As a society, we place great emphasis on finding “the one.” We pressure ourselves to find the perfect lifemate for ourselves. Often, this process can be nerve-racking in itself. However, what happens when a relationship ends?
We can all think of instances where friends, colleagues, family members, and other individuals we come into contact with have been forced to manage the ending of a romantic relationship. Many of us have experienced this firsthand as well. For many, the ending of a romantic relationship can be viewed as a true test of resilience.
How our Thinking can Influence Recovery
I have helped several of my clients through rocky areas in their relationships. Breakups, however, typically are the most difficult relationship issues. Many of my clients say: “What am I supposed to do now? I need this person in my life. I can’t live without them!” Statements such as these paint a picture of exactly how powerful romantic connections can be, as well as how dependent we can become on them. This dependence can cause a loss of personal identity in one or both of the members of the couple and cause post-breakup life to feel foreign. Such statements also can lead to people becoming depressed.
Our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors. Thinking precedes everything we do and feel. Consider a terrorist act: When a nation is subjected to a terror group’s attacks, common reactions include fear, disgust, anger, and confusion. However, the attackers might react with feelings of pride, happiness, and celebration due to viewing their mission as accomplished. This shows how many ways there are to think, and ultimately feel, about a given situation.
When people hold irrational beliefs about a breakup, those irrational thoughts can cause depression.
Irrational Beliefs about Breakups and Rational Replacement Thoughts to Practice
We can develop the skills that help us to feel the way we want to feel about any situation (Pucci, 2010). Our thinking will dictate how we feel about, and ultimately cope with, a breakup, as well as any other occurrences in our lives. Irrational thoughts and beliefs that cause us to feel hopeless or depressed about our breakup can be replaced with more rational ones. This will make the ending of a relationship feel much more bearable.
Irrational Thought: “I can’t live without this person. I need them in my life!”
Rational Replacement Thought: “I can live without this person. There are definitely things I need in order to live, like air, food, and water. I do not need this person to stay alive. Sure, I miss them, but my life will not end if they are not in it, and I do not need them.”
Irrational Thought: “My life has no meaning without my partner.”
Rational Replacement Thought: “My relationship was merely one meaningful aspect of my life. There are many ways for my life to have meaning, and my relationship is not the only way to achieve that meaning. My work, my family, my friends, and ___________ all bring meaning to my life.”
Irrational Thought: “I am no longer me without my partner.”
Rational Replacement Thought: “I have always been myself. Nothing can change that I am me, just like I cannot change who others are. It is possible that I may have simply lost sight of some of my interests outside of my relationship, but these can be regained.”
Irrational Thought: “I can’t weather the ending of my relationship. I would rather die. There is nothing to live for anymore.”
Rational Replacement Thought: “It isn’t a matter of wanting to die. It is a matter of wanting my partner back. I can and will survive this. There are plenty of things to live for. For example, I have my friends, my family, my pet, my meaningful job, etc. I have merely experienced a sudden life change, and I have all of these other things to live for. I refuse to let one negative life experience cancel out all of the other good that I have in my life.”
Irrational Thought: “There must be something wrong with me if my partner left me.”
Rational Replacement Thought: “There is nothing wrong with me. My partner and I ending our relationship is not a reflection of my character or overall worth. This situation simply means that might not have seen eye-to-eye on things. There is someone else out there who I will be compatible with.”
Irrational Thought: “I will walk the Earth alone for the rest of my life and I will never meet anyone else.”
Rational Replacement Thought: “There is no evidence to say that I will never find another partner. One failed relationship does not foreshadow future failed relationships. The only thing my ended relationship means is that we were not as compatible as we thought. There are plenty of other people out there who things might work out with. It is just a matter of finding them.”
Irrational Thought: “I hate couples now and I resent their happiness.”
Rational Replacement Thought: “It is irrational to hate other people because my relationship didn’t work out. They had no part in what happened and are simply living their lives. Their relationship has no connection to me, and they are certainly not in a relationship to spite me or rub it in my face.”
Irrational Thought: “I can’t be alone.”
Rational Replacement Thought: “I can manage being alone, although it might be uncomfortable. The fact that I am single at this very moment indicates that I can be alone. I am doing it and nothing bad has happened, aside from being uncomfortable. Sure, I’d certainly like to not be alone right now, but I will live. After all, this is only temporary.”
It’s not Wrong because it Feels Wrong
The ending of a relationship is an enormous life change. It will take time, patience, and practice in order for successful adjustment to take place. We often experience the belief that, if something feels foreign or wrong, then it must, in fact, be wrong. Due to the emotional involvement that characterizes romantic relationships, there will undoubtedly be times when life without this person feels wrong or “funny,” but this does not mean that it truly is, or that you are doing something wrong.
Feelings such as these do not indicate that you cannot manage the separation. What they do mean, however, is that you are adjusting. Imagine swinging a baseball bat or golf club in the hand that is not your dominant one (the one you have been using your whole life). It would take practice to become used to this process but, in time, you would grow to be more skillful at it. With practice, you will better able to adjust to life after your breakup.