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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 December, 2004, 04:56 GMT
Easing the pain of a break-up
By Jenny Matthews
BBC News

Couple arguing
Break-ups can often lead to bitterness, anger and arguments

Even the rich and famous have difficulty stopping the end of a relationship disintegrating into acrimony and recrimination.

The home secretary's bitter break-up with his lover has spilled onto the front pages in recent days, even calling his job into question.

The aftermath of the breakdown of the Prince and Princess of Wales's marriage is still making headlines, more than 10 years after they separated.

A break-up is undoubtedly a bleak event for all involved, but is there a way of managing them so they don't spiral out of control?

Relationship counselling groups Relate and Couple Counselling Scotland think there are some strategies for lessening the damage.


If you have decided it's time to leave, try to think about how to break the news.

Choose a venue where you won't be disturbed and which you both find relaxing
Leave plenty of time - make sure you haven't got to rush off
Set a time limit; don't talk on for hours and hours
Don't talk when you're tired
The process of talking something through may take days, weeks, or longer
Source: Relate
"In an ideal world you would be calm and sensible, you'd sit down and say you should leave, you're not happy, it's time to go," says Relate counsellor Christine Northam.

"But most people don't do that, they leave a note, or have a huge row and storm out."

When you do talk, says Relate, you should be honest and straightforward. Don't use vague euphemisms to soften the impact, as they can just be confusing.

And try to tell your partner how you feel without blaming them or listing their inadequacies such as how boring, selfish or unattractive they are.

"This can be tricky but it is a very useful way of owning your feelings," says Relate.


If you've just been dumped, do try to find out what went wrong.

It may be excruciating, but unless you know what happened to your relationship, you won't be able to change things in the future.

"Use it as a learning experience, so you can understand what went wrong and build self-awareness," says Christine Northam.

"Then you are better equipped for future relationships."


So communication is clearly the key to managing a break-up.

But if your ex simply stonewalls you and refuses to talk, you will have to communicate with other people.

Call in the support of friends, family - or even the professionals, says Relate's Christine Northam.

Las Vegas wedding chapel
Not all relationships have happy endings - but there are strategies to cope
"You've been rejected big time, you feel angry and alone, you need support."

You can go to relationship counselling by yourself - about a third of Couple Counselling Scotland's (CCS) clients are there on their own, says chief executive Hilary Campbell.

And a word of warning from Ms Campbell on the matter of talking - if you are still communicating with your ex, leave the e-mails and texts for the practical stuff, and don't be tempted to use them to talk about your feelings.

"You can't convey emotions with them, they're black and white and they can be there forever. Whereas if you say something and it comes out wrong you can clarify it, and take it back - a bit. It's much easier to talk about feelings face to face."


If you've been dumped, it's easy to flail around blaming everyone - your ex, yourself, the person you suspect them of having an affair with, and so on. But if you can, avoid this, says Relate.

"It may seem tempting... but this will not help you work out why the affair has happened."

Planning ahead is the key
If you have children, work out with your ex what the Christmas arrangements are going to be - and tell the children as soon as you can
If you are facing Christmas alone, think about what you are going to do
You could help out in a homeless shelter, visit friends or family or even, if you have children and can bear it, hold a joint Christmas with your ex
But arrange something. "Christmas is all about expectations... sitting alone staring forlornly at a Christmas tree without any presents under it is not a good idea," says Hilary Campbell
And instead of blaming yourself, work on boosting your self-esteem.

If your self-confidence is shot to pieces, you can start to heal yourself with simple steps like pampering yourself with a gift, reminding yourself of good times and things you've been successful at, and setting yourself small goals to achieve.

But what about revenge? Should you give in to your impulse to cut up your ex's suits, post rude messages about them on websites, leak things about them to the newspapers or other such things? Is that cathartic and therapeutic, or otherwise?

Relate's Christine Northam thinks that depends on the degree to which you take it.

"It's healthy to be angry, it's part of the loss process and it's good to have a spit and a shout, if it's done in a safe way," she says.

"But it can be really vicious and that's not such a good thing.

"Don't slag him off to his mates, don't get into a War of the Roses kind of thing. Blame them in a safe environment, but don't burn your bridges."


There's nothing wrong with having a few drinks or scoffing half a pound of chocolate to make you feel better, says Christine Northam - but be aware, it may backfire.

"Getting drunk might seem like a good idea at the time, but alcohol is a depressant and you may wake up the next morning feeling worse," she says.

"If you carry on doing it, if you're coming home from work night after night and opening a bottle then something is wrong and it's time to get help because you're blocking out your feelings.

"You can't think straight when you're drunk and you do need to think straight at times like these."


If you're raw from a break-up you may be tempted to throw yourself into a string of one-night stands, or a whole new relationship, to make yourself feel better.

Lots of people rush straight into another relationship without understanding what went wrong with the first one
Christine Northam
Is this a good idea?

"No, definitely not," says Christine Northam.

"Lots of people rush straight into another relationship without understanding what went wrong with the first one.

"A period of mourning is a good idea. Mourning takes lots of energy, and if you don't do the work, if you put it off because you're putting your energies into a new relationship, it can come back and bite you later."

Wait until dating feels "comfortable" again, she says - and don't feel pressured by others to get into a couple because you're more fun that way at dinner parties.


Practical matters like houses and money are huge issues when relationships break up - especially if you have been living together.

"If you split up you will both be poorer," says Hilary Campbell.

If you split up [when you have been living together] you will both be poorer
Hilary Campbell
Couple Counselling Scotland
If nothing else, the cost of running two mortgages, two cars, even two kettles, can mean there is a lot less money around for nice things like holidays and hobbies.

It can also lead to huge rows when you try to work out who gets what, and one or both of you may feel you've been ripped off. And this is where mediation services can come in.

Even if you don't have children, mediators can help you sort out with property and finance in a way you're both reasonably happy with.

You are first seen separately to say what you'd like to happen, and then together, where the mediators help you explore ways of meeting, as far as possible, both your needs.


Most parents find it extremely difficult to know how to approach their children about a break-up.

But many organisations, including Relate, CCS and children's charity NCH, have advice on how to lessen the pain.

Tell them it is not their fault, and keep telling them
Tell them what is happening, at a level they can understand
Listen to your children and let them ask questions
Don't fight in front of them
Don't criticise each other to them
Avoid using them as go-betweens
Source: NCH
"The first thing is to tell them you love them and that it's not their fault. A lot of children assume it's their fault," says Hilary Campbell.

Next, you should keep them informed of what is going on in language they can understand.

"Tell them what's going on, and let them ask questions, otherwise they'll end up making their own stories," she says.

And don't put off doing anything about your failing relationship because you don't know how to tackle the children.

"A lot of people find it so difficult they put off doing anything about it, but the most damaging thing of all for children is continued parental conflict," she says.

You will also need to agree with your ex who the children will live with, how often you will see them and so on.

If things get difficult, you could head to a family mediation service, which helps parents come to agreements about matters such as residence and contact.

Try not to make arrangements in the white heat of the break-up when you're "still steaming" with anger, says Christine Northam.

"If you're so angry you won't agree anything it's going to end up costing you loads of money", she says - because you'll end up heading for a divorce lawyer.


Break-ups never seem to involve just the couple involved and their children. Many people say one of the saddest aspects of a break-up is the loss of mutual friends. But this doesn't have to be the case.

"Don't feel you can't be friends any more," says Christine Northam.

"You can - as long as you don't slag your boyfriend off to them, that's the way to destroy relationships."

You should try not to carry your break-up over into family relations by, for instance, refusing to let your children see your ex's parents, warns Hilary Campbell.

That's unfair and, even in self-centred terms, unhelpful - because you may need them as back-up in looking after the children.

"Quite often grandparents have an important role, they're there and they're consistent," she says.


Going to counselling doesn't mean you're a failure. In fact, it's a very sensible thing to do if you're struggling.

"If someone's upped and left, and you're left behind, it's a bit like a bereavement and counselling can help you work through the break-up," says Hilary Campbell.

And it doesn't necessarily involve visiting a building somewhere - most services offer phone and even online counselling, so no-one need know you've gone.

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