Break ups are the worst.
There’s nothing fun about ending a relationship. Except for the freedom to binge on rom coms, ice cream and wine (shout out to the real experts who know about ice cream wine). But eventually even Netflix starts to shame you asking if you’re still watching, and your friends Ben & Jerry desert you when you scrape the bottom of an empty carton.
I would venture to say that if you aren’t married then you’ve probably ended more relationships than you’ve started.
So what is it about a break up that just makes it so unbearable? Obviously during those first phone calls, that first date, that first kiss, we couldn’t possibly foresee the potential hurt and pain awaiting us. We’re so sure, or maybe even just relatively sure enough, that we commit and start to reveal ourselves. We spend the entire relationship ensuring the togetherness we long for and yet more often than not we find ourselves amongst the wreckage of a breakup.
We pick up the pieces and try to glue ourselves back together wondering where to start. How do you mend something so fractured when it once felt so whole?
Breakups are a little bit like hell.
To be fully seen, fully known, and fully embraced is the epitome of love. It’s what we as humans strive for in all of our relationships, particularly our romantic endeavors. Breakups usher in a particularly deep sense of woundedness because they’re truly a slice of hell.
Hell, in essence, is to be fully seen, fully known, and yet still rejected.
It is without a doubt our greatest fear. Rejection after deep intimacy cuts to the very core of our insecurities as people. If I let someone see me for who I really am, if I let them get to know the real me, then they will leave me. Which is exactly what hell is, just on a smaller scale. It’s a lack of love, intimacy, and safety in relationships. It’s a sense of loneliness and isolation that pains even the hardest of hearts.
So, it’s no wonder breakups hurt like hell. They are hell in its most earthly and human form.
Relationships desire permanence.
Breakups are painful because we were designed for relationships to last. That’s why when we enter into a relationship we’re blissfully ignorant and hopeful. We come preprogrammed to commit to relationships, even the flakiest among us.
This desire for permanence and commitment only intensifies when love enters the equation. Timothy Keller writes in The Meaning of Marriage, “G.K. Chesterson pointed out that when we fall in love we have a natural inclination not just to express affection but to make promises to each other. Lovers find themselves almost driven to make vow-like claims.”
That’s why we start to make subconscious promises like, “I will always love you” or “I’ll never leave you” or “I want to be with you forever.”
Each of those sayings is a longing to express our desires for permanence. We throw those sentences around hoping they’ll land in a safe place where commitment and promises will find fertile soil.
So breakups shatter relational design. They come in and destabilize something that should seem so stable. If we were made for relationships to last then a breakup goes against the very nature of our being. It’s no wonder they carry with them the weight of our hopes, dreams, and expectations. We were right to hope and dream for the relationship to last. And shattered dreams are sharp- they’re bound to cut us and we will most certainly bleed.
We hate to grieve.
The loss of relationship is exactly that- a loss. Not only is it a loss of a relationship and that person in your life but also the death of those hopes, dreams, and expectations mentioned earlier. All of those deserve to be mourned.
And yet we as people are pretty bad at mourning. We’re a culture who wants to reserve mourning for those who experience physical death. Even then we’re quick to avoid it and replace grieving with anything else that will temporarily ease the pain.
Grieving is a weighty and time-consuming process. It’s often more painful than the actual breakup itself and so we prefer to avoid it. We’re afraid that if we start the grieving process it might not ever end. If we cry one tear now we will open the door to cry every tear. It’s a Pandora’s box we just as soon keep shut tight. It’s a gift we would rather not receive.
And yet mourning really is a gift- a gift in the sense that we probably didn’t ask for it, certainly don’t know what to do with it, and we fake a manageable reaction to those around us. At least that’s been my experience with gifts.
Grieving, just like anything else, takes practice. It takes a willingness to enter into it. And it truly is a gift. In the midst of grieving we’re better able to process who we are, who we want to be, and usher in our ability for post traumatic growth. The key to that growth and to minimizing long-term damage is entering into short-term pain. A lack of grief just manifests itself and rears its ugly head in future relationships and usually is the culprit for future breakups.
Grieve. You’ve lost something. You’ve lost someone. You’ve lost hopes and dreams and you’ve lost a little bit of yourself.
You’ve been to hell and back and that’s okay.
But know there’s hope on the other side of a breakup. There’s always life after death. That’s what keeps us from crawling into a hole and dating our Netflix accounts. That’s what gives us the hope to try again. That’s what helps us have the courage to say “yes” and try one more time.