May 2017
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Why Break-Ups Should Be Treated Like Graduations Not Like Death
Our attitude toward breakups is damaging, and we need to change it in order to help people escape abuse and to allow people to end relationships without losing community. Death and graduations are both endings, but our attitudes toward them are very different; the first, we put off and mourn, the second, we celebrate. If ending a relationship is a death, then someone or something did harm and killed it. If it is a graduation, then it was a learning process that has come to an end, and there might be sad missing or joyous moving on or exhausted relief, but nothing "went wrong" just because it ended. When we value relationships for their longevity and seek a perpetrator for the 'death' of a relationship, we set people up to get stuck in abusive relationships.

When you're trapped in an abusive cycle, it's hard enough to escape, but when that is compounded by the community looking for someone to blame, an abused person feels compelled to be perfect in order to make sure that they don't end up the blamed one. In that quest to be perfect they stay longer and make more efforts to fix it than is good for anyone. If all people knew that when they ended a relationship that blame would not result, they would not feel as pressured to try to "work on it" when they're being abused (or otherwise in a harmful situation). If it was never seen as a cruel act to break up with someone, people could have consensual relationships that transitioned smoothly into friendship, instead of working to maintain a relationship that has emotionally ended already until both feel resentful. And people could escape abuse without worry that they will be judged for not loving enough or trying hard enough.

It is imperative that we stop looking to blame someone for the end of a relationship if we want to make it easier for people to escape abuse. With our current value set, the abuser risks losing face if there is a breakup, which means they enact more controlling and damaging behavior to prevent the abused one's escape. If ending relationships was not stigmatized as proof of someone's failure or evilness or 'crazy', it would be easier for people to leave relationships that were harming them.

For people not in abusive relationships, a graduation perspective is still important. In a positive relationship, you probably learned a lot, grew a lot, and made positive memories. Breaking up should be seen as a positive rite of passage in this case; the natural progression of all living things is to end. In happiest cases there could be a party with all friends where the ex-lovers talk about what they learned from the relationship and how they hope to progress in the future. If neither person feels the defensive need to be the innocent one, friends don't have to condemn one and embrace the other, and people can end relationships without fear of losing their community or being pitted against one another.

Appropriate responses to the end of a relationship should not be like death "oh no, what happened?" but like graduation "how do you feel now? What's your next step?"


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Comments
um. I don't really agree with this. First of all, 'graduation' implies that there has been a set structure and one has grown to learn all the lessons, with clear understanding along the way and mastery at every given opportunity of testing. There is a clear-cut finish, and others are presumably graduating at the same time, so there is a satisfaction in completion. Even if the subject/major was one thoroughly enjoyed, there is usually a relief, but there is also that more objective aspect.

Whereas with a relationship (no matter how clear-cut or how clear the understanding/communication tries to be, everyone still screws up at some point or another), there isn't a 'clear-headed' entry, then tests along the way that are expected and prepared for, material that is transitioned into smoothly, etc.

I understand the point you are trying to make, at least I think I do -- that at least with abusive relationships, there shouldn't be a feeling of trying to make it work, but this belies that everyone has their own lesson to learn through their experiences, and everyone walks into relationships for different reasons.

The end of a relationship -is- a death, as I see it, not a bad, awful one, but a time of knowing that person so closely and that particular alchemy of attraction coming to a still, it does stop. There is a mourning period for losing that, for it no longer existing. If both parties are willing to be adults and perhaps come together in friendship after, then sure, they can discuss it if they like, but I think expecting a transition so smoothly is denying the emotional involvement and commitment that I feel relationships usually entail.

Unless you see a relationship naturally coming to a close (like a summer romance, or someone is moving and the other can't go with them, etc), it wrenches your heart. Eventually there is a dawn of a new sky, but we are human beings and even if someone isn't good for us, on some level, we attracted them and that is ok -- there is a lesson to learn in that, when we are ready to see it. But if we shared so much with them, it's going to hurt. It's going to feel like a death, whether they were abusive or not.

There doesn't have to be blame on any one person - a relationship is an emotional container and when that is broken, for whatever reason, it hurts, both people, even if one or both people is railing out or wanting to cast blame.

The way I see it, relationships *are* like school, but in ways that are not clear-cut, and are much more emotions-based and therefore are nearly impossible to quantify. Someone has to learn self-confidence to break up with someone if they are being abused, but only they, when they themselves 'get it' and realize how much they're worth, can do it.

I do think that relationships can be broken up mutually, though, and there is a time when people just lose that spark or are not willing to work any harder or they've grown apart too much, or whatever reason they feel it can't continue.

I kinda feel there is a certain context this post is coming from, but otherwise, yeah, I think there are more factors (either hard to predict or hard to control) than what is discussed here.
belenen analytical
sure, there are definitely more factors, and I know that some relationships end with mourning. In this I'm not talking about the emotions we should have in a breakup. I'm talking about the attitude we should have toward other people's breakups, our default attitude, the starting place. We shouldn't assume there was someone 'at fault' or someone 'to blame.'

If relationships are seen as having natural ends, completing them is not a wrong or harmful thing to do. This is the attitude I want people to have. It's perfectly okay for relationship endings to be understood as often painful, but they don't have to be seen as attacks on other people.
Ok, I understand better what you mean now, but either I am sheltered or have been around relatively drama-free people or something, but I don't have a lot of background context/history to work with here. Perhaps it's because I don't think that way (of attacking another person).

I think in essence you're wanting people to have a higher understanding of the situation as a whole, and instead of trying to distance themselves from the pain (like liking/loving someone and not wanting them to be hurt, emotionally or otherwise) by attacking another person, to be more centered in themselves and trusting the people who have just been a couple, in the process of breaking up?

I really would like some backstory because I don't really know where this is coming from, therefore it's hard for me to understand and therefore I was making kind of an assumption or something. I feel like there's a giant piece missing.

I think others who see a relationship outside of themselves as being a happy, fulfilling one, would feel jarred by a 'sudden' closing, and so would want to know what happened.
I agree that most relationships come to an end sometimes, and that's just the way it is (and certainly abusive relationships should be ended as soon as the abused person finds the stability and strength to leave). I think part of the reason for the "blame" mentality is often the fact that it's the very people in the former relationship who are most busy throwing their ex-partner under a bus and making their friends choose "sides". That's something I've never tolerated, or expected from friends who are friends with my ex's. If we have mutual friends, I want him to keep his friends, and I'd never bad-mouth him to friends either, that's just ridiculous (though I have to say it's usually my female friends who pressure people to take sides, who have nothing to do with the relationship. Us guys are usually a lot more chill about all that since we tend not to have that passive-aggressive thing going on so much).

In happiest cases there could be a party with all friends where the ex-lovers talk about what they learned from the relationship and how they hope to progress in the future.

Heh - would be that people were that simple, rational and unemotional, but they're not.
thank you i love you
Love this!
on communication, social justice, intimacy, consent, friendship & other relationships, spirituality, gender, queerness, & dreams. Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.
Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.