The Emotional Impact of a Breakup

The arrival in our lives of a breakup of partners brings with it important alterations.

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Since before our birth and until the moment we die, we spend a lifetime establishing and undoing links with people in our everyday environment. However, some of these relationships are so intense that their fading has strong psychological repercussions.

What is the emotional impact of the breakup of a couple?

The establishment of emotional bonds

As gregarious beings we are, people relate and interact with others to communicate what we feel or what they transmit to us at a given moment, to make requests, to debate, to share activities, etc. In any case, some of the relationships we establish imply a greater emotional intensity than others, as in the case of our parents, our closest friends, or our partner.

These types of links are characterized because they provide (or we hope that this is the case) a high degree of emotional security. In other words, there is a high level of trust in the other person, which means that we feel more able to share with him or her not only our strengths, but also our weaknesses. This is especially significant when we find a romantic partner, since this person will have the possibility of knowing us in many facets of our lives, with the “pros” and “cons” of our way of being. Therefore, Robert Sternberg spoke of three elements that he considered crucial for a couple to talk about full love: intimacy, passion and commitment.

Intimacy refers to communication in the relationship, what is said, the handling of conflicts, and the activities that are shared, that is, the intention to spend quality time with the other person. Passion, on the other hand, refers to the more strictly sexual component, the physical contact that occurs in the couple due to the attraction that exists between them, and the search for such contact with the other as a moment of union not only physical , but also psychological.

Finally, commitment is a determining factor insofar as it relates to the willingness of both members to maintain the relationship over time. It is the joint life project, in which the one is present for the other in any planning in the medium and long term.

Wear of the relationship

We have mentioned that three elements are key to the optimal functioning of a relationship, but, often, we find that some (or several of them) are not occurring in the right way in a couple.

An absent or little assertive communication, a poor management of the conflict, little or no respect between the parties, lack of sexual activity, or a doubtful commitment to the relationship are some of the most frequent problems in relationships. In fact, there is often a “waterfall effect” which means that when one element fails, it is very likely that others will be affected by it. For example, if the communication has been inadequate for some time in the relationship, it is very likely that this affects the sexual environment and, therefore, the intention to continue as a couple in the medium or long term.

When difficulties arise in the relationship, the members of the couple or marriage can try to solve them with their own resources and strategies or, seeing themselves very overwhelmed, with the help of a couple psychologist that can serve as guidance and offer guidelines to improve those aspects that they are indicated as deficit. In those cases in which both members have a good disposition to collaborate with what the psychologist can propose, the therapy process is very fast and effective.

However, there are situations in which the resources of the relationship are exhausted, the search for help is too one-sided (for only one of the parties) or it arrives when the couple is so engrossed in their problems that they have emotionally worn out one or both members. In these cases, the most common is that the couple or marriage (or one of them) agree or propose a break / separation, so that each can continue with their lives independently and overcome individually some of the difficulties experienced while they were united.

The emotional impact of the break up

In situations in which the existing link has not been sufficient to solve the problems of the relationship, the sense of loss will lead to a process similar to a duel, until the person reaches the acceptance of the break.

It is very likely that feelings of frustration, impotence and anger appear when the situation has not been resolved, especially when a significant effort has been put into it. Also, the break involves a modification of habits and routines because, most likely, there was a “custom” to function in relation to the other, so it requires an adaptation to change that not only involves emotional aspects, but also thinking and conduct.

In addition, when there are minors involved, the separation or rupture extends the need to adapt to change also to them, which often fluctuate weekly between one parent and another and, often, also “dragged” by the power games that are can establish.

How can we work with these cases?

Although it is not frequent, it is possible for an ex-partner to go to the psychologist for advice to better manage their separation, that is, to facilitate the process for both. With a proclive attitude on the part of the two, the intervention again becomes a much more agile and successful process.

However, it is most likely that the ex-couple seeks psychological help when there are minors involved, due to the need for external guidelines that allow them to handle the situation in the least conflictive way possible. In these cases, it is fundamental that the psychologist explore that with the ex-partner how was their functioning in aspects of communication, interaction, coexistence and care of the children when they were together, and what is their goal to achieve being separated.

It is important to define with both what they intend to achieve with the therapy process, since they will work to be a team of caregivers, even if they are separated. Listening and empathy should be encouraged, facilitating a security environment in which respect for both parties prevails and the main goal of achieving an emotionally healthy environment for minors. When we achieve this, we are guaranteeing a very favorable evolution in parenting styles, and a higher level of well-being for both adults and their children.