The Paradox of Heartbreak

by Amy Vigliotti, Ph.D

Feeling the good and the bad after a wanted breakup.

Originally published on Psychology Today

divorce or a breakup is seldom easy. The pain brought about by a split can be profound, even for the ones who initiated the separation. The paradox of heartbreak lies in the complexity of human emotions and the intricate nature of relationships. Some might assume that if you wanted the breakup, the pain should be minimal; however, it is not always so simple.

The Complexity of Human Emotions

The decision to end a relationship may be logical and necessary, but it doesn’t negate the emotional investment and history shared with a partner. When you leave a relationship, you not only let go of the person, you let go of the hopes, dreams, and visions you had for your time together.

There may be relief in escaping an unhealthy or unfulfilling relationship, but there is generally some good, maybe even some love, that is lost. The person leaving may also feel guilty that the relationship didn’t work out, although there was no real wrongdoing other than incompatibility. Navigating this emotional complexity can be challenging and take time.

Loss of Identity and Routine

Relationships often become integral parts of our identities, and intertwining lives leads to shared routines, habits, and a sense of belonging. When a breakup occurs, it’s not just the loss of a partner—it’s the unraveling of a shared existence. The abrupt change can leave a void, and individuals may find themselves grappling with questions of self-identity and purpose.

The routines once shared, from morning rituals to weekend plans, suddenly become solitary endeavors. The absence of a partner in daily life requires a recalibration of one’s identity and purpose, often contributing to emotional distress.

While you are facing questions about who you are without your ex, this is an opportunity to learn what you want from a partner and a long-term relationship. Thinking about what worked and what didn’t work will help you in future relationships as you become clearer about your wishes, expectations, and needs.

Fear of the Unknown

Putting yourself out there again takes vulnerability and courage. Many people take their time before launching their profile again, allowing themselves grace to get their footing as a single person again.

Humans are wired to seek familiarity and security, so the “unknown” often brings anxiety and self-doubt. It can be helpful to remember that change brings opportunity and to adopt a mantra of “it will work out.”

Acknowledging and Navigating the Pain

Many of you have heard that you have to go through the breakup, not around it. To navigate the emotionality and pain, remember the phrase, “Name it to tame it.” When you notice yourself having a feeling, name the feeling to yourself. When a self-doubt pops up, label it anxious. When a past argument pops up, label it anger or frustration. When you remember a good time, and you miss your ex, label it missing or sadness. This acknowledgment helps move the emotion along its natural path and will facilitate healing.

Here are some additional strategies to navigate the pain of a wanted breakup:

1. Self-reflection and Acceptance

Reflect on your feelings and accept them without judgment. Embrace the complexity of your emotions and recognize that it’s normal to feel a mix of relief, sadness, and nostalgia.

2. Seeking Support

Share thoughts and feelings with trusted friends, family, or a therapist. A support system can provide comfort and perspective, helping you healthily process your loss. Surrounding oneself with positive influences contributes to a more nurturing and supportive environment.

3. Embracing Change Gradually

Allow yourself time and space to adapt to the changes. Gradually create new routines and rediscover personal hobbies overshadowed by the relationship; this will help to build a new sense of identity and confidence.

4. Setting Boundaries

Establish clear boundaries with your ex-partner to facilitate the healing process. Minimize contact if needed, and prioritize your well-being over maintaining a connection that may hinder your emotional recovery.

Setting boundaries allows individuals to create emotional space between themselves and their ex-partners. This separation is essential for healing, as it reduces the emotional triggers that can hinder the process of moving on and gaining perspective. Clarity is essential for closure, as it helps individuals understand the terms of their separation and navigate the emotional aftermath with a sense of direction.

5. Focusing on Self-Care

A breakup can take a toll on mental health, leading to increased stress, anxiety, and even depression. Prioritize self-care by engaging in activities that bring joy, practice mindfulness and gratitude, and ensure care of your overall health. Though individuals may become intertwined with their partner’s identity during a relationship, self-care allows for a rediscovery of one’s interests, passions, and goals, and this process of self-discovery fosters personal growth and helps one to reconnect with one’s values and priorities.


Breаking uр or divorce can be really tough, but it’s аlso а reminԁer of how ԁeeр аnԁ сomрliсаteԁ our emotions саn be. It’s important to be раtient аnԁ kinԁ to yourself аs you work through the heаling рroсess. By tuning into your emotional responses, you will learn more about who you are and what you need. You are likely to become а stronger, more confident person as a result.


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