Anyone who has been in a long-term relationship that ended in a breakup, has asked this question: “Why are breakups so hard?” In my experience, the answer is as complicated as there are people on earth. We all react to the loss and grief of a breakup in different ways and it can last from days to months to years.
Was there a breach of trust involved? Did you have a family with this man and, after the kids were gone you realized there was little left to the relationship? Was it wrong from the start and you didn’t know how to end it? It might even have been your first love and the breakup devastated you.
I spent five years longer than I should have in my second marriage. I knew it was over. But I didn’t want to be that woman who was divorced twice. That was my story and I was sticking to it. So, I spent those five years trying to fix it, even though I knew it was not in my control to fix. Crazy, huh. And still, it was hard.
Why are breakups so hard? Here’s what I think.
A Hold on the Past
Many times your memories of how it was, in the beginning, keep you from recognizing that things have changed. You want to believe that it can be like that again, if only… If only he would change; if only he would hear me; if only he would compromise; if only he would stop abusing me verbally (or otherwise).
When you hold onto the past, it makes it difficult to see clearly what is right in front of your face, and how much things have changed. It also keeps you stuck in a place that is impossible to leave behind because you want it back so badly.
It’s Hard to Accept
Coming face-to-face with the breakup can be very hard to accept, even if you knew it was over. More so if you had no clue it was coming. All kinds of questions come up. What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? Who am I now that I’m no longer in this relationship? Will I ever be loved again?
You may question the role you played in the breakup, or you may blame him. Sorting through the questions—and the emotions that come along with them—will take some time and some distance before it gets easier.
It Hurts—There is no denying that.
Unless you have been planning for the breakup for a while and you’ve already processed through it, a breakup hurts.
You may experience the hurt physically—a pit in the stomach, unable to eat, unable to talk about it. The emotions can certainly hurt—anger, hurt, betrayal, disappointment, fear, anxiety, sadness, or depression. The list could go on.
Working your way through the hurt, experiencing the emotions and physical manifestations, is the only way I know of to move beyond the breakup so that you are more grounded in who you are now.
You May Lose More than a Life Partner
Sometimes your friends and family breakup with you when your relationship dissolves. They may not know who to support, so they “divorce” both of you. Or, they may pick sides—and it may not be your side.
Losing friends, pets and in-laws, who have been part of your support system, can exacerbate the sense of loss. Not only do you no longer have your one-and-only, but you may also need to find a new network of supporters, so you are not left to your own devices. The sense of being alone can be one of the hardest things in a breakup.
This is another really hard realization. With the breakup, you not only grieve the loss of your lifetime companion (or so you thought). You also lose all those dreams you had together. What about that vacation in Hawaii? Or the dream home on two acres in the country? Traveling? Those dreams are now out the window, at least in the way the two of you imagined together.
In time, when you are moving beyond the breakup, you will dream new dreams—and they can be all yours.
It Does Get Lonely
When things change due to a breakup, there is some adjusting to do. Okay, I lied—there is a lot of adjusting to do. You will need to fill time that used to be filled by being with him. This may come easily to you, or it may come hard.
Planning things out so you minimize the empty time is a good practice. Allowing yourself some alone time to process what’s going on is another one.
Don’t confuse feeling lonely with being alone.
Feeling stuck in one place is common in a breakup. Figuring out where to go next is often not clear. I remember feeling like I was treading water, just going through the motions of my life day-to-day. There will come a point when you will have had enough of this and you’ll be ready to move on.
Acknowledging that you deserve the best is a great way to get started. Knowing what you value most and what your own personal vision is for the future, comes next. Then you get to take inspired action to move into that new dream.
Why are breakups so hard? When your heart is broken and dreams are shattered, it hurts. It’s that simple and that complex. How you move through it, heal in the process and get beyond the devastation will make the difference in how you approach your next chapter.
If you have experienced other effects of a breakup, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
María Tomás-Keegan is a certified Career and Life Coach for Women, and founder of Transition & Thrive with María. When life-changing moments—like a breakup—flip the world upside down, she guides women to turn chaos into calm, so they can clear their heads, become resilient and learn to live a life guided by their own values and vision. If you’re ready to explore new possibilities with an open heart, get 5 Simple Choices to Get You Back on Track now.