
Breaking up leads to reflection
While breakups can be messy and cause immense grief and pain, the end of a relationship is also a potential opportunity for learning. Our biology even says so! The rejection of a breakup is known to stimulate the reward system of the brain, causing withdrawal-like symptoms while also stimulating the forebrain. The forebrain, associated with logic and critical thinking, allow us periods of deep self-reflection. Working together, these areas of the brain help us to reflect on the strengths and shortcomings of the relationship along with the qualities we hope to see in a potential partner. We are wired to learn and grow from our breakup experiences. Perhaps it’s nature’s way of helping us through the process of seeking and attracting a new partner that better suits us.
Breaking up teaches us about our romantic attachment
Getting to know our attachment style within a romantic relationship can help guide us through the process of finding genuine security within our relationships. How one handles a breakup also provides insight on attachment styles within relationships, as follows:
- Secure attachment is categorized by emotional intelligence, resilience, healthy communication, boundary setting/enforcement, conflict resolution skills, and a general positive view of the relationship. Someone with a secure attachment style may acknowledge the hurt of the breakup while taking the necessary steps to heal.
- Anxious-preoccupied attachment presents as insecurity, reluctance towards a relationship, a consistent need for reassurance, and trouble being alone. Someone with anxious-preoccupied attachment may make all attempts to make the relationship work despite their partner’s wishes to end the relationship.
- Dismissive-avoidant attachment presents as independence, the avoidance of intimacy, fear of commitment, and passive-aggression. Someone with dismissive-avoidant attachment might appear to be withdrawn or indifferent towards a breakup.
- Fearful-avoidant attachment presents as a lack of confidence, suspicion of others, and keeping others at a distance. A person with fearful-avoidant attachment might act self-effacing and pessimistic upon a breakup.
Breaking up prepares us for future relationships
People who are capable of learning specific lessons from their breakup experiences are better-equipped to enter a future relationship than they were throughout the life of the prior relationship. For example, someone who learns how to apologize is more likely to hold themselves accountable in future relationship conflicts. Someone who learns to give their ex-partner the adequate emotional space they need is more likely to be attuned to their future partner’s emotional needs. These lessons grant us both the necessary wisdom of our limits and the guidance to shift our inner worlds. So while breaking up is hard, the results can be beneficial to our growth as both individuals and partners.
The Endless Breakup | Psychology Today
The Thoroughly Modern Guide to Breakups | Psychology Today
What is Your Relationship Attachment Style? | Psychology Today
The benefits of rebounding after a break-up - BBC Future