Breaking up and Moving On: A Psychologist’s Perspective

By Varkha Chulani

It is said that the second most common stressor after death is separation and/or divorce. But it needn’t be so if we can view our breakups with a different lens – stoically, sensibly, realistically and even philosophically. Because our attitudes towards the termination of our relationship will go a long way in deciding how we react to and deal with it. Breakups do not have to necessitate breakdowns. Because we can choose the meanings we can attribute to separation.

First, lets get our facts about love and staying in love, straight -– and you’ll see that the unpleasantness of falling out of love can be borne with less misery. Love like any other emotion is subject to birth, growth and also death. But if you are that die-hard romantic who believes that ‘true love never dies’ and “since ours did, it was never true to begin with” you’ll find yourself terribly bitter and resentful. Maybe even vowing to yourself “I’ll never fall in love ever again!”

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Part of the reason we over react to separation is because we have somehow elevated the concept of love and are ‘in love’ with it. We sacred-ize it, put it on a pedestal, and worship it. And lo, then what happens? When ‘love’ dies or begins to deteriorate we aren’t able to take it as that and instead attribute all kinds of unverifiable meanings to its ‘demise’.

By de-romanticizing love (ironical?) and seeing it for what it is –- ordinary, needs to be worked on to be sustained, is subject to peaks and troughs -– our reactions can be in the reasonable range when ‘death doesn’t do us apart”. Of course it is unfortunate and sad when couples no more ‘couple’ and it is regrettable and disappointing that relationships that promised much, slip into dysfunctional mode. But then again people grow apart, and aren’t lovers people? Things change, and to quote a cliché ‘nothing is constant but change’. So why not the emotion of adoration?


If you take the breakup personally – believing “I am to blame” or “He/she is to blame” be assured that you’ll either end up feeling depressed and/or hostile and the problem will not be addressed.

Adopt a problem-solving approach and evaluate the cause/s for separation. You’d be wise in doing so. The breakup doesn’t mean anything about you or your partner. All it means is that there was an inequality in the requirements both of you had. And strangely, we can even make good things happen out of very bad things.

Furthermore, the good that may come up from a separation can just surprise you. Eg. what not to do in the next relationship. How to be more selective in the choice of your next partner. Understanding and accepting that love is nothing but mutual give and take and when the balances begins to tilt in either’s favour the relationship faces chance of a breakdown. With the super romanticism shorn of romance – love can be a many splendored thing and divorce not such a devastation!

  • Be real about love. It is subject to birth, growth and death.
  • Do not personalize breakups. It reveals nothing about you. It is the result of a breakdown of requirements each of you may have had.
  • Adopt a problem-solving approach to the separation. And make good things happen even out of this very bad experience.


About the Author: 

Varkha Chulani is a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist at Lilavati Hospital in Mumbai. She is an associate fellow and supervisor at The Albert Ellis Institute, New York City. She writes a regular column for The Health Collective — you can find her piece on the need to build pockets of stillness into our lives here.

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