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These are the Signs of a Romantic Breakup: Learn them to Avoid Being Caught Off-guard

Is your romantic relationship on life support? Do you wonder if your partner is considering breaking up with you?

If so, you can learn signals that partners who are intending to break up give before pulling the plug.

Breakup does not happen suddenly and is usually a gradual process. Partners thinking about breaking up give off signals for attentive eyes. Firstly, partners consider a breakup start off by reflecting on the pros and cons of their relationship. They consider investments they have made in the relationship such as time spent together, physical intimacy, and other good and bad experiences. They also weigh in the concrete resources that they enjoyed due to their partnership such as social standing, finances, reputation, common friendships, and children. This phase is generally followed by a frank communication with the other partner. At this stage, the couple may come to an agreement about their future with or without each other. However, relating the relationship concerns to the partner does not necessarily mean that the couple will breakup.

Partners Intending to Breakup Leave Clues 

When partners decide to part ways, their breakup affects more than just the couple. Therefore, much before the breakup, partners intending to breakup start building a narrative to share with their friends and family. Such partners implicitly and/or explicitly leave clues about their relationship dissatisfaction and impending breakup. The partners whose significant other wants to breakup are often aware about the unresolved issues in their relationship. However, most of them under perceive the threat that their relationship is facing.

Research suggests that signs of a drop in analytic thinking appear about three months before the breakup. At this stage, partners start talking about their relationship in a more personal and informal manner. Due to the disrupted thinking pattern, partners in an unhealthy relationship may subliminally leave clues in plain sight for attentive eyes. 

In one study, each partner from 235 couples was separately asked to report how much they wanted to break up with their partner, and whether they thought their partner wants to break up with them. Interestingly, partners reported weaker breakup intentions while simultaneously their significant other reported stronger breakup intentions. So partners have some knowledge about the direction their relationship is heading, even though it is under perceived. But, what about other people in their social circle? Could they be blindsided? 

Beware of the Signs of an Impending Breakup

In an offline environment, impending breakup is apparent when partners travel separately to a friend’s party, go alone on a vacation, take big decisions without consulting one another, and argue in public. In an online environment, social media posts and behaviors can give an insight into the health of a couple’s relationship. While some partners are good at hiding their relationship woes, others openly flaunt their dissatisfaction in public, and still others subliminally leave clues about their impending breakup. Therefore, each partner’s personality traits, attachment styles, and coping skills are in full display before and after the breakup.

It is impossible not to feel some level of emotional chaos when untangling from a former mate. The disrupted thinking appears during the pre-breakup stage when emotions take the driver’s seat. 

A recent study analyzed two year of Reddit posts written by over 6800 Reddit users before and after their breakup. The posts showed a subtle shift in linguistic styles, which was observable even in other subreddit forums unrelated to relationships. The language also appeared to show signs of an increased mental burden. Specifically, partners started using more I-words, than we-words, signaling greater personal and self-focus. Greater I-words use is also linked withdepression, suicidal ideation, psychological distress, negative emotionality, and other emotional upheavals. In contrast, partners who use more we-words signal relationship focus, commitment to continue in the relationship, and problem-solving behaviors. 

How Long Should Ex-Partners Hold on to their Breakup Stories?

After the breakup, partners must move on and find solace in other relationships or activities. Brooding over breakup experiences and pre-occupation with the former partner hinders emotional recovery. Researchers have found that partners who continue to post about their breakup for a longer period are less well-adjusted a year after the breakup than users who post for a shorter time. Moreover, partners who used we-words when they shared breakup details were also less adjusted after the breakup. 

Post breakup is not the right time to ruminate about why the relationship ended and whether the breakup could have been avoided. Partners must acknowledge that their preoccupation with their ex is hindering their recovery. It is best to seek professional help if the breakup phase continues beyond six months.

For Further Reading

Seraj, S., Blackburn, K. G., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2021). Language left behind on social media exposes the emotional and cognitive costs of a romantic breakup. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences118(7), e2017154118. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2017154118

Tan, K., Machia, L. V., & Agnew, C. R. (2023). When one’s partner wants out: Awareness, attachment anxiety and accuracy. European Journal of Social Psychology, 00, 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.2969

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