166: The Hell of Being Broken up With

Nov 07, 2023

If someone you love breaks up with you, it may hurt like hell. If a relationship that you hoped would continue comes to an end, you may be hurt, devastated, and possibly very pissed off.  

And that’s totally fair and totally reasonable. Sometimes the only possible response to being broken up with is to feel profoundly awful for a while.

In this week’s episode of “Your Secret is Safe with Me,” I talk about why it can feel like you’re dying when a relationship you’ve cherished comes to an end, and what to do if you feel that way. In this episode I make two things clear: your pain is totally legitimate… and there are different ways of dealing with your pain.

Sometimes we don’t WANT to feel better right after a relationship we’ve cherished has come to an end. That’s totally fair. When you’re hurting, you don’t need to rush yourself to “get over it” or “move on” or “let it go.”

But it’s also important to know that you can relate to your pain in ways that perpetuate it and make it worse. Or you can relate to your pain in ways that allow you to honor what you’ve experienced… AND start feeling better, when you’re ready to. And that’s what I teach you how to do in this episode.

Starting in early 2024, I am offering additional ways to work with me. I'm offering a program called You’re Not the Only One, including teachings on dealing with infidelity situations, video courses and assignments, and even group coaching calls with other people just like you (while also maintaining your privacy!). Stay tuned and sign up for my mailing list in the pop-up for all the details!

If you’re ready to take this topic deeper in a confidential and compassionate environment, you can schedule an introductory coaching session with me, Dr. Marie Murphy, by clicking here!

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • How hard it can be to be on the receiving end of a breakup.

  • What you may try to do when you’re feeling unhappy about being broken up with.

  • How to feel better in the aftermath of a breakup when you’re ready.

  • What you can do in the wake of being broken up with.

  • How to shift out of self-perpetuating pain and move towards productive pain.

  • 2 suggestions for being present with the dark cycles of life. 

Listen to the Full Episode:


Featured on the Show:

You are listening to Your Secret Is Safe With Me, non-judgmental talk about infidelity with Dr. Marie Murphy. If you’re looking for new perspectives on complicated relationship issues, you’ve come to the right place. 

Hi everyone, I’m Dr. Marie Murphy.  I’m a relationship coach and I help people who are engaging in anything they think counts as infidelity to deal with their feelings, clarify what they want, and make decisions about what they’re going to do.  No shame, no blame, no judgments.  If you are dealing with a challenging infidelity situation and you’re ready to find some RELIEF and a clear path forward, I can help you do that.  When you’re ready for me to help you resolve your infidelity situation in a way that’s truly right for you, you can schedule an introductory coaching session with me through my website, mariemurphyphd.com.

Starting early next year, I am going to be offering additional ways that you can have me as your coach.  In January I will be ready to welcome you to my anonymous group coaching program called “You’re Not the Only One.”  This program will include teachings I’ve distilled from working with hundreds of clients, delivered to you in the form of videos and assignments, and it will include group coaching calls, which will give you the opportunity to be coached by me and also hear other folks who are dealing with infidelity situations get coached by me.  The group coaching calls will be held in a way that protects your privacy, so we’ll be creating a secret society in which folks who are engaging in some kind of infidelity can come together and learn from each other’s experiences, while remaining anonymous.  I’m super excited about this, and I’m looking forward to welcoming you into this group.

I will also be offering a self-study package of my teachings, without the group coaching calls, for those of you who want to learn more from me than I can teach you on the podcast, but also want the simplicity of a DIY approach.  I’ll announce more details about these programs in the coming weeks, and if you want details delivered to your inbox, head on over to my website and sign up for my mailing list.

I will still be offering one-on-one coaching in the new year, but I’ll be doing so on a more limited basis, so if you’ve been thinking you’d like to get individual attention from me but you’ve been holding off on booking an introductory session, now is a great time to schedule that appointment so that we can get to work.  One of the things I hear from new clients all the time is, “I wish I’d scheduled this coaching session with you sooner.  I don’t know why I waited so long.”  Sometimes we put things off for great reasons, but sometimes we don’t.  If you’ve been wanting to work with me but you’ve been putting it off, ask yourself if you LIKE your reasons for waiting, and if you don’t, you might want to seize the day instead of waiting any longer.

Okay, on this podcast I’ve devoted several episodes to how to initiate and execute a breakup, but I haven’t given as much attention to dealing with being on the receiving end of a breakup.  Today we’re going to start to address that imbalance.  We’re going to talk about how hard it can be when someone you care very much about chooses to end their relationship with you, and we’re going to talk about how you can navigate your life in the immediate wake of being broken up with.  Before I go any further, let me acknowledge that the language I’m using today may not be a great fit for everyone’s experience.  Sometimes a relationship we’re a part of ends, and we didn’t choose for it to end, but we don’t really think of the experience as a “breakup.”  But for the sake of efficiency, today I am going to keep on using the term breakup, and I’m going to talk about “being broken up with,” when I’m referring to a situation in which your relationship has ended and you didn’t initiate that change, and you aren’t happy about that change.

First of all I want to recognize how shitty and devastating it can be to have someone gone from your life who you’ve poured a lot of yourself into.  It may feel profoundly awful in all sorts of ways.    

What I see is that a lot of time when we’re on the receiving end of a breakup and we’re feeling really awful, we do the following things:

We may try to “move on” or “get over” the breakup as quickly as possible.  We may not WANT to feel sad or angry or hurt – we may just want to get to the point where we’re over it and living in our happily ever after phase.  So we try to avoid feeling ANYTHING about the breakup.

Or we may become totally consumed by the experience of being broken up with.  We may make the breakup into a life-defining event that takes over everything else within our experience of being alive.  We may tell ourselves that the breakup was the worst thing that ever happened to us, and we may endlessly curse the person who ended the relationship.  We may not just feel the emotions associated with the break up, we may feed them.  If we’re feeling sad, we may look for reasons to keep feeling sad.  If we’re feeling angry, we may look for reasons to keep feeling angry.  If we’re feeling rejected, we may look for ways to continue feeling rejected.  In other words, we may get into pity party mode, and we may stay in pity party mode.  We may feel victimized, and we may start to take on the identity of victim.

Interestingly, we also may do a bit of both of the things I’ve just mentioned.  At times, we may be completely opposed to allowing ourselves to think or feel anything related to our breakup, but in other moments, we may be convinced that someone has done us wrong and has wounded us for life and we’ll never be able to feel okay again.  At times we may desperately want to avoid our sadness, and in other moments, it may seem like we’re doomed to feel abjectly miserable FOREVER.

I want to suggest that if what you want is to truly feel better after your breakup, these ways of relating to your experience are not going to help you very much.

However, it’s important to point out that in the immediate aftermath of a breakup, you may NOT want to truly feel better.  Your most immediate want may be to avoid feeling bad, which is not the same as truly feeling better, or it may be to resist the possibility that you ever might feel okay again.  In the immediate aftermath of a breakup, you may WANT to believe that you’re going to feel terrible forever.

All of that is totally human, and totally fair, and totally reasonable – at least for a while.  When something happens that we really don’t like, and our world is totally rocked, it is okay for us to be super discombobulated.  Sometimes all we can really do is surrender to the black hole of some really intense emotions, OR allow ourselves to resist our really intense emotions.  

But.  There may come a time when we truly WANT to feel better.  There may come a time when we want to digest the experience of our breakup, and make our way through our feelings, and decide what we want this piece of our history to mean for us, so that we can make peace and move on.  We may get to a point when we’re tired of feeling shitty, or tired of avoiding shitty.  We may get to a point where we’re sick of our pity party, if we’ve been having one, or sick of feeling like a victim.  Or, if we’ve been taking the opposite approach, there may come a time when we’d rather actually feel our feelings than avoid our feelings.

What I want to offer you now is some guidance for what you can do when you get to THAT point.  When you’re ready to start feeling better, here is what you can do.

First and foremost, it’s important to remember that sometimes, the only way out is through.  If we’re hurting because a relationship ended and we don’t like it that it ended and we don’t like the way it ended and we don’t like how we’re feeling now, we have to be willing to acknowledge all of that and BE WITH all of that if we’re going to feel better.  To be really clear, it helps a LOT to be willing to feel not-better if you want to feel better.  To that effect, I encourage you to decide to be willing to feel crappy for a little while longer.  So often I hear people say, “I just want to be done with all this pain already!” and I get it, I really do.  When we’re hurting, we usually just want to STOP hurting.  But the only way to ease our pain is to be willing to let it move through us, or let ourselves move through it.  I think Pema Chodron says, the only way to ease our pain is to experience it fully.  

Now when I tell people this, they often say, “Well I’ve BEEN hurting.  I’ve ALREADY felt a whole lot of pain.  I shouldn’t HAVE to feel any more pain.”  I’m sympathetic to this, of course, but for better or worse, the amount of pain you’ve already felt does not determine the amount of pain you have left to feel.  It just doesn’t work that way.  Furthermore, it’s important to remember that there are different ways to experience pain, and different flavors of pain.  Sometimes we feel pain, or discomfort, because we’re working so hard to fight feeling the original pain.  Sometimes we feel pain or discomfort because we’re rehashing or reinforcing narratives that cause us pain.  And on the other hand, sometimes we feel pain because we’re reckoning as directly as we can with developments in our life that we really don’t like.  Such as, for instance, being broken up with.  

That last type of pain, the pain that comes with acknowledging and digesting life experiences that we really don’t like is the kind of pain that will eventually set us free.

So how do we move towards productive pain, and move away from pain that is self-reinforcing and self-perpetuating?

We can start by fully acknowledging what specifically we don’t like about being in this post-relationship state.  

Similarly, we can fully acknowledge whatever we don’t or didn’t like about the way the breakup happened.  Sometimes we’re more mad about the manner in which we were broken up with than we are about the relationship being over.

What is different in our life right now, as a result of the breakup?  What has changed, as a result of the relationship being over?  It's so important that we allow ourselves to recognize and honor all of the ways that being broken up with can turn us upside down and inside out.  Depending on the nature of our relationship, a breakup may impact literally every area of our lives, but even it doesn’t impact EVERY corner of our life, it may have a significant impact on some very significant areas of our lives. 

And it’s important that we allow ourselves to DISLIKE what has changed, to the full extent that we dislike it.  

You CAN do this without pitying yourself, and you can do this without blaming anyone for anything.  Sometimes people don’t want to acknowledge what they don’t like about their post-relationship life because doing that would mean acknowledging that they aren’t happy with some things their ex-person chose to do.  We’ll talk more in a minute about allowing yourself to be mad at the person who broke up with you, but for now, it’s really important to point out that you CAN dislike what happened without blaming that on anyone.

It's CRUCIAL for me to mention that you can acknowledge what you don’t like about having been broken up with without doing that during every minute of your day.  Acknowledging what you don’t like about your current life, minus your relationship, does not mean you have to spend your every waking minute thinking about this.  You can deliberately give these matters your focus sometimes, and take your focus away from these matters at other times.  I don’t recommend trying to manage the amount of focus you give to your breakup if it has just happened and you’re totally distraught.  But when you’re ready to feel better, managing the amount of attention you want to give to thinking about what you don’t like about your post-breakup life is probably something you want to do on purpose. 

So give yourself some time to let yourself dislike what you dislike, and allow yourself to let those dislikes be LEGITIMATE!!!!  Allow yourself to acknowledge what you don’t like without minimizing or dismissing these things.

It may feel yucky to do this.  It may feel yucky to fully acknowledge that a change has been handed to you that you don’t like.  It can feel really gross to fully face our own dislike of circumstances that were given to us by someone we love.  And what I encourage you to consider is that the way out of this yuckiness is through it.

After you’ve thoroughly acknowledged what you don’t like about the way your breakup went or the fact that a particular relationship is over, I want you to give yourself the opportunity to comprehensively examine what you appreciated about the relationship, and your person.  Sometimes people like to think in terms of gratitude, and they like to make gratitude lists for their person who has left them, or for the relationship that has ended.  If that works for you, if the term gratitude resonates with you, then by all means, use that word and make your gratitude lists.  But for some people, myself included, gratitude has some funny connotations.  It may be more helpful to think about what you loved or appreciated or enjoyed about your relationship and your person.  Whatever wording resonates with you the most, make a really comprehensive list of what you appreciated about your person and your relationship with them.  This is a really important part of honoring your relationship.

Sometimes we don’t WANT to honor our relationship because we’re so sad that it’s over.  Sometimes we don’t want to appreciate what we enjoyed about our person because we think that if we can’t have them, we’re better off just trying to forget about them and move on.  For one thing, this simply may not WORK very well, but for another thing, being able to fully acknowledge what was great about your relationship has some very distinct benefits.  Being able to recognize what you like and appreciate and enjoy in ANY facet of your life allows you to experience more of that.  Yes, it’s true that you might not experience what you enjoyed within this relationship with this same person again, but there may come a time in the future when you’re ready to enjoy a relationship with someone else.  And knowing what you appreciate within the experience of connecting with another human will serve you well in any future relationship you engage in.  Also, being able to honor what we’ve enjoyed in life, even if the experience itself is over, tends to make for a richer experience of living.  And being able to hold joy and sadness simultaneously may make for an EVEN richer experience of living.

Finally – well, finally for today’s purposes, anyway – I want you to take the opportunity to acknowledge what you did NOT like about your person and your relationship.  Earlier I asked you to acknowledge what you might not have liked about the way they broke up with you.  Now I just want you to acknowledge what you didn’t like about your person and your relationship in general.  The point of doing this isn’t to cultivate ill will towards them.  The point isn’t to convince yourself that you’re better off without them – although you might come to that conclusion, and if you do, so be it!  Rather, the point is to cultivate a balanced perspective on the relationship that has ended, and the person who has left you.  You may miss them terribly.  And that’s fair.  And, simultaneously, you can also allow yourself to see that maybe you didn’t lose the PERFECT relationship or the PERFECT person.  Sometimes when we’re grieving we get into this mode of over-idealizing what we’ve lost, and this can mess us up a little bit.  To use the most technical language possible.  

On the other hand, sometimes we’re afraid to acknowledge what we didn’t love about the relationship that has ended or the person who broke up with us because we’re afraid that doing THAT will mess us up a little bit.  And it might – at least temporarily.  For a lot of different reasons, it can be really weird to feel both grief and anger.  When we’re missing someone terribly, it can feel totally de-stabilizing to acknowledge that the thing we’re missing wasn’t actually perfect.  It can be weird to acknowledge that the loss we’re mourning was actually a thing that wasn’t great all the time.  I want to suggest that we embrace this weirdness, instead of rejecting it.  The thing with humans is that they can be pretty wonderful, and also pretty not-wonderful.  The thing with relationships is that they can be pretty great, and also pretty not-great.  Embracing all of this at once may be a lot for us to hold simultaneously, but it allows us to be whole.

Also, it’s very important to point out that you might be extremely fucking angry at the person who broke up with you.  You might not be, of course, but if you are, it’s important to let that shit out!  Sometimes we’re afraid of feeling angry – and there are many reasons for that – but I want you to know that feeling angry isn’t fundamentally a problem.  Failing to relate to anger in a conscious way can create some problems, though, and that’s why we really want to let ourselves feel it when it’s there.  When we try to shove it aside or pretend it doesn’t exist, we may create some trouble for ourselves.

So those are the main things I recommend you do: acknowledge what you didn’t like about the way your breakup happened, and what you don’t like about life without the relationship that ended.  Allow yourself to acknowledge what you loved or appreciated or enjoyed about the relationship and your person – or what you’re grateful for.  Allow yourself to acknowledge what was NOT great about the relationship.

You may need to do these things in a fairly deliberate way, like, once.   

Sometimes allowing ourselves to fully face our experience of being broken up with, and fully digest our experience of a relationship coming to an end is VERY freeing, VERY quickly.  Sometimes we thoroughly and honestly acknowledge our experience of something one time, and then we’re kind of done with it.  Maybe saying we’re “done” with it isn’t exactly right.  It might not be that we’re completely done, but our relationship to the experience has changed in a significant way.  We’re less burdened by the experience, or less defined by it.    

But sometimes we feel awash in grief and loss and longing for a while, even if we are practicing acknowledging our feelings rather than avoiding them or indulging in them.  Sometimes the process of becoming less burdened or less defined by being broken up with takes a while.  That’s okay – AND it makes a lot of sense that this would sometimes be our experience, and I’ll tell you why.

A breakup, or the end of a relationship, can feel like a death on a lot of different levels.  It may be the death of a particular person, to you, insofar as they may cease to exist within your life – or they may cease to exist within your life in a particular way.  All of your experiences with that person, or a certain set of your experiences with that person may come to an end.  And although the conclusion of a relationship isn’t quite the same as a conclusion of a life, it may be a conclusion of a PART of your life, and it can really feel like a part of you is dying.  

And it kind of is.  The particular connection you had with this particular person is coming to an end, and you may feel like you’re dying a little as this particular experience comes to an end.  All of the hopes you might have had for a future with the person who broke up with you are probably coming to an end – and those hopes might have been pretty big and bold and beautiful.  The death of a dream is indeed a death.  But even if it really does feel like parts of you are dying, and even if it’s fair to say that parts of you ARE dying, you are not completely dead!  You are still very much alive.  To be both dying and living may seem like a pretty intense space to inhabit – and it is!  But we can experience and survive intensity.  Intense experiences, when we relate to them consciously, can forge us into a newer, truer, stronger version of ourselves.

The trouble, of course, is that we tend to want to resist death – both literal deaths and metaphorical deaths.  In the Western world, and maybe particularly in the United States, we tend to think that death is something to be avoided, or at least fought off for as long as possible, and by any means available to us.   

But death is a truly inevitable part of life.  Beginnings, fresh starts, and rebirths of all kinds are definitely part of life too, but they wouldn’t exist without endings.  We tend to like the beginnings and renewals better than we like the deaths and endings, but we can’t have one without the other.  

It’s fair enough for us to have a challenging time with being in the death phase of a cycle in our lives.  Dwelling in the murky, mucky moments of absence, dwelling in the moments of decay, dwelling in the moments when it seems like all that exists is loss is not something that many of us experience as all that fun.

And even when we think we are theoretically okay with death or with endings, in practice, we tend to want to hurry through the dying process, and get to the part where we get to experience renewal, or rebirth, or a new phase of life.

In next week’s episode, we’ll talk about starting over after a breakup.  We’ll talk about how the new cycle of your life that a breakup paves the way for can be a really beautiful thing.  But what I really want to emphasize today is that the darkness of the night is what makes the light of dawn so beautiful.  That might sound kind of cheesy, or trite, but I really want you to consider that the natural world is defined by cycles, and there are dark parts and deaths and endings within those cycles.  And as much as we may have tried to divorce ourselves from it, we ARE a part of the natural world, and we do experience cycles of nature, and cycles of natural human experience.  And being willing to be present with the dark, cold, barren parts of the cycles of life is essential to experiencing wholeness.  

Now, how do we DEAL with being in the deep, dark, mucky pits of an ending of something that we didn’t want to end?  How can we tolerate that experience when we’re in it?  I have two suggestions.

First, look for the experience of ALIVENESS.  Look for the feeling of aliveness.  Or, to say this a little differently, allow the feelings you are feeling to be indications of your aliveness.  Pain may hurt, but it ain’t numbness.  Numbness may be numbness, but it ain’t NOTHINGNESS.  All of your emotions can be interpreted as indications that you are alive and having a human experience.  And that might be something worth celebrating and being present for, even when it hurts.

The second thing I encourage you to become aware of is that you may have been in the habit of primarily orienting yourself to your person.  You may have made your connection with your person your primary focus in life.  You may be so used to sharing certain parts of yourself with a particular someone that if you do not have the opportunity to share those parts of yourself with someone, it may seem like those parts of you no longer exist.  Or, similarly, you may be used to ONLY sharing ANY meaningful parts of yourself with a particular someone that you may be long out of the habit of connecting in meaningful ways with anyone other than the person you’re no longer involved with.  Thus, it may seem like you don’t really have anything great to experience in life without your person or it may even seem like you don’t exist without that person to relate to, or connect with.

You still exist.  I promise.

AND it may take a moment to reorient yourself to yourself, and to your life.  It may take you a moment to find yourself – maybe again, or maybe for the first time ever.  It may take you a moment to figure out how to be you without a particular person in your life, or without orienting yourself to a particular relationship.  It may take you a moment to figure out how to find meaning and joy in life that isn’t associated with your person and your relationship.

I want to acknowledge that this is a Thing.  Feeling like you don’t really exist without your person to relate to is totally a Thing, and if that’s where you are, you can acknowledge that experience, AND you can hold it lightly.  Feeling like you don’t exist without your person does not mean that you truly do NOT exist without your person.  You can acknowledge your feelings of loss and disconnection, and you can notice that these feelings are indications of your YOU-ness.  And in noticing that, you take a step towards relating to yourself a little more consciously, rather than relying on your person as your sole source of relationship.

Okay.  If you’re hurting, I offer you my support from afar.  And of course, if you want my DIRECT support in dealing with the end of a relationship, let’s work together.  Let’s take a look at the specifics of YOUR breakup and find you some relief, and, when you’re ready, a path towards the next part of your journey through life.  When you’re ready to talk to me, you can schedule an introductory coaching session with me through my website, mariemurphyphd.com.  I offer confidential, compassionate coaching via Zoom, which means we can work together no matter where you’re located.  I can’t wait to meet you.

All right everyone, thank you all so much for listening.  If you enjoy this podcast, I would greatly appreciate it if you would head on over to iTunes and give the show a five-star rating and a review.  You can do this anonymously, and your ratings and reviews help other people who would benefit from hearing what I have to say find this podcast.  Have a great week!  Bye for now.


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