The loss of a romantic relationship—whether through divorce, separation, or breakup—is a distressing event. It sometimes can be challenging to move on as you navigate stress, sadness, or other painful feelings. For Military Service Members, the loss of a partner can be particularly tough while also having to manage the other stresses of military life. But finding healthy ways to cope after a split is an important part of moving on with resilience. Breaking up can even be good for you when separating from a relationship leads to self-growth.
The end of a romantic relationship
There’s no way to know if or why a romantic partnership will end. But the reality is that with people getting married later in life, it’s becoming more and more common for them to date more and have multiple relationships…which also means more breakups. And while ending a romantic relationship or marriage is often considered one of the most stressful life events, it’s also a typical one—and a normal part of life. Consider some common issues that might contribute to a breakup.
- Mismatch in goals. It’s not just that you and your partner don’t have the same goals (career, personal, or otherwise) or that they conflict. It’s really about whether you both struggle to support each other’s journey and where you’d like to end up. One or both partners feeling like they’re unable to personally grow with the other’s support can make maintaining a relationship difficult.
- Lack of connection. People naturally have a need to build relationships and feel a sense of connection to others. In some ways, this need for connection is met though sex and intimacy, or simply enjoying spending time together engaging in shared interests or hobbies. But a deeper and more meaningful connection—based on emotional closeness—is often expected in a romantic relationship. When that’s missing, it can feel like you aren’t satisfied in your relationship.
- Personal changes. Particularly for young adults, it’s normal to shift and change as an individual. Having new life experiences (military or otherwise) and simply getting older can result in changes to one’s self and identity. Sometimes people outgrow their relationship, or partners simply grow in different directions.
- Lack of communication. Frequent or damaging conflict and an inability to talk through feelings and issues can make a healthy relationship difficult. When you and your partner can’t get on the same page, really hear each other, and respond with authentic empathy, it can be hard to maintain your bond.
- Attachment injury. A breach of trust, particularly in a vulnerable moment, can result in deep emotional wounds that are hard to heal. Examples include cheating or even a marked lack of support during difficult times (deployment, after an injury, or when grieving a death). While it’s possible to recover and repair bonds after these types of emotional injuries, it takes a lot of work. If both people aren’t able to commit to that process, it can be tough to move forward together.
After the breakup
Whatever the cause, breakups are hard. But it’s important to know what to expect so you can cope in a way that leads to growth and resilience. Everyone’s reaction is different, and splits aren’t always clean or definite either, but think about some of the following outcomes so you can get the support you need.
- Emotional distress. It’s normal to grieve the loss of a partnership. It’s also normal to feel anger, sadness, loneliness, and even anxiety. And while it can sometimes be less distressing for the person who initiated the breakup, chances are both partners will struggle with the transition. You might even notice your emotions change a lot from one moment to the next, and that’s all normal. You might also take a hit to your self-confidence, so having others in your life and focusing on your goals are important first steps.
- Temptation to cope in unhealthy ways. It’s not always clear how to cope with difficult feelings, and some find themselves overeating, reducing physical activity, or even using (or abusing) alcohol or drugs. It’s important to turn to helpful coping strategies so that you don’t find yourself in a negative cycle.
- Changes to other relationships. Expect other relationships to change too. Particularly after a divorce, it’s likely that you’ll lose contact with some people, including your in-laws or your ex-partner’s friends. Yet, you’re also likely to meet new people and expand your social network. You might find comfort in new friendships with others going through similar situations as well.
- Changes in other areas of your life. This is particularly the case when going through a divorce or ending a long-term relationship. In addition to missing out on an emotional connection, you might have to adjust to changes in your finances, living situation, or daily routine. If you and your ex have kids, you’ll have to be prepared to support them in shifts to their lives too.
None of these outcomes are easy, but being prepared is half the battle. And the good news is by adjusting your mindset and focusing on reframing, you can actually avoid some of these outcomes and come out stronger on the other side.
Resilience after a relationship breakup
Though it might be hard to imagine, breakups can actually be a positive experience for both of you. The key is shifting how you think about the split and getting a good understanding of how you contributed to it. While it’s not about suppressing those feelings (in fact, it’s healthy to acknowledge rather than hide your sadness or anxiety), it’s about ALSO seeing the upsides and chances for growth. So, what are some of the positives?
- ✓ Opportunity to break bad habits (for example, unhealthy eating or lack of exercise)
- ✓ A chance to renew your sense of independence, take care of your own needs first, and build your self-esteem
- ✓ More time to work on friendships and other relationships that had maybe been neglected while you were coupled up
- ✓ An exciting time to build new relationships, meet new people, and even start dating someone who meets your relationship expectations
In addition to shifting your mindset, how do you get stronger?
- Make the benefits “real” by writing them down. What can you do now that you weren’t able to do before? Writing out what led to the breakup, how it happened, and the fallout can reduce your negative thoughts about the split. Venting to a friend definitely has its place, but to capitalize on the split, focus on what is (or was) going on for you during this time by writing about it.
- Take accountability and change your behavior. Consider any red flags you might have overlooked or any patterns you might have in how you select partners. How did you contribute to the relationship not working? What might you be able to do differently in the future? This self-reflection can lead to powerful conclusions. You probably know people who seem to choose the same kind of person or relationship every time, and it ends up not working out in the end or not being good for them. Don’t be one of them! By taking some time to write down and reflect on your last relationship, you might save yourself from future angst.
- Be aware of your anxiety. Highly anxious people tend to be more emotional after a breakup. They might become preoccupied with what happened and sometimes turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to self-soothe. Effectively managing your anxiety means you’ll be better able to leverage the breakup and improve yourself.
- Focus on personal growth. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this experience?” Maybe this breakup will help you clarify future expectations of your romantic partners. Perhaps you can reframe being “alone” as now having more time to be with friends and family. When your relationship ends, it doesn’t have to mean you lose sight of your own goals. If your ex didn’t help you meet your goals or wasn’t supportive of your pursuits, then breaking up can help you shift your focus to what you want to achieve on your own. Concentrate on finding new, more effective sources of support as you move towards reaching your goals.
- Open up to another relationship. While a “rebound” relationship—or one that starts before you’ve fully resolved your feelings about your last partner—might not always be beneficial, sometimes it is! Opening up to another romantic relationship can help give you a positive set of feelings to focus on and even boost self-esteem. Just be sure you aren’t using a new relationship as a replacement for your old one, and continue to work on resolving your feelings about your ex rather than ignoring them or distracting yourself from them.