Have you been blindsided with a breakup? It’s difficult enough when you sense or know that the end is nigh for your relationship. Maybe the writing’s on the wall because of the way they are behaving. Perhaps it’s because you’ve both tried to work through issues unsuccessfully. The likelihood is that even with a decent level of self-esteem, you will go through a period of wrestling with what-ifs and, yes, possibly giving you a hard time.
But what do you do when your breakup appears to be out of the blue? How do you begin to process, heal and move forward when your partner blindsides you with a breakup?
When the ending of your relationship seems to come out of left field, it can be incredibly destabilising. It doesn’t make sense, especially when in the hours, days and weeks beforehand, they said and did things that were contrary to this ending. Like my friend who was dumped just weeks before her wedding. Just the week before, he was writing “I love you” in the condensation on the kitchen window and talking about how excited he was to marry her. My friend thought it was an out-of-the-blue breakup. Unfortunately, he forgot to mention that he’d already begun a new relationship.
Here’s what I know for sure about people who deal you a ‘blindsided breakup’: It’s not the case that they just woke up that day and decided to do it. Like everything was picture perfect up until that day or even week. No. They knew, on some level, possibly a lot of them, even if they won’t admit it, that they wanted to end it. You just weren’t in on the conversation.
When someone dumps you ‘out of the blue’, what you can immediately learn is that they didn’t and haven’t been communicating with you. You have not been a party to their inner world.
They don’t let the left hand know what the right hand is doing. They give the veneer of calm, happiness and a shared future while secretly wrestling with doubts, fears, anger and even grievances. If you were hit with a barrage of complaints where it was the first you were hearing of them, this is someone who’s carried silent rage in the relationship. Unbeknownst to you, they were keeping a tally of offences. Or, they marked your cards on something that you genuinely believed that they were okay about.
Maybe they kept telling you they were okay when they weren’t. Maybe it seemed like everything was perfect.
It’s possible that you had little niggles and inklings.
Unfortunately, when you’re blindsided with a breakup, it’s not uncommon for the person to stonewall all further communication. They disappear so that you can’t engage with them, or they refuse to let you speak. Or, they say they’ll talk with you and then keep cancelling. Some — and I know this might sound downright absurd — will later acknowledge that it was a crappy thing to do and even that some things they said weren’t true, but then say that there’s no point in further discussions or trying to resolve things because they did this.
So, what do you do when you can’t get answers from your ex? What do you do when it feels as if your ex is a block to closure? Use these prompts to explore what happened in your journal.
- Retrace your footsteps by rewinding your mental tape right back to the very beginning of the relationship. Play it back in your mind. Don’t go too fast. What do you notice about your initial communication? What do you see about the dates? Were there things you dismissed or rationalised? What happened when you disagreed, or you (or they) were struggling with something? When feelings and opinions needed to be shared, did that happen? How and who were you in the relationship? Somewhere in this mental tape are clues about why this person’s means of communicating the end of the relationship was to blindside you. They show you where silence and gaps were there instead of intimacy.
- Was it really important for you and/or them to think that they/you or the relationship was perfect? If so, why? What was it that led you to believe that this was the case? What did you avoid being, saying or doing to preserve this? How did this affect the level of communication on both sides of the relationship?
- Did you ever disagree? Did you feel as if you could be yourself and enjoy healthy boundaries in the relationship? If you never argued or rarely disagreed, why was that? What did you think that meant? How does that fit with how they ended the relationship? What do you recognise now? If you did disagree or there were issues that you thought you were both working through, did you feel as if there was resolution?
Remember, it takes time to get to know someone. Sometimes we don’t know how little someone is communicating until they say or do something that allows us to look back and see things more clearly.
- If they gave little or no reasons for breaking up, and also gave little or no hint during the relationship, can you see with the benefit of hindsight where they were not communicating? Can you see the veneer? Retrace your steps. Were you both able to talk deeply, freely and openly? Did you feel as if your relationship was progressing? (See The Landmarks of Healthy Relationships)
- What is your anger about?
- So, aside from the understandable hurt and anger from the manner of their ending, what else are you angry about? This contains clues to hidden resentments and truths. For instance, many clients I’ve worked with in these situations expressed anger due to feeling that their support and accommodation of certain things wasn’t appreciated. This then allowed them to see what they were supporting and accommodating or how they were going about doing so meant not discussing or seeing certain things.
If you want to understand this kind of behaviour further, please listen to my podcast episode about stonewalling in relationships. The episode includes questions to help you understand what this kind of behaviour is about, including the baggage it relates to from the past.
You might wonder whether you should keep trying to get them to talk. You can’t force someone to talk who doesn’t want to or is hellbent on clinging to their narrative. You’ll end up feeling as if you’re losing your dignity and chasing them down. Part of their stonewalling might be, on some level, about getting attention and feeling powerful.
The more you chase them for answers is the less you believe in your ability to grieve and mine what you know for your closure.
Yes, it will take time. No, no one deserves to be broken up with in this way. But they haven’t done it because of your worthiness. They’ve ended the relationship in this way because of their issues. Going about things in a different way would have involved looking at things more deeply than they want to. They think that they can move on free of problems, but what they’ve sought to avoid will just show up in a different way.
When you do move forward (and you will), don’t use this experience to punish you or future partners. Learn what you can from this relationship so that you raise your communication and intimacy levels and be with a partner who will meet you there.
Take care of you.