On TV and in movies, relationship breakdowns tend to come with a hefty side order of tears, ice cream, and questionable haircuts. Out here in the real world, things can be a little less black-and-white. A breakup isn’t always the worst thing, and sometimes it can actually leave you feeling better – so why is that?
The most obvious explanation for why you might be relieved when a relationship comes to an end is that the relationship wasn’t making you happy to begin with.
“A breakup can be good for your health if you end a physically, verbally, or emotionally abusive relationship, a relationship in which you feel like you cannot be yourself, or a relationship that constantly makes you feel tired and unhappy,” psychologist Takeesha Roland-Jenkins told Bustle.
If there has been coercive control, violence, or other abuse in a relationship, being able to get out of that situation and into a place of safety is going to bring with it a lot of complex emotions and feelings, but relief is likely to be somewhere in that mix.
Equally, if you find out that a partner has cheated, whilst you might mourn the end of the relationship you may ultimately feel you’re better off without them.
All joking about dodgy hairdos aside, the “post-breakup glow-up” is a real thing, as the tons of TikToks on the subject prove. The end of a relationship can bring with it a lot of stress that you might not fully appreciate until it’s all over. When that weight is off your shoulders, it can leave you with a new sense of purpose and a desire to try new things.
“Being in a difficult partnership can be physically and emotionally taxing. In other words, breaking up can make you feel refreshed and it can also provide you with free time to engage in your favorite hobbies or to just relax,” said Roland-Jenkins.
If you know deep down that a relationship isn’t working out, it makes sense that you’d feel okay about ending things. But what if you’re the one being dumped? Or what if you both decide that ending things is the only way forward, even when there’s been no wrongdoing?
Far from the doom-and-gloom depictions of post-breakup breakdowns in the media, psychology tells us that people are actually better at recovering from rejection than they think. There’s no denying that the initial shock can be a gut punch that takes time to get over – it’s not all that different from physical pain. As unpleasant as it can feel, though, it’s worth remembering that all the emotions that rejection stirs up are an important part of how we relate to other humans.
There are lots of strategies that psychologists recommend to help you move through the pain, but for some people, this simply doesn’t come so easily. One paper detailed five studies investigating traits that could make someone less able to move on after a relationship ends, and the authors found a link to the psychological concept of self-definition – otherwise known as self-image.
“When rejection prompts a perceived change in one’s self-definition, its impact can be carried forward and the damage from rejection may not be fully repaired,” the authors wrote. “Thus, we find a novel process through which rejection’s impact lingers: namely, when people respond to rejection by questioning their true self in its wake.”
Therefore, if you’re someone who’s naturally less likely to question your own self-image in the face of rejection by a romantic partner, research shows you'll bounce back more quickly. The authors suggested that this could be an important consideration during therapy: “These studies offer ideas for how rejection’s lingering impact might be diminished, and how we might help people let go of the past.”
If you’ve found yourself newly single and not in the mood for a glow-up just yet, that’s okay. But equally, if you’re relieved that a relationship has ended, there’s no need to keep that a secret. There’s no right or wrong way to feel in these situations.
And if your post-relationship plans include jumping back into the dating pool, rest assured that rebound relationships don’t necessarily always deserve the bad press they get.