The Fallout of Breakups

a presumably broken up couple embracing, with a background of broken heart emojis

If you’re reading this, you’re likely to already have or going to have experienced a breakup, as morbid as it sounds. Only a lucky few will get to marry their first love and never have to suffer through woes of heartbreak. We haven’t covered much about breakups in the past, but given that they are such a common human experience, it deserves our attention this week and some questions answered. 

Why do people experience distress after a breakup? 

There is a prominent theory that breakups cause psychological distress as they threaten our self-concept. Self-concept is defined as our sense of self and the thoughts we hold about ourselves, anything that can answer the question, “who am I?” Since romantic relationships are extremely intertwined into our lives, when they end, that huge part of who we are is suddenly lost and it destabilizes our self-concept. This results in a loss in self-concept clarity and a great amount of self-concept change. When we don't have a clear sense of who we are, it can lead to the all too familiar feelings of doubt and distress. 

Why do some people do better than others after breakups?

So that brings us to our next question, why do some people fare better after a breakup? People who spend more time reflecting on the relationship and those who have an anxious attachment style experience less emotional adjustments post-breakup. Those who did not choose to end the relationship also experienced lesser rates of emotional adjustment. And if you had reported a greater amount of love for your ex, recovery of self-concept is hindered. Overall, if you were more attached to the relationship, it would be more difficult to process the experience.

Do breakups change us?

In the end, do we really change as a result of a breakup? Following a breakup, people have reported intrinsic changes such as being more confident and independent. They were also able to recognize areas for personal growth and that they have been better at communication. There were also extrinsic consequences as people often reported strengthened relationships with family and friends as well as improvements in coursework. However, it is important to take these conclusions with a grain of salt as every breakup is unique with its own set of considerations and consequences.

It seems the end of the relationship is not the end of the world, though it can initially feel like that. We feel great distress as our sense of self rapidly changes and we lose clarity on who we are. Some will do better than others, but it depends on your investment in the relationship and reaction to the breakup. There is hope in the end, however, that you can eventually recover and come out of it a different person.