How can having your heart ripped out be good for your relationship? The answer will surprise you
No one is an advocate for breaking up – except, of course, relationship counselors, divorce lawyers, and country western singers who are looking for new material. But, sometimes, breaking up can actually help save a relationship and even make it stronger than it was before.
This isn’t to say that people in a happy, stable relationship should throw in the towel, giving their jilted ex my contact information as they do. Relationships that are working well should continue to do just that: work well.
But, relationships that have ended or relationships that are headed in that direction can actually benefit from a little time apart. To demonstrate this, let’s consider three scenarios:
Defeated Dave and Apathetic Amy: Dave and Amy have been in a relationship for five years. Dave works as an accountant and spends his days calculating the last time he and Amy had sex (it’s been 8 months now). Dave’s heart is hurting and his hand is cramped (8 months!). Amy works as a bank manager and spends her days telling her coworkers that her life is unexciting. She finds herself lying awake at night, annoyed by Dave’s breathing (once or twice she’s considered smothering him with her pillow). Dave and Amy have each thought about leaving, but they aren’t always unhappy. They give their relationship a five out of ten and assume that that’s pretty okay.
Doormat Matt and Bossy Betty: Matt is a doormat, so lacking in a backbone he could be mistaken for an invertebrate. Betty, on the other hand, has so much of a backbone she could be mistaken for Quasimoto. This causes Betty to get on Matt’s case about everything: his choice of clothes, the way he parts his hair, his desire to watch a baseball game on Sunday afternoon. Betty bosses Matt around endlessly, but Matt’s not one for conflict: watching the movie 12 Angry Men practically propels him into a panic attack. So, he assuages Betty’s demands with the words she wants to here: “yes, dear.” Matt and Betty will end up staying together forever: Matt lacks the ability to leave, and Betty enjoys always getting her way.
Unhappy Henry and Hapless Holly: Henry and Holly were once very happy: they tell everyone that it was love at first sight. But, fourteen months later, they are both only concerned with themselves. Henry has begun to brag to anyone who will listen. He constantly exaggerates about the past, recalling how he was the first one to say YOLO, how he was once approached about doing some hand modeling, about how he scored a winning touchdown in high school (he never includes the part about the touchdown being for the opposing team). Holly hasn’t noticed any of this: she hasn’t heard anything Henry has said for the past four months. Instead, Holly has begun tuning him out, withdrawing into an imaginary world where she is living in New York City with the cast from Sex in the City. Henry and Holly have come to grips with the lives they are leading: they love each other, even if they don’t like each other all that much.
The above couples are all lacking communication, excitement, and the willingness to meet their own individual needs (which will only result in unhappiness). Because of all this, these couples no longer stimulate each other, they simply pacify each other: they are no longer in a relationship, they are in a placationship.
In these instances, breaking up can provide the means needed for each party to work on their own flaws, to reevaluate how giving (or ungiving) they were towards their partner, and to see what they could and should do differently. By breaking up, each person is able to see their issues from a more objective standpoint.
Sometimes, breakups are like halftimes of football games. They give people a chance to reevaluate their game plan. They allow people to see what works, what doesn’t, and how they, as an individual, help (or hurt) their team.
This allows them to go into the second half with a different mindset, unlikely to make the same mistakes they made before. This can result in a more cohesive game plan, a better ability to work through problems, and, most importantly, lots and lots of scoring.