Dating and Mate Selection — 23 October 2003
Breaking up is hard to do

“Why do I feel so much pain? I was the one who ended our dating.”
Interestingly, both partners deal with emotional turmoil after a
relationship ends. Though it is more common for the partner who was
left, to feel the deepest pain, both people often suffer emotional
trauma. This is one of the reasons for postponement of relationship
split, even after the futility of staying together is clear to one or both.

The pain, sorrow, grief, regrets and insecurities people experience
after a relationship break up, are often very intense. People’s
psychological devastation gets manifested in physiological symptoms.
Loss of appetite, disturbed sleep, weight loss, depression, ruminative
thinking, nausea, apathy, inability to concentrate, and actual physical
pain are some of the more common bodily discomforts people live through.
It also seems at the time of suffering that the pain will never ease.

Fortunately, with time and support, people do recover physically and are
then left to deal with the emotional grief. That may take longer and may
be harder to shake.

Being told that our companionship is no longer valued damages our sense
of worth and esteem. But having to reject our loved one may be an
equally difficult and painful task. It may shatter his dream of having
found his permanent love connection.

Every person yearns, knowingly or unknowingly, for the re-experience of
love, provided in infancy by an adoring and soothing mother. Then, the
infant was led to trust that unconditional love will be hers forever.
The adult break up rudely dispels the notion that love is given freely
and unconditionally. It reawakens us to the notion that adult love is
earned-and sometimes even when it is earned, it is insufficient.

We work hard in school, socially and at our jobs to prove our value to
others. In relationship, we yearn for love- just for being ourselves.
When this hope is shattered, we ache.
“What is wrong with me that he went back to his former girlfriend?” “How
could she share herself with another boy, I thought we had something
special”. These quotes are samples of the disbelief that the unique and
unequalled love is gone.

It is expected that when the break up is not mutual, and it rarely is,
that one member of the couple would be devastated. The person wanting to
end the relationship is often sensitive to the impending trauma for the
other- and dreads it as well. Any decent person is cautious about
inflicting pain on another person, especially on someone he or she has

The break up process is often rehearsed over and over to prepare the
leaving partner to withstand the other’s pain-while maintaining his or
her decision. It is hard to feel secure in your choice to leave, in face
of tears, bargaining, pleading, anger or even accusations. So planning
for all possible scenarios is often done to harden one’s heart during
the unpleasant parting.

However, just as with any other major decision, the person who initiated
the break up may later have remorse, regrets and doubts about his
action. He or she will soon begin to miss the best parts of being
together and forget the reasons for leaving. Grief, regret, guilt and
confusion often plague the departing member. Sometimes the impulse is to
call and reverse the split. “I do love you _ and need you, I don’t know
what caused me to leave”, is an impulsive reaction which is unlikely to
last. Soon after the reconciliation, the previous couple problems will
surface and the next break up may truly damage the trust and confidence
of both individuals.

If you are in need of ending a relationship,

  • Be certain that the choice is a well considered decision based on
    thoughts, feelings, experiences and intuitive guidance.
  • Solicit the opinions of those you trust as to your decision making
  • Ask your mentors (experienced, older, wiser folks) what you may have
    failed to see or weigh.
  • When you are clear and determined to end the relationship, remember
    that you did love, and still may love this individual. Love is only one
    consideration for a permanent relationship.
  • Muster the kindest way to express your need to leave without blame,
    accusations or character assaults. You are leaving because of you, not
    because of her shortcomings.
  • Be prepared to witness your date’s pain and be kind. Tell him that you
    too will miss the best parts of the relationship.
  • Leave _ don’t linger talking, after the points were made and responded
    to. When the cycle of words repeats, it is time to exit.
  • When you begin to doubt your choice, miss your dating partner, sit
    with the feeling. Resist acting upon it because it will serve your ego
    at her expense.
  • Take some time out before entering a new dating situation. You will
    know that you are ready, when the desire to date again is no longer
    related to the former one.
  • Choose carefully again and use what you have learned about yourself
    during the previous relationship to enhance your next one.

Offra Gerstein
Feb 1, 2003

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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