If you are a young adult, chances are you have been on the giving or receiving end of a breakup. Whether you are the one walking away, or the one standing in shock, ending a relationship is never fun. As a teenager and young adult, I hated feeling that familiar pang inside my gut. The one that said, “You know you have to end this.” There was another uncomfortable feeling I dreaded as well – the I know this relationship is going downhill, and he is going to break up with me feeling.
Breakups are painful for both the break-er and the break-ee; but, being on the receiving end of a breakup is harder. Not only are you hurting because you miss the person, but you are hurting because you feel rejected and confused. What is wrong with me? What is it about me that she does not want anymore? What could I have done differently to keep him interested?
As one who has walked on both sides of the breakup fence, I can tell you that your breakup may not be your fault at all. Though no one is perfect, and relationship problems are never completely one-sided, your ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend’s decision to move on might not have anything to do with a failure on your part.
Before you beat yourself up and spend night after sleepless night wondering what you did wrong, consider the following reasons as to why your relationship might have ended:
- You are competing with a world of unrealistic expectations. I have said it before, and I will say it again: Hallmark is my archenemy (as is anything that paints an unattainable expectation of love). By the time a girl turns thirteen, her head is full of lovey-dovey Oh, the times I waited in angst for the guy and girl to finally kiss. How I celebrated with Cinderella after her true love (and in one day) found her and married her. How satisfied I felt when the man realized he was wrong and begged the woman to forgive him. The person you are dating (or were dating) is also battling thousands of incorrect messages. Love looks this way. Men in love act that way. Women in love always behave this way. If you love someone, you prove it by acting this way. Your significant other may have unrealistic expectations of what a relationship is supposed to bring to his or her life. No one can compete with fairytales and romantic comedies.
- Not all matches are good matches. My fifteenth year was a rough one. It is the year I refer to as my growing-up-too-fast Maybe you had a year like that too. When I was fourteen, I was still pretty naïve. Not only that, but I thought God would rescue me unscathed from all of my self-inflicted problems. I was half right. God was faithful to save me from one predicament after another, but disobedience still has a price. Just before my fifteenth birthday, I met someone who captured my attention; but, after praying about whether or not I should date him, my insides felt like they were going to explode. I did not hear a still, small voice, folks. What I heard that night was a loud, emphatic voice yelling, “No!” So, I blatantly ignored the Holy Spirit and decided to date this guy anyway. The next seven months of my life were terrible. My heart was in constant turmoil and my stomach was in constant knots. Is he going to break up with me again? What if he meets someone else? What will I do if I lose him? Between the mind games he played and conviction over my disobedience, I felt crazy. Soon enough, he did break up with me – this time for good. After being ripped apart and taped together repeatedly, I simply hung up the phone without shedding a tear. A few months later, I began seeing another young man. He was kind, complimentary, and tried so hard to do everything right. It was clear his family had trained him to be a gentleman and it was a pleasure to be treated like a lady after being emotionally trampled in my previous relationship. We dated for about five months; but, despite some good times, he decided it was best for us to stop seeing each other. At the time, I was embarrassed. My pride was wounded. Who was this guy to break up with me? Was I not good enough for him? For a while, I felt animosity towards him. He was the nice guy. Why did he break up with me? But, after some time and soul searching, it became clear that the breakup had nothing to do with him being bad for me or me being bad for him. We simply were not a good match. He did not need to feel ashamed – and neither did I. Sometimes, good-hearted, respectable people have different goals and are heading in different directions. He is married with a child, and as far as I know, doing quite well. Knowing what I know now, he would have been miserable married to me – and I likely would have been miserable as well.
- Sometimes the amazing person you are dating is hiding deep insecurities. The hardest breakups are the ones that come out of the clear blue when everything seems to be going well. One minute we were having fun, dreaming about the future, laughing, and on top of the world; and, then the next minute she was telling me goodbye. One of the main reasons we recommend couples not jump the marriage gun is because anybody can wear a mask for a few (or even, several) months. If you are dating the “perfect” person and then he or she suddenly breaks off the relationship without citing a reason, or citing insincere reasons, something is not right – with him or her. Do not give in to the lie that something must be wrong with you because an amazing person dumped you. That amazing person may have significant emotional issues and fears. It is easier said than done, but if your ex will not give you a reason for the breakup, or comes up with a ridiculous excuse (e.g., you would not cut your hair, you talked to another girl in line at the movies, etc.), allow yourself to be free. You are not the problem and you cannot be responsible for his or her insecurities or emotional issues.
- You cannot force commitment on someone else. Love and marriage look easy from the outside, but once a lifetime commitment is imminent, the reality can scare a person out of his or her skin. If the one you are dating is not ready for the responsibility of marriage and parenthood, trying to force a commitment is not the answer. Let’s say you give an ultimatum: “either we get married or we break up.” Even if he or she says, “Okay, let’s get married,” that does not mean he or she will remain faithful to the commitment – after all, he or she wasn’t ready to make it. No matter how long you have been together or how much energy you have poured into the relationship, it is never a good idea to marry someone who is not thrilled to be marrying you. It is normal to be nervous, but there should also be joy. If your significant other marries you because you forced him or her to make a choice, you will feel gypped and be insecure about the marriage for the rest of your time together. If your sweetheart does not seem interested in moving forward or does not want to bear the weight of commitment, you are not to blame for that.
- Timing is important and we occasionally miss it. During freshman year of college, many high school sweethearts go their separate ways. Despite promises to always be together, college life often proves to be too much for couples – and it is really no one’s fault. It is difficult to maintain a relationship when you are growing and expanding at such a rapid rate. Some couples are good matches, but their timing is not ideal. Though some high school sweethearts go on to be married sweethearts, many couples go to separate colleges, meet new people, and adopt new priorities. Under different circumstances, these relationships might have been great. Relationships which end under such circumstances are not necessarily the result of a poor match or any wrong-doing. People just grow and drift apart sometimes.
- No relationship is an island. Other people influence your significant other. When I was eighteen, my heart broke; only, this time it was not due to a romantic relationship but a friendship. My good friend came home from college and I was looking forward to a carefree summer with her. At first, everything was normal, but then she started acting strangely and drifting away. As it turns out, she was spending time with a new friend and found that she had little time for me. While hanging out with this new person, her actions changed and she seemed less interested in following Christ. By the end of the summer, we were barely speaking and my heart ached. It did not make sense. I had been a loyal friend to her. Why would she cast me aside? Looking back, I know that her actions had everything to do with her and little or nothing to do with me. The excitement of a new group of friends seduced her. She gave into temptations that came as a result of the company she was keeping. As much as I wanted to hold onto her, I could not lock her away from other influences. She made choices and we were both affected by them. Your significant other also has the power to make choices and friends will influence him or her. You cannot control what he or she hears and internalizes. If what others have to say consistently affects your boyfriend or girlfriend more than what you have to say, breaking up is probably for the best. Do you want to live with someone who allows friends and family to make his or her decisions?
- Some breakups are god’s grace in disguise. One of my greatest heartaches came when I was quite young. The night my relationship with this person ended, I wailed, I screamed, and I felt like dying. And, the kicker was he did not even break up with me. His mom broke up with me – completely out of the blue. He and I were talking on the phone as we always did, only to have our conversation interrupted by his mother: “Who are you talking to? Get off the phone with that girl. Get off the phone with that girl!!!” I was in utter disbelief. That girl? Was I a criminal? What on Earth had I done wrong? For whatever reason, she decided our relationship was over; and, if he did not comply, she was fully prepared to kick him out of the house. Never in my life had I been treated like filth. It affected me deeply and I could not make sense of it. In the process of destroying our relationship, she turned him against me and convinced him I was a terrible person. It was a tough time in my life, to say the least. No one had ever hurt me that way and I wanted revenge. My hatred crawled over me like a thousand spiders. But, you know what? God set me free from it all. After a season of devastation, He healed me from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8a, ESV). One Sunday night, six months later, the weight of my pain and anger completely rolled away, and I was lighter than air. God is faithful! He turns our mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11). Looking back, I see how God’s grace was at work in the entire situation. He removed me from a relationship that would have caused me greater heartache down the road. He showed me how deeply my mother loved me. She took the next day off from work and spent it with me – a memory that still warms my heart. God gave me the chance to experience His deep and complete healing. He became so real to me during that season. The seemingly relentless pain you are feeling now may be God’s grace in disguise. He does not always work through flower and butterflies. Sometimes He works through floods and fires.
Oh, how I wish I could go back in time and fill my younger self with some truth bombs. Some of my life lessons might include:
“His mom did not hate you because you did something wrong. She hated you because she was emotionally unstable and afraid you were going to hurt her son. She will interfere in all of his upcoming relationships.”
“He did not break up with you because you are not good enough. He broke up with you because you are both immature and he was not ready to be committed. You both would have been miserable.”
“Just because the Holy Spirit is nudging you to break off this relationship does not mean the man you are dating is unworthy of you. God has a work for both of you to do with your lives, and maybe your gifts and talents do not align with each other. Do not assume you are better than him in God’s eyes.”
The majority of people I know have experienced breakups. It is a natural part of life in our society, though it feels like the end of the world when it happens. Some breakups come as a result of improper behavior, but many come about for reasons that do not reflect the marry-ability or value of the other person. If your former sweetheart offers an explanation for the breakup, use that information to your advantage. If she claims you would not open up to her, and she felt isolated, tuck that information away and seek to improve in that area. If he says your negative attitude brought him down and he needs to be in a more positive relationship, do not despise him for his feedback (though easier said than done). Instead, take note of your attitude, talk to friends, pray, and take steps to improve. The painful conversations you are experiencing now might be paving the way for an excellent relationship with someone else down the road.
If your heart is aching today, I want to encourage you to keep your chin up. The pain will lessen over time, and for those who trust in Christ as their Savior, no tear, pain, or broken experience gets wasted.
“When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.” (Psalm 34:17-19, ESV, emphasis mine)
Have you ever beaten yourself up after a breakup only to discover later that it was not your fault?