When we enter relationships, we have certain expectations from our relationship partners. When those expectations are violated, things get sour, and a breakup looms around the corner. A breakup can be a very complicated psychological phenomenon.
How you move on from an ex largely depends on how and why the breakup happened.
Breakups can occur for good and bad reasons. If you initiated a breakup because you weren’t getting what you wanted from the relationship, that’s a good reason.
A bad reason would be putting your partner through some kind of stupid test to see if they come crawling back to you. That is a power-hungry behavior and don’t be surprised if it backfires. People- at least the smart ones- can often tell when they’re being played.
Why breakups hurt
From an evolutionary psychological perspective, a breakup means a loss of reproductive opportunity. Since reproduction is the major goal of existence, the mind is designed to make you feel as horrible as it can when you miss a reproductive opportunity.
These bad feelings motivate you to get back together with your ex or go look for a new partner. Hence the phenomenon of rebound relationships.
How bad a breakup feels depends to quite an extent on your and your ex’s mate value i.e. how valuable a person is as a mate.
If your ex had an equal or greater mate value than yours, the breakup’s going to hurt a lot. If your own mate value is sufficiently high, you can mitigate some of the hurt because you know you can easily attract a new partner.
In any case, going through a breakup is like coming off a drug addiction because love is like a drug to the brain. It’s going to hurt. The key is to accept these mechanics of the mind and process the pain.
What you do after a breakup depends on how bad the breakup was. If the breakup was terrible and they did something unacceptable, the best strategy is to totally cut them off from your life. Especially when they have no qualms about what they did and how it affected you or, worse, abused or insulted you.
If they don’t care about your feelings now, they never will.
Follow the no contact rule. Remove everything from your life that reminds you of them. Burn the gifts and block them on all social media handles.
Feel the pain you have to feel and, with time, you’ll move on.
Sometimes breakups aren’t as straightforward as that. The relationship might have ended but a part of you still wants to hold on to them. You’re torn between wanting and not wanting them.
We get stuck in such a grey area or liminal space in a relationship when our partner only partially violates our expectations. They did something wrong and you had a valid reason to end the relationship. Or, you did something wrong and they had a valid reason.
Either way, you still think they have some good qualities so you want to keep the possibility of a relationship alive. This is where a couple can choose to stay friends.
Although many advise against staying friends with your ex, this is actually a very mature and dignified way to break up. Relationship or no relationship is ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking. Reality isn’t always that black and white.
We all have certain criteria for relationships and friendships. If they meet your criteria for a friend, but not a relationship partner, there’s no point in not being friends.
Friends with benefits
When you end a relationship, you move from security and certainty to uncertainty. Uncertainty is intolerable to the mind. Staying friends with your ex removes some uncertainty.
It gives you a safe place from where to explore the world again to find the relationship you truly want. Heck, your ex may even introduce you to your new partner.
The truth is: You can’t be sure if you can find someone as good, or better, than your ex. You may end up with someone even worse.
Therefore, staying friends with your ex is a good strategy to create a backup option. Who knows, the spark may re-ignite in the future. Of course, they have to want to stay friends too. It’s possible they might want to get back together again.
It’s a win-win situation to be in.
There might be some residual feelings left when you become friends. Don’t worry about that. Let them be there. Eventually, they’ll extinguish if you find a new partner or get re-ignited if you get back with your ex.
Mate value and market conditions
A high mate value person can easily find a new mate so they’re likely to move on from a relationship quickly.
In general, women have higher mate value than men. This is why breakups can affect the genders differently.
On average, men are more romantic and find it hard to move on from a relationship. Only high-value men, who are rare, tend to be immune to this.
Women, on the other hand, have greater walkaway power in relationships. This is because they always have other men lined up for them. It’s not as hard for them to find a new mate as it is for men. Therefore, they tend to be more practical and unromantic with breakups.
Most breakups are initiated by women because, in the human mating marketplace, women are the choosers.
Unlike men, women have a ticking biological clock they need to worry about. So they often push their partners into commitment. If they’re unable to do so, they quickly dump their partners and move on.
Of course, there are exceptions to this. If a man is high mate value, she might pursue him longer and take a long time to recover after a breakup.
We all know women like men with a great sense of humor. Having a great sense of humor makes a man high value. Now, here’s an interesting finding:
Studies show that women take longer to get over a partner with a good sense of humor.
Since mate value can change over time, a person’s walkaway power in relationships can change over time.
The key is to be mindful of one’s own mate value- what one can and cannot attract with their current mate value.
For example, younger women have higher mate value than older women. Younger women can afford to make the wrong choices in choosing partners, but older women need to be more careful.
How the mind works after a breakup
To motivate you to get back with your ex, your mind focuses on their good qualities. It’s easy, in this state, to forget that you broke up with them for a reason.
When you start a relationship, the mind focuses on the good qualities of your relationship partner. When you want to break up, it focuses on their bad qualities. And when you finally break up, it focuses again on their good qualities again.
Like a puppet, you’re moved hither and thither by your own mind.
Remind yourself that your mind often tries to fool you because it sees things only in terms of good and bad. It resists seeing the full picture because that’s not useful for quick decision-making. But you can only make critical relationship-based decisions when you can see the full picture.
Tips for moving on from an ex
Following are the tips that can help you gain closure and move on from your ex:
- First off, just because you love them doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be in a relationship. A relationship has its own requirements, and sometimes, being in love isn’t enough.
- You broke up with them for a reason. Think about that reason. Think about the things about your ex you couldn’t tolerate.
- Keep reminding yourself why you broke up with them. If it happened once, it can happen again.
- Mentally project yourself into the future, living with your ex. Think of their irritating behaviors. It’s possible you might be worse off in the future, with a partner, than you are now, without one.
- Remember the mind is keen to reproduce, your happiness is secondary. So it overvalues romantic relationships and opts for ‘a bird in hand is worth two in the bush’ approach.
- If you broke up with them, it’s likely that you haven’t found what you’re looking for. Ask yourself: “Do I want to go back to my ex and settle for what I don’t want or should I keep looking?”
- Get clear about what you want from a relationship partner. Write it down. Only choose a partner who satisfies most or all of those criteria. You’re in a much better position to get what you want when you know what you don’t want.
Hi, I’m Hanan Parvez (MBA, MA Psychology), founder and author of PsychMechanics. I’ve published one book and authored 400+ articles on this blog (started in 2014) that have garnered over 4.5 million views. PsychMechanics has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur. Feel free to contact me if you have a query.