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Dealing with relationship breakdowns


Relationships are a big part of our lives. They can offer fun, love, pleasure, excitement and support. However, they can also be complicated, creating feelings of anguish particularly if they go don’t go to plan.

University is a place where relationships can feel a strain. This is common for many reasons including you as a student going through personal change, the difficulties in dealing with long distance relationships or the intensity of living on campus together.

What can impact on relationships?

There are many reasons why relationship difficulties can arise. They may have been present for a while and get to the point where they need addressing, or they can feel like they come about suddenly.

  • Personal change – as we move through life, there are many things that change about how we view ourselves and how we view others. This can make it difficult to know who we are, who we want in our lives, how we interact with others and what values we place on particular relationships. This can lead to relationships that we once viewed as solid feeling less certain resulting in complications and potential break down of these relationship.
  • Past relationships – Relationships in the past have a big impact on how we relate in the present and the future. If we have experienced difficult relationships in the past, this can impact on our ability to trust in our relationships. This difficulty in trusting can lead to tensions in our relationships that can be hard to overcome.
  • Media – We see all too often in the media, the ‘perfect’ couples with their ‘perfect’ relationships, this can make it difficult when our experience in a relationship doesn’t live up to this.
  • Differences – as well as change we can experience in ourselves while we are in relationships there may just be differences that we did not realise at the start. Differences in interests, differences in relationship expectations, differences in what we want for our future and differences in how we deal with difference! These differences can work in a positive way in some relationships, but for others they can create many conflicts.

How to deal with the difficulties of a relationship breakdown

Whatever the reason, the breakdown of an important relationship can create feelings of anger, sadness, loss and isolation. These are hard feelings to experience, and can feel like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster, especially when you go through a range of feelings quickly. These are normal feelings when we are experiencing a loss, but can be very difficult. However there are many things that help you through this process.

  • Accept these difficult feelings and be kind to yourself

Try not to place unrealistic pressure on yourself. It is important to acknowledge these feelings and identify that you are dealing with grief. The stages of grief typically go from denial through to anger, emptiness, depression and acceptance, until you can start to move on. It’s very common to revisit the same stages or emotions more than once. This is often how the mind comes to terms with what’s happened.

So, allowing space to be kind to yourself and allowing yourself time to heal is important. Find people you can talk to – friends, family, or a counsellor; eat well; sleep enough and reduce additional pressures where you can. This is a process that you need to go through that can’t be avoided, but is natural and normal.

  • Try and maintain some distance

In the early stages of a break up there are many reasons why we may want to try and re-connect with an ex-partner – hope of reconciliation, trying to understand what has happened, wanting to express feelings of anger.

While at the time this can feel that it offers hope or a release, it can lead to further difficult feelings to deal with as we are left with the re-trauma of the contact, our expectations not being met or additional feelings from what we may have expressed.

Where possible, creating some distance can really help so that you have the space to process your feelings without the added stresses and complications that contact with your ex can create.

Through technology today there are many links that hold individuals together despite a relationship breakdown. There can be constant remainders through messages, photos and connections through social media. This can make maintaining distance even more complicated and can in fact, exacerbate the difficulties you may be feeling.

The added complications through social media particularly can make it feel harder to let go of a relationship and for some can facilitate hope of holding onto this. This can lead to obsessions about what ex partners are doing as well as trying to enforce messages around what an ex may be missing or trying to prove you are over the relationship. This can prolong the difficult feelings that you may be experiencing. To be able to move on from these feelings space from technology and social media can be really beneficial.

Once you have been able to process how you feel, you might then want to spend some time thinking about the relationship and what you can learn from it. There is a balance here between spending too much time analysing, which may leave you feeling low and spending too little that you rush into something else that may result in ending in a similar way.

  • Use the support around you

Allowing friends and loved ones around you to support you not only addresses some of the isolation that you may be feeling, but also helps you through processing how you are feeling. Talking about how you feel can also really help in identifying your patterns of behavior.

  • Continue with your life

When you experience a breakup it can feel like life has stopped. This isn’t the case and it’s important to continue with life for you – treat yourself

It can help to allow yourself some time to do something that’s purely for you. Think about what you enjoy.

You could try:

  • A long walk
  • A soak in the bath
  • Spending time on a hobby, interest or sport
  • Reading a good book
  • Immersing yourself in music, poetry or a film
  • Seeing friends
  • What’s worked in the past?

Think about what’s made you feel better in the past during difficult times. It could be sleeping more, or sharing your tough times with a good friend or family member, walking your dog, exercise. Whatever it may be try using your tactic again.

  • Think positively

Set yourself a period of time, maybe a week, and spend a moment before you go to bed each night to write down something positive about yourself. E.g. ‘I have a great sense of humour’, ‘I am a kind person’. Find something different every night.

Then, over the following week, write down one think that you did well that day. You can alternate this over a month and then look back and reflect on the positive qualities you have and the actions you’ve taken. This can offer a real break from the difficult feelings you may be experiencing and help to reconnect you back to you.

  • Think about the gains

Wherever there are losses, there are usually some gains. These gains may not be obvious when you are first experiencing a relationship breakdown, but over time you will be able to identify what these may be and move towards focusing on them. E.g. seeing more of my best friend.

There are many things that can help you move forward when you have experienced a relationship breakdown. Not all of these work for all people, but hopefully thinking about some of these options can help. Everyone is unique in how they process their feelings.

Getting support


The Wellbeing and Student Support are available for students at the University of Warwick:


The Mix is a young peoples website with information and advice about a range of topics including sex and relationships.

Your relationship matters

BISH - a website about sex and relationships

The following Ted talk by Dr. Meg-John Barker explores relationship 'rules'

Please see list of other self-help references


A CBT self-help book to help you deal with the difficulties that arise in close relationshipsMichael CroweRobinson, 2005
I'm OK, You're OKThomas HarrisArrow Books, 1995
Is it Love or is it Addiction?Brenda SchaefferHazelden, 1997
The Relate Guide to Better RelationshipsSarah LitvinoffVermilion
The Relate Guide to Sex in Loving RelationshipsSarah LitvinoffVermilion
STOP Arguing START Talking: The 10 Point Plan for Couples in ConflictSusan QuilliamVermilion
Loving yourself, Loving another: The importance of self-esteem for successful relationshipsJulia Cole and RelateVermillion


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