Most of us have experienced the end of a relationship. In some cases, it is a willful act that enables us to be true to ourselves and take a different direction in life in keeping with our authentic feelings and values. In other cases, it is neither our choice nor desire, and we feel pain and frustration. Perhaps there was an awareness the relationship was in decline for a period of time. One or both partners may have settled for less–simply to be in a relationship where only some needs were met. Or, it may be that both partners were in love at one time, but something changed and one partner remained in denial, and the break-up came as a complete surprise. Regardless of the degree your awareness, most break-ups are not sudden. Feelings build over time from our experiences. The culmination of our feelings from our experiences leads to either growing closer together or further apart. Relationships are always dynamic and ever evolving and sometimes these changes lead to the end of a once hopeful relationship.
Whether you are the one who chooses to break up or the one who is told the relationship has come to an end, in most cases, it is painful and difficult for both parties, especially concerning long-term relationships. This is due to many factors and every couple represents a different set of circumstances.
What Leads to a Break-up?
There are as many reasons for a break-up as there are people in relationships. However, the most common reason for a break-up is one or both partners feel their needs are not being met. In most cases this feeling builds over time. Perhaps they did not see the other clearly when first dating. Or both parties have changed (or revealed their true self versus their projected best self) and their feelings changed in accordance with new perceptions and experiences.
In some cases, people are drawn to the excitement and novelty of a new relationship, but lose interest and desire quickly. In others, people genuinely desire the benefits of an exclusive relationship, but are simply not ready for a long-term commitment. Those who are recently exiting another relationship due to death, divorce or another significant break-up are most commonly in this position. Others may fear intimacy and begin to feel suffocated.
Break-ups are also common when we experience life changes. Major life stressors such as a death of a child or loved one or a financial crisis can prompt a break-up. A major move is another life experience that can create a greater challenge for a couple. Long distance relationships have their own unique challenges. A lesser known life change that affects relationships is personal change. That is when the couple came together, they had life goals and challenges in common, but overtime these goals were met and now what originally brought them together (common goals) no longer exists and the couple grows apart.
One of the most challenging reasons for a break-up comes from our blind spot. We all assume we are living our lives to the best of our ability and that our decisions are generally right. However, the truth is, we all have a few (or many) habits, assumptions, oversights and/or hidden expectations that can really do damage to our relationships without us ever realizing is our own self that requires more awareness and change.
Getting beyond your own needs to really understand and respect the needs of your partner can be challenging. And some people have incompatible needs even when they truly love each other. Often when a relationship begins we overlook many things that come to light later that begin to have greater significance. It is very important to first love yourself. Know your needs and respect them. Know that no partner will have the same set of needs. We are all individuals and there is no wrong answer, but real love (versus infatuation or relationship that is a compromise) demands you desire to fulfill not only your own happiness but also the true happiness of your partner. True love inspires and endures because it is simply a truth–even when you part ways.
Why it Hurts Even if You Wanted to Break-up
To better understand the source of break-up pain, we need to take a deeper look at why and how we enter a relationship; what we what out of a relationship and the underlying subconscious hopes and needs that fuel our ongoing pursuit; and what type of attachments we form.
When relationships begin, whether as a friendship or love at first sight, we usually move towards a relationship based upon an initial attraction and connection. When this happens we feel wonderful excitement and anticipation. The problem with a strong initial attraction is the temptation to overlook signs and actions that your partner displays that indicate your values and needs are unlikely to be met. During this phase of a relationship, both parties are projecting their best self in an effort to be accepted and validated. Often both partners have very different (and unexpressed) needs or expectations about what they hope will take place. Both may not even be aware of each others needs but become aware over time. As the relationship moves forward and the more authentic self emerges, it can become apparent that your partner can not meet your needs. When this happens often both partners feel stress, frustration and dissatisfaction and a break-up follows.
As time passes, both partners build an attachment to each other, regardless of whether their original goals or hopes were met. Falling in love, and even simple proximity, brings people together. Attachments, however, keep people together. Unfortunately this is often true even after one or both partners know the relationship no longer meets their needs or one or both are no longer in love. Attachments are strong psychological bonds that are rooted in our deepest needs and are often governed by our deepest fears. Attachments form over time and become “the known”–even if that known is not what is best for both partners. Some attachments are so strong and the fear to break them even stronger, that people can stay even when it is harmful to their psyche or their physical self. If you find this to be true for yourself, please seek professional help.
Leaving a relationship to be true to yourself and honor your needs and values takes strength and courage. When a relationship ends with your partner breaking up it, is often painful with unresolved emotions and questions. The key to this pain is the fact that love and attachment lead us to assume our hopes and dreams are embodied by that one person and now they are lost (but this is not the case!). Some people even attach their self-worth and esteem to the validation and acceptance they receive from their partner or their relationship. Others worry about what friends and family will think. But the truth is, friends and family that truly love you want your happiness. You will not be judged and if you are it says far more about the person delivering the judgement. It is critical to know yourself and respect your values. Both partners in a relationship deserve happiness and when this is no longer found together, breaking up offers an opportunity for both to find their happiness (more about moving on in part 3 of the series). Having a broken value system or lack of self-love can cause tremendous pain and this must be explored and healed regardless of your relationship status to have a full, happy life that does not get completely derailed when you go through a significant change.
Keep in mind that when someone breaks up with you, they are trying to find their own way (whether or not it was executed in a mature fashion or instead with a complete lack of sensitivity). Your ex-partner has to find their own path and they must discover it in their own way and time. We only ever know what we know at any given time and discover what we are unaware of through the process of change. Wish them well and keep your faith in yourself. You are now free to pursue you own happiness. Free to learn from your valuable lessons to find what you truly value and hope for in life and love. And free to share that with someone new.
The second part of this series on break-ups will cover whether you should get back in a relationship that has broken up and how to evaluate and achieve this if it is best for both of you. Part three will focus on how to move on after a break-up.
Don’t lose heart. Keep your head up and know you are worth everything. Learn and grow. Your next relationship will be better for it. You can and will succeed.
Please join in the discussion and let everyone know what you have learned from your break-up. We value you and your thoughts.