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COPING with a BREAK-UP: a report on strategies
by Janet Jacobsen
June 2004

Last issue we reported on a study that looked at people’s strategies for break-ups. We covered an array of possible methods for leaving your lover. This issue we’ll report on what the study had to say about coping with being the leavee.

Researchers asked 61 college students what methods they used to cope with the end of a romantic relationship. In particular they looked at whether “leavers” had different strategies than “lefts.”
Turns out the leavers are somewhat more likely to rely on what the researchers called “self-enhancement” strategies aimed at self-understanding and self-improvement - things like spending more time with friends and family, putting the word out that they are available for dating, or becoming introspective (spending time alone; reflecting on the relationship).

Lefts also relied most on self-enhancement, though they used somewhat different strategies within the category, including more time with friends and family, but also keeping busy with work or hobbies; changing their perspective on the relationship (such as “concluding it was for the best”); and changing their outward appearance, such as getting a new haircut, or “making sure that I look good.”

Unlike leavers, however, about 11% of lefts also used “cost-escalation” strategies, such as bad-mouthing the former partner to other people, and being intentionally mean (“I flirt with them just so I can refuse them when they express that they want me back”).
Some break-up and coping strategies actually overlap. Avoiding the person is part of breaking up, but it’s also a way of coping. Spending more time with family and friends is part of ending the relationship, as well as dealing with the ending of the relationship.
The article concludes that it’s helpful to develop personal “rituals” to use in dealing with break-ups. Perhaps your preferred pattern would be

-setting aside some time for introspection,
-adjusting your perspective on the relationship,
-becoming more self-focused (such as making more time for a hobby, or trying a different hairstyle),
-and getting more in touch with your social networks. Having a pattern of activities that you use for coping can make each process less traumatic.

A necessary part of dating is breaking up. Not all relationships work out. For some we have high expectations, others we’re surprised that they last as long as they do. This research suggests that having a “ritual” of activities that you use as part of the coping process - whether you are the leaver or left - will help ease the transition.