By: Leah Hovey
In a former article, I wrote about relationship loss and the grieving process that goes along with it. That article outlines the chemical process of ‘falling in love’ and how addictive love can be.
However, this week we will be looking at how to manage the loss of a relationship. When a relationship falls apart, no matter the circumstances, it can be challenging to get through. In a study done by individuals at the East Carolina University, students were interviewed to see what specific factors contribute to either a positive experience with a break-up or a negative one. It showed that the majority of the time, the initiator of the break-up had more of a positive experience as opposed to the individual who had been dumped (Carter et al., 2018). Research showed that who the initiator was (i.e the compassion, kindness or maturity of said person) greatly impacted how favourable the outcome was (Carter et al., 2018). Who the initiator is as an individual will strongly impact how the breakup will be for both parties.
The differences in a harsh breakup as opposed to civil ones are apparent. Regardless of who the initiator was, how does the other person move on from this experience? As Erica Slotter and Deborah Ward discovered, how we perceive our narrative can truly help us when trying to move on.
Slotter and Ward found that having a positive narrative (i.e finding the positive within the negative experiences) really improved how individuals felt after their break-ups (2015). Taking control of a negative situation by finding the positives within a break-up does help many who are experiencing melancholy from relationship grief. For example, while you may miss certain qualities about your ex, there may be qualities about that person you may have had a hard time coping with. Maybe this individual had different opinions from yours that caused strife in the relationship. Having the relationship end could open the possibility of alleviating those feelings.
Another important point from this study was the process of changing one's perspective using cognitive reappraisal. This is the process of skillfully nudging your emotions back toward baseline (Barlow et al., 2011). Recognizing the negative pattern of your thoughts or even understanding what triggers certain emotional outcomes can be fixed by cognitive reappraisal. This can mean bringing your mind back down to ‘reality’ or by shifting your thoughts to a more effective mindset. For example, instead of being upset that you had spent a long time in a toxic relationship, shift your thoughts to realizing how you can now interpret the signs of unhealthy behaviours which will help when meeting new people. You can also be grateful for the information you learned about yourself in the relationship. By shifting your mindset this way, one can really start to heal from the grief of relationship dissolution.
On a personal note, I believe my story outlines how using the above coping techniques can help you move forward from a break-up no matter how challenging it is. When speaking to a friend of mine about a break-up I was going through, I expressed a lot of sadness about losing him. I kept repeating, “I wish things could have been like they were in the beginning of our relationship, before he changed.” Upon hearing this, my friend offered up her thoughts by explaining to me that maybe the person I fell in love with wasn’t who he really was. When people are first dating, they put on their best impressions of themselves to try and win over the one they are pursuing. It is only when time passes that the ‘undesirable’ parts of their personality will show through. She then said “You're not grieving the man he is, you are grieving the man you wish he was”.
This realization helped me shift my mindset to a whole new perspective and truly helped me move past the end of our relationship. Grief over the loss of a relationship can really hurt you, but by going through the grieving process and shifting your mindset, you truly can move past a broken heart and start over again with more insight than you had before.
Barlow, D.W. et al. (2011). Unified Protocol for Transdiagnostic Treatment of Emotional Disorders: Therapist Guide. London: Oxford University Press.
Carter, K. R., Knox, D., & Hall, S. S. (2018). Romantic Breakup: Difficult Loss for Some but Not for Others. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 23(8), 698-714.
Slotter, E. B., & Ward, D. E. (2015). Finding the silver lining: The relative roles of redemptive narratives and cognitive reappraisal in individuals’ emotional distress after the end of a romantic relationship. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 32(6), 737-756.