Handling a Break-Up with Dignity
“Once you divorce women, and they have reached the end of their waiting period, then either retain them in all decency or part from them decently. Do not retain them just to act mean with them; anyone who does that merely hurts himself” (Quran 2:231).
The “Highs” & Lows of Love
“Love is of all passions the strongest, for it attacks simultaneously the head, the heart and the senses.” – Lao Tzu
Falling in love can make you feel as if you are high on cloud nine. You see the world in a totally different way which in turn impacts how you act and appear physically. A relationship break-up can be equally emotional regardless of the time spent with the loved one. Just as falling in love can stimulate the same region of the brain that is connected to cocaine and nicotine addiction, so can the break-up. A break-up can be similar to going through withdrawal from cocaine and nicotine just as falling in love can be similar to getting high on cocaine and nicotine. The reason a break-up can be so painful for us not only mentally but physically is because our brains are wired for bonding. This bond is essential for our survival and we are wired from early on to make these connections. The reason you feel as if a part of your body is being ripped off after a break-up is because you begin to think of your partner as being a part of you. The withdrawal of that connection triggers the same part of your brain that makes addicts crave drugs. When you find yourself constantly checking his/her Facebook page, or reminiscing over old letters or pictures, you are seeking to trigger the reward center of your brain. You might also feel physically drained from the loss. This lethargy is meant to allow you time to heal and regroup your mind and body. Fortunately, time reduces the activity in the part of your brain which registers attachment, allowing you to eventually move on.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle”. — Plato
Unfortunately, with the popularity of texting, social networking, and e-mail, many people become very careless in how they end relationships (whether short term engagements or long term marriage). Keeping in mind the deep physical and mental pain associated with break-ups, it’s important to learn how to break relationships without destroying the potential to move on in a healthy way, not just for you but also for your partner. The ideal break-up allows for acceptance and minimizes the long term mental damage. It’s important to make an effort to end the relationship in a way that is honorable but allows you to respect yourself and the one that at one time met your deepest needs. Handling a break-up honorably also avoids the potential for stalker behavior. Oftentimes, when break-ups are handled badly, the pain associated with the break-up can be so intense that some may become overly obsessed with their ex-partner by doing anything to make the pain go away (stalking on Facebook, obsessively calling the ex-partner, harassing the ex-partner physically or mentally, etc.). When looking at love as an addiction and break-ups as withdrawal, it makes sense that individuals who resort to stalking have the addictive and withdrawal center of their brain activated.
Attachment and Break-ups
Knowing your attachment style can help you understand how you will deal with break-ups. If you had secure attachments as a baby, meaning your caregivers were responsive and instilled in you a sense of trust that they would always be around when you needed them, you will be more likely to handle break-ups (whether breaking up or being broken up with) with integrity and be careful not to be hurtful and cause undue damage to your partner. Even if you’re the one being dumped, you understand the pain associated with the loss but aren’t overly dramatic about it. You acknowledge the pain but are able to heal and move on. Those with insecure or anxious attachments as infants (those with parents who were inconsistent with their attention during the 1st years of life) will do what they can to keep the relationship going at all cost rather than suffer the pain of a break-up. These individuals usually hang on and become clingier. They are also less likely to initiate a break-up and more likely to be unable to let go once dumped. The insecurely attached individuals are often the ones that end up stalking their partner or keep going back into the dysfunctional relationship just to avoid the pain of loss.
Self-Esteem and Break-Ups
How we move on from a broken relationship also depends on our overall self-esteem. Those with high self-esteem are less likely to take on all the blame after the split and continue to view themselves in a positive light despite the break-up and move on. Individuals with low self-esteem have the most difficult time with the break-up and tend to fully blame themselves for the unraveling of the relationship. This over-reaction might lead to unhealthy coping strategies, resulting in withdrawal from social interaction or remaining emotionally closed off from potential new partners.
How to Break-Up With Dignity
“O My slaves, I have forbidden injustice for Myself and forbade it also for you. So avoid being unjust to one another.” (Hadith)
Seeing how painful a relationship break-up can be for the person being dumped as well as the person dumping, it’s important to handle it the right way so all parties involved can move on in their lives in a healthy way. Although we can’t control how our partners will react to the break-up biologically, physiologically, psychologically, or physically, we can control how we break up so that all involved can minimize the emotional impact as much as possible.
- If you are the one initiating the break-up, it’s important to take responsibility and be honest. Some may push their partner to break up with them because they are unable to take the steps. If you are no longer interested in being in the relationship or feel it’s best to end the relationship, it’s important to state your feelings to your partner in an honest and caring manner.
- It’s crucial you are honest but you don’t have to be hurtful. It’s important to keep in mind the self-esteem of your partner and not be so hurtful that it makes it impossible for them to have a healthy relationship in the future. You can state they are not who you are looking for, or you are not a good match but you don’t have to point out minute negative traits. Sometimes it really is just about a bad match rather than something being wrong with either of you. In the wrong relationship we can bring out the worst in each other without necessarily being bad individuals.
- Face to face break-up is a must. You might think it’s less painful to deliver the hard news to your partner via e-mail, text, or Facebook but this method can cause more damage to the long term psychological well-being of your partner than if you have a face to face exchange. The non-verbal communication associated with face to face interaction can be reassuring to both parties and lead to closure. Anything less than face to face interaction can leave the person being dumped to be stuck in emotional limbo due to the absence of direct social contact. Without this closure, the person being dumped is left wondering what went wrong, leading to endless rumination and depression. Many go on to be distrustful of others in the future, making it difficult for them to move on in a healthy way or have close relationships in the future.
- Be dignified during the break-up. Make sure to keep the insults and hurtful comments out of the break-up. By ensuring the continued self respect of your partner, you ensure your own self respect.
- You should avoid softening the blow too much by falsely owning the blame without giving a clear explanation, even if it’s brief. Saying “it’s not you, it’s me” is not helpful with the moving on process.
- Avoid looking at all the specific details of where the relationship fell apart. Neither one of you will ever agree to the details or you might get sucked back into the dysfunctional relationship you were trying to get out of.
- It’s o.k. and even encouraged to talk about the positive aspects of the relationship and your own disappointment of things not working out between the two of you. This not only ends the relationship in a positive way but also reassures your partner they are and were valued.
- Once you accept the rejection, it’s important to not go into the “all is lost” mentality. You might begin to think you’ve lost your one true soul mate that you were meant to spend the rest of your life with but it’s important to realize there isn’t just one person that is “perfect” for you. Love makes us think there’s only that one person for us due to our feelings but the reality is there are many people who we can potentially be compatible with. The Prophet (peace be upon him) reminds us “…And He has an appointed time for everything” (Hadith). As the hadith states, everything ultimately must end but with it comes new beginnings and opportunities. It’s natural to resist saying good-bye to things you care about but by holding on to a doomed situation, you make it worse by refusing to let go. By forcing the relationship to continue, it will inevitably turn hateful causing even more pain than letting go. Keep in mind that even during difficult times, there are things you can find yourself being grateful for. “When Allah tests you, it is never to destroy you. Whenever He removes something from your possession, it is only to empty your hands for an even better gift.” Ibnul Qayyim
- It’s very important to make the break clean and move on. Don’t suggest you be friends or keep in touch. Suggesting this might make you feel less guilty but it will stand in the way of your partner from fully moving on. If you are the one being dumped, don’t beg and plead for the relationship to continue. The best way to speed up the healing process is to accept the relationship has ended and begin to move on. Those who can make a clean break have a better chance of fully recovering from the withdrawal like symptoms than the ones who make attempts to win back their partner. Even one e-mail or phone call can trigger the craving and addiction symptoms. It’s best to stay away from all contact with the partner. Do not try to remain friends, destroy those e-mails and pictures, and get rid of sentimental mementos.
- Do not avoid the pain you are experiencing. The end of a relationship can be extremely painful as mentioned above but it’s crucial that you take the time and grieve the loss. The sooner you face the pain, the sooner you put yourself on the road to healing. Avoiding the pain can only prolong your suffering. It’s important to seek professional help as needed and surround yourself with caring and supportive friends and family to help you through this tough time. Isolating yourself is not healthy and may delay your recovery process.
**Keep in mind that if you suspect your partner might react violently to the break-up, surround yourself with others and keep safety a top priority.
Adapted from “Breakup: the thoroughly modern guide” by Elizabeth Svoboda for Psychology Today.
Dr. Nafisa Sekandari is the director and founder of Mental Health 4 Muslims.com. Dr. Sekandari is currently licensed and practicing in California and Arizona. Dr. Sekandari is also the current founder and director of MH4M Counseling and Education Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Additionally, Dr. Sekandari is a published author and lecturer.