Is there such a thing as the painless breakup?


The writer Marcel Proust once said that people who were not in love gave the most heartbreaking speeches. Once people realize that they’re too different and unable to make each other happy, they start perceiving their own relationship as meaningless and accept the fact that both sides would benefit most from ending it.
Long-term relationships, however fairytale-like and perfect they seemed at first, often end because partners change and drift apart emotionally over time… until they finally go their separate ways. It seems that the hardest thing for most people is how to announce the breakup of a relationship in which they are no longer happy and no longer feel fulfilled.

Do we know how to ‘bravely’ end a relationship?

The experts in this field advise that this should be done with dignity, with as little melodrama, harsh words and accusations as possible. By delaying the inevitable, many remain stuck in overthinking the talk on the breakup.
– There’s nothing wrong with the decision that someone is not right for you. However, hesitation to terminate a bad relationship is indeed not good – psychotherapist Zoran Milivojević says. – It’s always an unpleasant act. Being forsaken feels bad, but leaving someone doesn’t feel any better. It’s only different when there’s hatred and contempt between the partners, especially if one side was hurt much more in the relationship – Milivojević adds.
If there’s still affection and friendship, there is no disapproval of partner’s behavior; in other words, if there’s love, but not love strong enough for a relationship to work, the one breaking up often feels sorry for the partner they’re leaving, because they don’t want to hurt them or make them sad and miserable.
– Many people who wish to leave a relationship which is not satisfying enough, but still is functional, mistake compassion (arising from feeling bad for the person they’re leaving) for guilt. – Milivojević emphasized. – They mistakenly believe that by leaving, they ‘caused’ the other person pain. When people do something they have a right to do, they shouldn’t feel guilty. Something is either right or it isn’t. Ending a relationship is one’s right, and they can’t be denied that right. But, as I have already said, breakups are painful and messy.

‘Dump me’

When somebody mistakes compassion for guilt, they most often start blaming themselves for their partner’s suffering after the breakup. However, guilt doesn’t belong there, whereas sorrow, grief, and sympathy do – Milivojević adds.
– Those who fail to distinguish between the two, who still feel guilty, often keep delaying the breakup so they wouldn’t be the one to blame. Such a person lingers in a relationship way too long, until the relationship itself becomes unbearable to them, giving them the ‘right’ to leave. Sometimes, in order to avoid responsibility for the breakup and consequent guilt, the person starts playing the game called ‘dump me’; in other words, they start acting in a manner unacceptable to their partner, until the partner’s had enough and they say ‘I’m done, we’re breaking up’. Hence, the responsibility for breakup is automatically pinned to the other person to avoid the pangs of consciousness – Zoran Milivojević says, adding that emotions originating from being left and being abandoned are profoundly different.
Breakups are sometimes followed by the strong feeling of being forsaken, low self-esteem and thoughts of unworthiness. Those patterns stem from deeming the person who has left as more valuable and the forsaken one as a person who doesn’t deserve a long-term relationship. Jealousy directed to the third person is often connected to this, and it now appears as a result of the new choice of the one who broke up. The partner who has been left now starts comparing themselves to the new partner, because they feel insignificant and unimportant. That is why hostility is often present, both towards the new person and the partner who has left them.

Question of the heart

‘The worst case scenario’ occurs when feelings of contempt and hatred develop, or a desire for vengeance because somebody is feeling ‘unrightfully abandoned, taken advantage of, and hurt’ which can sometimes lead to highly destructive behavior.
– Believing you’re worthless if somebody leaves you is especially prominent with young people. That is how children perceive things, but also the part of an adult personality called ‘the inner child’. As early as elementary school, children usually face unrequited love with a schoolmate or being roughly broken up with because of someone else, and this is exactly when these beliefs are formed, and a person can hold on to them throughout their lives. That is why it is crucial for parents to explain to their children that being unaccepted or broken up with absolutely doesn’t mean they were refused for being less worthy, less beautiful, intelligent or attractive. Children should understand that people have different preferences, that preferences are not an objective criterion: some like blue, some red, whereas some simply adore green. It is necessary that children accept that not everyone is going to like them, and that it is fine, it is normal and it definitely does not prove anything about their quality, or lack thereof. They should just wait for someone more suitable to appear. It is the parents’ job to make these ‘questions of the heart’ a priority between children, explaining it to them and thus minimizing the potential catastrophe their children could associate with breakups – Milivojević explains.

Emotional detachment

While many crave for a painless breakup, Milivojević says that such a thing, unfortunately, DOESN’T EXIST.
– You should accept that breakups are painful, nasty and always more hurtful for the one who wants to stay in that relationship. The breakup position is a position of self-respect and respect for the other, an acknowledgement of bad feelings while taking a firm stance that the thing is over. Compassion, or rather sympathy for the person you have left is fine, but feeling guilty, no matter how much effort the partner has put in to cause that feeling in the person who is breaking up, is not acceptable. That is why it is important that the one leaving take up a firm stance about the relationship being over. The problem arises if they’re feeling guilty, and make ambiguous statements that awaken false hope with the one they’re leaving, causing negative long-term consequences. You should be explicit about your attitude that it is over for good, and understand that the other side will be sad, although aware that it’s going to pass and that it’s for the best for the both of you. In each and every encounter you should respect the other person and the fact that they’re hurting, while still being crystal clear that it’s really over.
It is not realistic to expect that after breakup the feelings we have had for a person we spent some time with will be gone in a day.
– Most breakups arise from the position of friendship, meaning the one who is leaving still cares about the person they’re breaking up with, especially if they have shared their lives for a time, and as such is concerned about their emotions – says Milivojević.– That is why it is common to leave even if there is some love remaining, but not enough to stay together, or love still strong, but not leading to satisfying, stable or long-relationship for the one who wishes to break up. Those who didn’t choose the breakup generally have much stronger feelings, because in most cases their partner is ending the relationship against their will. In such a situation, it’s necessary that they accept their new reality, emotionally detaching themselves from the loved one, thus entering the grieving process. Grieving is actually an emotional detachment and it represents taking steps to eventually accept the new situation. Once the person who has been left emotionally distances themselves from another, they’re ready for a new love and attachment to someone else. However, precisely due to those mistaken beliefs many block the process of detachment, because they feel abandoned and unworthy, making it much harder to get over it. They may remain hooked on a person who has left for years, which is undoubtedly harmful.

Branka Gajić
Photo: Jelena Vlatković

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