The end of a relationship can be extremely painful, whether it’s with a romantic partner, a friend, or a family member. Sometimes there are people in our lives that we can no longer be around because it’s not healthy for us and it’s no longer working. Yet, regardless of how necessary it might be to end a relationship, it will still take time to get over the loss.
There are a few ways to understand relationships and the feelings you get when they end. To help you navigate this topic, this blog is divided into three parts:
- “What happens inside your mind and body” talks about the biological and chemical
changes that happen inside your body
- “What attachment theory can teach you” discusses the relationship itself (by taking a look at early childhood relationship patterns known as “attachment patterns”) to understand why the relationship is - or was - so important to you
- “How do I get over this pain?” The pain that you might feel physically and emotionally from this loss, and how to get over it
What happens inside your body
Our bodies respond to relationships in unique ways. We create chemicals (like dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline, and vasopressin) that give us those “feel good” moments when we’re in a relationship, help us build a bond with others, and create patterns that we use as templates to understand relationships in our lives.
So, what happens with these bodily chemicals when a relationship ends? First off, chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline, and vasopressin decrease; so this means you probably won’t have the same “feel good” moments that you did when you were part of that relationship. Then, the body’s stress hormone, cortisol, increases as a response to what it thinks is a “stressful event”. What this means is, you probably already don’t feel as great anymore and your body is also responding to say, “Hey, I’m super stressed about this!” and this results in the confusing feelings you might be experiencing at the end of a relationship.
The good news is, we have enough research to tell us how to help our body limit production of cortisol and boost up those chemicals that help us have “feel good” moments.
What attachment theory can teach you
Attachment. You’ve probably heard this word before, maybe even used negatively, as in, “You’re being way too attached!” What does it actually mean to be “attached”?
Attachment theory is a psychological model used to help us understand how we respond in relationships; especially when we’re hurt, separated from loved ones, or think something dangerous is about to happen. This response is a process that starts in childhood through one of our strongest bonds, a mother-child bond (it’s important to note that this bond can be formed with people other than the mother. The most important role model or attachment figure in your life is your template for a strong bond). These bonds we build are what make us feel connected and safe. In adulthood, we try to re-create relationships where we hope to feel those same safe and connected bonds.
When a relationship ends, that bond is threatened. This means you lose that sense of safety and connectedness, which can make you feel scared, alone, sad, or even betrayed and angry. It’s hard to tell what emotions will come out because of this loss. Especially in the storm of these emotions, we may feel a need to go back to that relationship in order to feel safe and be comforted. That feeling of safety may be temporary. It’s important to remember why the relationship ended and take time to invest in existing relationships that feel safe, as well as learn about how you can let go of the relationship that just ended (keep reading!).
How do I get over this pain?
Losing a relationship is painful on so many levels. As discussed, our body responds with chemical changes to this loss and the loss in sense of safety and connection.
The good news is, there is something you can do about all of this. Here are some tips that you might find helpful:
One, trick your body into thinking the positive chemicals are still around by:
- Participating in exercise and new activities in order to stimulate adrenaline
- Doing activities that help you relax such as going for a walk or meditation, and making sure you stay hydrated to regulate vasopressin
- Get some rest. Sleep the recommended 7 to 8 hours, because this will help with minimizing cortisol (the stress hormone) and also balance your dopamine levels
- Cook a nutritious meal (for example, you can try these recipes) maybe even share that meal with family or friends
Two, be kind to yourself. It’s normal to doubt if you did the right thing to end a relationship. It’s all part of what is called the grieving process, where we physically, emotionally, and mentally undergo a painful loss. The good news is that these feelings don’t last forever.
Three, ask for support from those around you. This can include seeing a therapist who might be able to help you understand more about your attachment patterns and work with you to form new patterns that are healthier for you. They can also help you process the feelings of loss you are experiencing.