Talking Connections: Coping with breakups and healing from the loss


Breaking up with a romantic partner or parting ways with a friend can be a difficult process to go through and everyone has their own ways to cope with losing the connection.

Sage Smith

Editor’s note: This is part four in our weekly relationship series “Talking Connections.” Sensitive content may follow.

Breakups. They’re hard for the dumped and dumper, whether it’s with a romantic partner or parting ways with a lifelong friend, and people have different ways of coping with the loss of those connections.

Amy Popillion, teaching professor of human development and family studies, teaches the human sexuality class at Iowa State. She said she doesn’t think the same advice can be applied to all breakups, as relationships are all different.

When a relationship is ending, having honest communication about each other’s feelings, wants and needs can be helpful in the healing process.

People may be worried about hurting others by being honest and direct, but in reality it could be very helpful. It may be time for a relationship or friendship to end if it’s not working anymore.

“I’ve seen definite times where people stay in relationships because A, it’s familiar, B, they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings and C, they just want to avoid conflict,” Popillion said. “I think those are really horrible reasons to stay in a relationship.”

Friend breakups

Some individuals argue that breaking off a friendship is even worse than ending a romantic relationship. Being friends with someone is a special connection. It requires trust, loyalty and more, and losing that can take a toll on the individuals involved.

David Wahl, graduate student in sociology, said that the difficulty of ending a relationship or friendship depends on the strength of the connection.

“If your relationship with your friend or friends has a stronger level of trust that doesn’t have the same strength of your relationship, that’s going to be harder,” Wahl said. “If I were someone that believed that I could talk to my friend about anything, that they’re always going to be there for me but I can’t say the same about my romantic partner, well yeah then the breakup with the friend is going to be much much harder.”

Seth Meyers is a licensed clinical psychologist, relationship expert and author of the “Breaking up with a Friend: A Unique Type of Pain” article on Psychology Today.

Just like the ending of a romantic relationship, when a friendship is over it can be easy not to know what to do next, how to get over the loss of that person.

“Acceptance is the key to recovery from the loss,” Meyers said in the article. “Understand that friendships – just like romantic relationships – can be fleeting. You must also keep in mind that some friendships formed when you were young or in an unstable or impressionable point in your life may not fit you as you evolve and grow over time. In other words, though it is painful when a friend stops wanting you, you may have outgrown the friendship without even realizing it.”


People may struggle with a breakup for the particular reason that they’re lacking closure. Not having the closure of knowing why the breakup happened, not having clear knowledge of how both people feel or what the terms of the breakup are, etc. can make parting ways more difficult than it has to be.

“I mean how many times have you heard ‘I just never had closure with that relationship, I always wondered what went wrong,’” Wahl said. “So people – years, decades later – will still think about that person and still wonder what went wrong. That goes back to that whole communication thing, you don’t have to be cruel to someone when you break up, but let them know why you’re breaking up.”

If a couple or set of friends don’t have closure after the relationship ends, they can seek it individually, whether by writing a letter they’ll never send, ranting to a recording they’ll delete or letting enough time pass.

Lacking closure can be a big problem in this day and age with all of the technology involved, as technology can be the cause of not finding closure during a breakup.

A lot of people have heard of the term “ghosting.” Psychology Today describes ghosting as “suddenly discontinuing all contact with another person to end a relationship.”

Ghosting is essentially cutting off contact with someone. People may associate ghosting more with a dating relationship, but it can happen between friends, too. It leaves one or both people involved with a lot of unanswered questions: “What did I do wrong?” “Why would they do that to me?” “What do I do now?” and many more.

Even if ghosting happens after a short-lived relationship or friendship, it can still hurt. So even if it’s awkward or nerve-wracking, talking about the breakup may be a better way to end a relationship rather than stopping all contact.

After the breakup

Breaking up can be a time for self-reflection and to evaluate the relationship to see what can be changed or improved in the future. Maybe there weren’t clear boundaries in the relationship, which led to miscommunication or disagreement that couldn’t be overcome.

“So you look at, ‘Did you grow, did you learn something new,’” Popillion said. “Maybe you do realize, ‘Okay, wait, before I go into a new relationship I really need to self-reflect on what’s this feeling of jealousy — where is it coming from, why is it surfacing for me and going into a new relationship, how can I have better communication around that.’”

The “after a breakup” period can leave people feeling a little lost. No one seems to have the cure for how to feel better after losing someone that was a big part of life. People may want to distract themselves from how they feel.

“I think that’s somewhat human nature, we want to do things to relieve our discomfort, to relieve our sadness,” Popillion said. “But sometimes I think sitting with our sadness is okay and I think offering yourself compassion to be like ‘I just broke up with this person that I dated for two years’ of course you’re going to feel sad, of course your life is changing, and so to create space kind of for that grieving process to happen.”

Friends tend to add in their opinion during and after a breakup, which can create pressure for the person going through the breakup.

They may make decisions based off of how their friends feel rather than thinking about what they want.

It can be useful for the individual to not let friends put their two cents in, but instead think about the relationship and breakup and really think about what’s best for them.

The terms

A pretty iconic TV scene is from the show “Friends.” Season three, episode 15: “The One Where Ross and Rachel Take A Break.”

Ross and Rachel’s relationship was always a rollercoaster but in this episode Ross is paranoid about a coworker of Rachel’s named Mark. They argue about the coworker, Rachel says they need to “take a break from us” and Ross leaves.

Ross calls Rachel and hears Mark with her, Ross thinks the worst and dances with a girl at the bar. They start kissing and head back to Ross’s apartment. When Rachel finds out, she’s very clearly upset and after a long night of fighting, silence and more fighting, Rachel decides they need to break up.

The confusion could have been avoided if the couple discussed what “taking a break” meant, especially before making further decisions with other people. Discussing what happens after the breakup is also important.

Wahl said he doesn’t think a lot of people have open communication and negotiation of what the relationship is after the breakup happens. This can be why there is confusion about when to date new people or if they should date someone new, is it a final breakup or is there a possibility of getting back together, etc.

“Not everything can be negotiated,” Wahl said. “You don’t know when you’ll get back together or if you’ll get back together but you should be talking about exactly what are we to each other, are we just friends, are we okay to see other people, are we going to be jealous if we see the other person with someone, are you just going to be my wingman if we go out somewhere. But you have to talk to people.”