Coping with emotions after a breakup or divorce

Coping with emotions after a breakup or divorce

A breakup or a divorce can feel like a devastating experience. One study found that breakups can generate emotional states that closely resemble clinical depression.¹ Here are some ways to help you deal with overwhelming emotions you might experience after the end of a dignificant relationship

What happens when a significant relationship ends?

According to research, most people experience sadness, loneliness, grief, and a lot of distress after the end of a major relationship. ²

There is a common misconception that grief is experienced only in response to a death; however in effect, the loss that comes from a breakup or divorce can feel very similar.

Often people will first experience shock. You lose the dreams you shared, the routines you might have created, and possibly even the place you lived together. Both people are still alive, but almost everything you shared might be lost.

The shock is especially harder on the person who received the news delivered by the initiator of the breakup, who comparatively have more time to process and come to terms with the news. Studies show that the rate of depression after a divorce is 28% for people age 40 and above. ³⁻ ⁴

What are the common emotions we experience after a significant relationship ends?

  • Anger. Shock, alongside confusion, can also lead to anger. You may feel that the breakup is unjustified and that your relationship could have worked with a little more understanding. Now, without anything you can do, you may be left frustrated and questioning your choices.
  • Guilt. Guilt is common especially for those who are initiators of a breakup. But for all couples, it is common to be left wondering whether you could have done things differently to save the relationship. While this can be helpful from the perspective of learning from past mistakes, guilt can also leave you feeling trapped and unable to move forward  
  • Relief. There may also be relief, when a relationship that was less than ideal ends.  
  • Low mood or sadness. Some sort of sadness following the end of a menaingful relationship is normal. It can even be a helpful response for an individual, allowing them to recalibrate their values and to know what to look for in a future relationship.⁵

Practical tips to manage the impact of a breakup

  • Give yourself time to grieve. It may be tempting to look for strategies to speed up the process of ’getting over it’. However, the healing process can be a slow one and it is important to give yourself the time and space to grieve. Therapists sometimes work with clients to understand the various stages of grief, as understanding this can help them track the progress they make in recovering. You need to take your time and grieve for as much as your context permits you to. You can't rush trying to make peace with what happened. It might be a slow process of healing.
  • Keep doing what you love. The end of a breakup can also be a time to reconnect with yourself. Take the opportunity to take care of your own needs through your health and doing things you find joyful When you start to feel better, it might be time to focus on any positive aspects you can find in your situation. For example, if you are young, you still have a long life ahead of you where you can try to rebuild a relationship again. It might seem almost impossible to think that such a thing could happen, but there is a chance that it is true.
  • Keep a strong support system: Another essential thing is it is essential to have people around you that can support you. Isolating yourself in that situation might be what you want, but it is not what you needtempting but can leave with less energy and more time to ruminate. Your family and friends can be there for you and to show remind you that there still is a life waiting for you outside of your relationship.

While healing after a breakup is difficult to rush, having good self-care practices will help you better navigate the worst parts.

  • Be emotionally prepared. A divorce will make you go through a cascade of intense emotions. That’s completely normal.  
  • Don't get stuck in a loop of self-blame. When going through a divorce or a breakup, it is easy to blame yourself. You could've done this or that, and the breakup will never have happened. While you can learn from your mistakes, but you cannot change the past.
  • Prioritize your health. Exercise and a healthy diet will help regulate your mood and improve your general state of wellbeing.⁶
  • Set smaller goals. Thinking about what you should do next may feel overwhelming. Instead, set small goals and make gradual steps towards something you desire. This will help you build your confidence again.

How we can help

People come to Humentic for help navigating separation and divorce. We help all kinds of

people find support in a difficult and isolating time through expert therapist-led groups where they can also connect with others who relate to what you experience.


  1. Verhallen AM, Renken RJ, Marsman JC, Ter Horst GJ. Romantic relationship breakup: An experimental model to study effects of stress on depression (-like) symptoms  .PLoS ONE. 2019;14(5):e0217320. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0217320
  2. Verhallen AM, Renken RJ, Marsman JC, Ter Horst GJ. Romantic relationship breakup: An experimental model to study effects of stress on depression (-like) symptoms . PLoS ONE. 2019;14(5):e0217320. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0217320
  3. Perilloux, C., & Buss, D. M. (2008). Breaking up romantic relationships: Costs experienced and coping strategies deployed. Evolutionary Psychology, 6(1), 147470490800600119.
  4. Montenegro, X. (2004). The divorce experience. A Study of Divorce at Midlife and Beyond. AARP The Magazine. Recuperado de http://assets. aarp. org/rgcenter/general/divorce. pdf.
  5. Nesse, R.M. (2000). Is depression an adaptation? Archives of General Psychiatry, 57, 14–20.
  6. Roepke AM, Benson L, Tsukayama E, Yaden DB. Prospective writing: randomized controlled trial of an intervention for facilitating growth after adversity. J Posit Psychol. 2018;13(6):627–642. doi:10.1089/cyber.2016.0450