How to deal with a break up.  
june 2023 | The Learning and Wellbeing Team

Researchers estimate that millions of people break up every day. Whether you have been in a relationship for weeks, months or years, breaking up is usually painful, often unexpected, but not unusual. Research shows that the average romantic relationship span for a 15 or 16-year-old is about six months but that the average relationship length for individuals in their early twenties is four times longer than the average 15-year-old. The relationships that last the longest are usually started in your mid-twenties to early thirties.

How long will your relationship last? That’s what everyone would like to know — whether you have been in a relationship for a week, a year or a decade. Is it going to last?  That’s a difficult question to answer. Divorce statistics suggest that about 1 in 2 marriages will end — at some point, but usually after years and years and years. The chance of your marriage or your relationships ending after a week, a month or a year is a bit different. 

Sociologists, such as Michael Rosenfield, study how long romantic relationships typically last by contacting people who have just started a relationship and then waiting and watching to see how long couples last. In the most recent study, they followed over 3000 couples. The results of this study are summarized in the figure below.

This graphic shows that the likelihood of breaking up becomes less and less the longer you are in a relationship. Interestingly, the data shows that most break ups happen within the first few months and years. 60% of individuals who have been in relationships for just less than a year report breaking up. The chance of breaking up in any year is less than 10% in same-sex married couples and even a bit lower in couples who get married. (Keep in mind that is the rate in any given year. Unfortunately, your cumulative risk of breaking up is much, much higher. As high as 50% in a marriage lasting more than 30 years.)  


Not so fun facts about break-up:

Although most people still deliver and receive the bad news in person, increasing numbers of people are breaking up over texts or just not being told at all.

  • 25% report being ghosted
  • 21% report ghosting others
  • 69% report thinking poorly of people who ghost people.
  • Less than 5% say that ghosting is acceptable to end a long-term relationship.
  • 25% say that ghosting has caused them long-term hurt and loss of confidence. 

Breaking up is inevitable. It’s sad news that most people get over. People who have ghosted others usually report that they are afraid to confront others.  Before breaking up, think about whether sparing your own feelings is more important than those of others.  Think about how you want to be remembered and talked about on social media.

Check out our Q&A:  How to break up with a partner.  [Coming in Aug 23]  

What’s your risk of break up?

Researchers studying couples have identified a number of factors that increase your risk for break up. You can take our risk assessment tool to help you understand how many risk factors you have. Keep in mind that these are risk factors. A risk factor means that your chance of something happening, like breaking up, is increased but not inevitable. There are always some people who, despite having a risk factor, manage not to break up. But it is important to keep in mind that the odds are against it. Individuals who have even just one risk factor have a chance of breaking up, and a number of people with only a single risk factor will still break up. However, the more you know about your risk factors, the better you have of turning things around before breaking up.


What’s your chance of getting back together?

A YouGov poll of more than 22,000 people found that one in five (21%) people reported that they broke up with someone but then got back together more than once. Almost one in four (23%) said they broke up and got together just once. And almost one in two people 47% say that they broke up and did not get back together. 

Does getting back together work?

There’s not a lot of research on the success rate for couples who break up and get back together. The research that does exist suggests that it works for some but not for most. Of those that get back together, surveys show that they about 50% of couples stay together. 

What to do if you think about getting back together

You can’t control the outcome. You can only control your behaviour. Ask once. Ask twice. And then wait a few days before asking again. Sometimes people text multiple times a day, every day for a week or more. It may feel like you’re doing something, but you’re also disrespecting people’s space. If your relationship is something that the other person would like to fix, it will be their choice, and they may need some time to choose. Giving people some time to choose sends the message that you respect their choice, which is an important part of most relationships. If your relationship stands any chance of lasting, you will need to respect the other person’s right to choose and that they may choose not to.

If you let the other person know that you miss them, that you would like to be with them, and that you respect that it is their choice, then you have said everything that you can say and that you need to say. If you would like a grand gesture, then put it in a card and send some flowers, but it is the words that will matter most.

What’s your chance of breaking up?
John and Julie Gottman have devoted their careers, now spanning some 40 years, to understanding what makes a relationship succeed. They and many, many others have learned so very much about the relationship markers that predict whether or not a marriage will end. There is much that can be learned from this research. As it turns out, there is just a small number of factors that predict whether or not you are at risk. Take the quiz and find out what risk factors your current relationship may or may not have. Keep in mind, that just having a risk factor doesn’t mean it is going to happen, just that the odds go up.   

If you have some risk facts, think about what you can do about them, either on your own or with the help of a counsellor. 

How to handle the breakup.

Most breakups are usually difficult, and many of them are just devastating. For some people, a break up can lead to significant and lasting mental health problems, including depression, low levels of self-confidence and trust, as well as an impoverished view of what a relationship is. Surveys of individuals who have experienced a breakup have identified a number of strategies and activities that can help you overcome it, that range from just giving it time to having a therapist. The figure below shows how frequently people use different strategies.

Five things to remember when breaking up.

#1: Breakup is common. Remember that breakup is common and that most people will have had a number of breakups during their lifetime. This important fact is a reminder that breakup is normal. Even though there may have been things that you may decide to do differently in your next relationship, it is important to keep in mind that breakups are a normal part of life. People would like to think that they can avoid it. However, that may not be the case. Spending time together is how you learn about yourself, learn about the person you are with, and learn about the kind of relationship you would like to have. It is only after spending time with someone else you can make an informed decision about whether or not you’d like to stay with that person.

#2: Don’t be too hard on yourself. Most people have a tendency to criticize themselves when things go wrong. It’s easy to look back and think that you could have done something differently or could have seen signs earlier. It is easy to find something in yourself that you can criticize, especially if you have a tendency to criticize yourself. But it’s not that straightforward. Who you are and what you do is, very often, influenced by the person you are with. With somebody else, you may be quite different.

Research has shown high levels of criticism can lead to depression and undermine your sense of self-worth. Own your part but don’t be overly unfair. Too much criticism directed towards yourself may prevent you from moving on and keep you from valuing the important parts of who you are.

#3: Be respectful – to others and yourself. When a relationship ends, some people get desperate and do whatever they can to restore the relationship that they lost. In many ways, that’s the most natural response anyone could have — try to fix what’s broken, try to keep what you lost. Other people express their frustration and unleash their anger. It’s important to be respectful to yourself and to others.

That means giving people space and being fair about what’s happened. Giving people space means seeing how you feel (e.g., I miss you) and seeing what you’d like (e.g., Would like to try things again) and then waiting to see what the other person would like to do. That’s hard. You have to trust that what you had in the relationship is worth a second try and what you bring to the relationship is worth it.

#4: Learn what you can from it. Everyone has a chance to learn from a breakup. Early relationships, especially during our teenage years, are opportunities to learn how to be with people and what you would like in a relationship. It’s OK to make mistakes. It’s better if you can learn from them.

There is so much to learn, everything from how to talk to people, express your needs and expectations, know what’s important to you in a partner and even what other people like from you. Check out our article on reasons why people say they have left relationships and why they’ve chosen to stay. Take the questionnaire get a sense of what’s important to you.

#5: Deal with your loss. Dealing with the loss of a relationship will take time; it can be difficult. There are a number of things that you can do to make dealing with the loss, grieving your loss a little bit easier.

5.1 Say how you feel. Saying how you feel is one of the most important parts of grieving the loss. It doesn’t change what’s happened. But it does let you put all of those painful feelings that you were walking around with into words and get them out of the back of your head. Neuroscience research has shown a direct link between seeing how you feel in the part of your brain that regulates your emotions. Saying how you feel Is a direct and basic benefit. Dealing with the loss of a relationship is hard enough. Walking around with all of those feelings in the back of your head can be a very lonely experience. Saying how you feel — even just writing it all down on paper — can make you feel better. Click here to read more about the importance and the benefit of seeing how you feel.

5.2 Spend time with others. Spending time with others is also an important part of dealing with loss. Whether it’s a member of your family, a close friend, a counsellor or therapist, or even just someone you met recently, spending time with people can give you a break from your sadness, and remind you of the things that are important to you. Spending time with others doesn’t mean you need to talk about your loss if you don’t want to. There are lots of different types of friendships and they’re all important. In terms of grieving your loss, it’s the people who will remind you of what is good about you are on your side who will get you through this.

5.3 Don’t idealize your ex. Whenever we experience a loss or a significant transition in life, we have a tendency to idealize what we used to have. It’s easy to look back and pick out everything that you liked and valued about that person. If you only focus on the good things, it will be hard to move on. After all, if that person was only ever those good qualities, you would have likely never ended it. But that’s usually only half story. Ordinarily, relationships end because of difficulties, hardship, or conflicts about what people expect or need. It’s important to remember everything about that relationship the good things that you miss, that you would like to have again, as well as the things that were painful.


Tip: When grieving a loss, write down all of the good things that you miss in one column piece of paper and all of the painful things that you’d be better off without in another column. Reminding yourself of both will help.

Tip: Sometimes, people confuse the relationship they have lost with the person in that relationship. Ask yourself what you miss more. Is it being in a relationship at all, or is it being in a relationship with that person? If it’s the relationship more so than the person, then you need to find someone who’s a better match for you.

5.4 Keep moving and stay active. One of the last but most important things that you can do in overcoming a loss is to keep moving and stay active. A loss that is painful can leave you feeling, but there’s little point and doing anything at all. You may feel like avoiding everyone and doing nothing. If you avoid things for too long, that can be habit-forming. And if you remove all the things that you did that were enjoyable, that can suck the fun out of your life, which can, itself, lead to feeling depressed. Staying active is one of the most effective ways to deal with sad moods.

#6: Talk to a therapist, counsellor or psychologist. Getting over a breakup can be very hard. It can leave you feeling lonely, leave you feeling that you can’t do anything. It may even be the feeling that life is not worth living. If you’re struggling and finding it hard to live your life the way you used to, you might consider enlisting the help of a therapist, counsellor or psychologist. They talk to people who are overcoming loss, like the loss of a relationship, all the time. They know what to do and are happy to help people deal with their loss. In fact, there are even strategies and types of psychotherapy that deal just with loss. If things don’t improve in about six weeks’ time, you might think about talking to someone who can help you overcome your loss and get you back to being yourself once again.

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