6 Things You Deserve From A Break-Up
When we talk about what we really "deserve" in a breakup situation, we're usually talking about the overt actions of the other party — and that's definitely a valid concern. Everybody in a normal relationship that's breaking down deserves to have their boundaries respected, their opinions listened to, and their perspective heard. (An important note: this article will deal with non-abusive relationships; the dynamics of getting out of an abusive relationship are very different, and you'll find information about how to escape one in Bustle's excellent guide on the subject.)
But what do we deserve psychologically from a breakup scenario? What does our mental health require and merit, in the wake of a serious bust-up? It turns out that there are certain things that every person deserves in the (sometimes very complex) psychological mess of a break-up situation. They deserve to get their self back, to get rid of their illusions, to have space to grieve, and to keep interference out of their head. Those are the rights of every adult in this particular confronting and confusing scenario; they're not negotiable, or things you have to be "worthy" of. If you're breaking up with somebody, you need to remember that they deserve this stuff as much as you do.
Here are six psychological things that every person deserves from a breakup, alongside, obviously, your Hello Kitty cushion being returned.
1. The Disintegration Of The Fantasy Bond
Dr. Lisa Firestone, for Psychology Today, argues for a particular reason that relationship breakdowns hurt so much: In her estimation, the feeling of damage and misery that comes after the breakup of a relationship that's not working is actually the shattering of your "fantasy bond" with your partner. A fantasy bond is basically a replacement for a deep, loving relationship: you're going through the motions, being almost "robotic" in the ways you interact with one another. You're not actually "in" the relationship at all, but doing a kind of playacting, a safe set of routines that make you feel like everything's OK, even though deep down you know it's not.
According to Firestone, it's the loss of this sense of safety that really upsets us in relationships where intimacy was just being pretended. Which is why, during a breakup, you deserve to try and understand this and move past it, and so does your ex. Is your pain due to missing your ex, or to missing the security and routines of your fantasy bond?
2. A Return To A Whole Sense Of Self
The idea of a "sense of self" as something you deserve or have a right to is a strange notion, but it's a valid one. Breakups can take away a huge amount of our perception of ourselves; Stanford research published in January 2016 found that a large part of the serious pain of relationship dissolutions comes from the idea of rejection, that somebody's seen your personality and doesn't like it any more. The Stanford researchers found that if you have a "fixed" view of your personality, that it doesn't change or shift with new experiences, you're more likely to take relationship breakups hard, because it reflects on what you think is an essential part of yourself.
The researchers wrote in The Atlantic that their project was based on research that showed that closeness in a relationship could backfire: if your life and your partner's life are deeply intertwined, a breakup can result in a serious sense of disorientation about your own personality, needs, and preferences. You deserve to come out of a breakup with the capacity to reclaim yourself and your own sense of identity.
What does this mean practically? It means that an ex who uses the breakup as a chance to denigrate your personality and self, or to try to "claim" the parts of your lives that were shared, is doing something deeply hurtful, and none of their behavior should be tolerated. At all.
3. The Space And Time To Grieve
Breakups are not small things. They can be massively psychologically intense periods, particularly if the relationship was long-term or very intense. In that sense, you deserve a period of grief before you "get back on the horse," and anybody who tries to push you to go faster than your own speed isn't helping you in the slightest.
The Counseling Directory points out that there are many stages of grieving related to the dissolution of a romantic partnership, including denial, despair, anger, fear, guilt, and confusion. These are complex emotions that may not succeed each other in a one-by-one pattern, and it can take a while to unknot your feelings and understand how you're feeling. You don't need to stay in a room with the blinds closed, but you deserve the time to process and the space to feel what you need to feel.
4. Respect For Your Space
Negotiating the "what happens now" period after a breakup, particularly if it's not very venomous or you have a strong friendship, can be tricky. Should you stay in contact? Text occasionally? See each other every Friday night like always? The key thing about figuring this out, as you negotiate it with one another, is that both partners deserve to have their wishes for a cut-off respected. If you don't want any contact, your ex is not allowed to try and wear you down or pop up "unexpectedly" in your inbox, and the same occurs in reverse. You have a right to your space and your personal grief, as we'll discover in a second, and don't deserve to be guilted, harangued, or harried into giving up your limits.
5. Time To Reflect & Be Listened To
If anybody's trying to push you to get the ex to the back of your mind and "move on," stop them. One of your rights as a person at the end of a relationship is the ability to reflect, and it turns out that certain types of reflection may actually lessen the pain of the experience. NPR revealed in 2015 that studies showed talking through a breakup over a period of about nine weeks helped mental stability and general emotional health; talking about it abruptly and without a lot of depth didn't help at all.
And Business Insider rounded up a series of research that showed that journaling, and specifically something called a "redemption narrative," are particularly useful for processing the relationship's demise and what it means for your future. Redemption narratives are basically narratives that make bad events have good consequences, the "silver lining" stories of our pasts. It turns out that reflecting on the relationship as something that may lead to positive experiences is an active help to psychological distress. Don't let anybody tell you to stop writing or talking about it; you can also find a therapist, or just take to your journal.
6. Respect From Family & Friends
This is particularly the case in the demise of marriages, but people in the circles surrounding breakups can forget that it's not actually any of their business, and that the people involved are likely in pain and need their own space and time. Pushing past the acceptable boundaries of behavior on this one can go many ways: trying to get you to date before you're ready, insulting you, blaming you for the demise of the relationship, spreading gossip to others, denigrating your choices, making unwanted suggestions, repeating cliches about "fish in the sea," intruding on your time and space, and a few other post-breakup sins are on the list.
It's one thing to come from a space of care and wonder if a friend or family member's choices are a bad idea for their happiness, based on what you know of the situation; it's another to move in with your own agenda and assumptions, and try to take charge. You deserve to be treated with respect and intelligence by the people tangentially tied to the situation, even if you and your ex can't look each other in the eye.
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