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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Office Hours with Dr. Jim > After the Breakup (Part 2)

Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.


After the Breakup - Part 2
It's Not You, It's Me

This is the last of a two-part series on break-ups. Please check out the first part here. Also, I hope to hear from you, Please email me with your break-up experiences. Perhaps you’ll see your anonymous story featured in a future column.  Sharing your personal accounts can help other people find perspective and heal faster. Thanks in advance for your assistance!  Now on to the second reader question…


When a guy breaks up with you and says, “It’s me, not you” what do they really mean?  And why do so many break-up by saying that?


Clearly, that phrase is bothering you, but I want to address what other factors complicate break-ups. First though, let’s translate this phrase. Some guys actually mean it, when they say it. In particular, some guys have the maturity to know when they are not emotionally vested in a relationship and are simply stringing someone along (unwittingly or not). Work, family or health pressures are good examples of personal issues that can disrupt or kill an otherwise healthy relationship that seemed to be going well. Mature guys will explain in detail what’s happening in their lives that prevent attention being paid to you and the relationship. In other words, these types of men want you to understand exactly that the break-up is due to their own issues rather than anything you did or didn’t do.

On the other hand, some guys use this phrase as a disrespectful cop-out. It’s regarded as a safe and “unchallengeable” excuse for breaking off a relationship suddenly and relatively painlessly -- well, at least from the man’s point of view. In their minds, a phrase like this makes them look like a selfless hero of sorts and thus avoiding a drawn out discussion about the break-up or any cry-fest they anticipate from the woman. Immature men routinely use these tactics, and you can safely bet you’re dealing with one if the guy acts gamey, evasive and superficial when delivering the clichéd phrase. Classic variations on the phrase include:

  • “I can’t hurt you any longer; it’s not fair of me…”
  • “I don’t want to put you through my issues…”
  •  “You deserve better than me…”
  • “I wish I was the one to make you happy, but…”
  • “There’s no room in my life right now for someone else…”
  • “I need time (or space) to work on some issues…”

Now, there are many other contributing factors that cause pain in break-ups beside the manner in which the break-up occurs:

Why does it hurt so much?
You’re more than separating from a person; you’re separating from a host of things in a break-up, including activities you once shared, your ex’s family and friends, a sense of interdependency that was created in the relationship, your ex’s qualities that complemented your own and sometimes even shared friends.

How long does it take for these feelings to go away?
You’ve probably heard of the five stages of grief. Everyone goes through these stages when experiencing a significant loss of any kind, although the stages don’t necessarily follow the same order for everyone. The stages are:

  • Denial --            “This isn't happening to me!”
  • Anger --            “Why is this happening to me?”
  • Bargaining --     “I promise I'll be a better person if...”
  • Depression --    “I don't care anymore.”
  • Acceptance --    I'm ready for whatever comes.”

Each person works through these issues in their own way, therefore the time to heal is different for everyone. Some research shows that it takes half the duration of the relationship to get over the feelings of inadequacy, loss and low self-esteem. This probably even truer for women, whose main coping style is one of rumination -- in other words, to dwell on issues and feelings and replay them over and over in one’s mind. Men, on the other hand, prefer to use distraction to cope with conflict.

How long should I wait to talk to my ex?
Usually it’s not a good idea to maintain contact with your ex, if at all, until both of you have had enough time to heal.  Speaking too soon after the break-up may cause mixed emotions and mixed signals. This can lead to the illusion of reconciliation, which means getting back together again only to break-up later. This scenario merely causes more pain down the road and a longer process to heal.  Once enough time has passed and both parties are comfortable speaking again (although this may not ever be the case) you can attempt to maintain a friendship if you wish, but be careful not to play on the other persons emotions or let them play with yours.

Ladies, one great way to avoid dwelling on the relationship is to ensure that other things are happening in your life. Don't give in to the tendency to stay home alone thinking and brooding over the lost relationship. Get out of your home or apartment and go somewhere even if you have to make up a destination, such as the library, shopping, community center, school or even volunteer work. Finally, don't avoid your friends. Although you may feel like being alone most of the time, it really isn't good for you. If you're worried about being "bad company" just remember that most friends are less critical of you than you are of yourself. Finally, be patient and allow your feelings to run their course.


Dr. James Houran's "Office Hours with Dr. Jim" column is published every Monday.

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