How to Process Being Blindsided by a Breakup
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How to Process Being Blindsided by a Breakup
So, you’ve been blindsided by a breakup. I am so sorry, honey. Losing a valued relationship is always painful, but when it happens seemingly out of the blue, you have a particularly bad breakup experience that can be hard to process and move on from.
I’ve worked with many clients in breakup or divorce recovery counseling who genuinely did not see the ends of their relationships coming. They end up reevaluating the entire relationship, wondering when their partner started feeling so unhappy and how they missed the signs.
It’s like you were walking along a serene path, only to be shoved off a cliff by the person you loved and trusted most. Many breakup therapy clients feel betrayed, and some even experience betrayal trauma after a blindsided breakup. It’s common to wonder if you’ll be able to feel secure in relationships going forward.
That I can help you with. The key to healing from a breakup, especially a blindsided breakup, is growth. It’s gaining the skills and awareness to stay tuned into yourself, your partner, and the relationship (or, to recognize when that’s not possible so that you can make other plans). This helps you rebuild trust in yourself, so the next time you get close to someone, you will feel confident that you know where you stand. I hope this article helps you build that confidence.
If you’d prefer to listen, I’ve also created an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast on this topic. You can find it on this page (player below) or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Why Blindsided Breakups Happen
When your partner dumps you without warning, you learn a few things about your relationship that you didn’t know before.
First, you learn that you did not know what was happening in your Ex’s emotional world. They didn’t just wake up one day and decide to end your relationship. They were struggling with doubts, fears, grievances, and/or resentment for some time in the lead-up to the breakup. You just weren’t hearing about it, and that means you weren’t as close as you thought.
You learn that your experience in the relationship was different from your Ex’s experience, and that, for one reason or another, you were not discussing those differences openly. Maybe your Ex was a conflict avoidant people pleaser who couldn’t bear to talk about anything that might hurt your feelings (a common profile of someone who ends relationships this way). If so, they may have even said or done things in the months, weeks, and days leading up to the breakup that seem at odds with the relationship ending, which makes it all the more confusing.
You may be ruminating on some variation of this question: “Why were we making plans / saying ‘I love you’ / being affectionate / having sex JUST YESTERDAY if he was already thinking about dumping me??? Was it all an act???”
Here’s how: When you were sharing those moments, your Ex was still ambivalent about calling it quits, until they weren’t anymore. They were still partially in, until they were all out. In a perfect world, they would have been communicating those mixed feelings with you. But they didn’t. So here you are.
It’s also possible that your Ex was communicating their unhappiness, in subtle or not-so-subtle ways, but you didn’t understand how serious it was, and so you feel blindsided. Many people miss the signs that their relationship is failing, either because they don’t want to face the possibility of loss and so they look away, or because they are truly naive about what causes relationships to fail.
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Blindsided Breakup Trauma
Blindsided breakups aren’t just heartbreaking. They can actually be traumatic. An unexpected breakup sets off a powerful emotional experience that can feel unmanageable, especially if you are someone who has what is sometimes called an “attachment wound,” insecure attachment, or a deep fear of abandonment. Many people require support from a good therapist to heal from a blindsided breakup and move forward.
Growth Opportunities after a Blindsided Breakup
After a blindsided breakup, it’s easy to get overly focused on your Ex. And that is fair enough — if you think they’re a jerkwad dingbat for handling your breakup this way, you won’t hear any arguments from me.
But, obsessing about your Ex is not going to get you anywhere. They have rendered themselves irrelevant to your future. There are things they should have done and things they shouldn’t have done, but none of it matters. What matters is whether you can locate the nuggets of personal growth in the rubble of this failed relationship. Those little nuggets are going to help you create a much healthier relationship the next time around.
So, here are some questions that I want you to answer, as honestly as you can:
Blindsided Breakups — How Did This Happen?
First, this relationship was not what you thought it was. Why is that?
I can hear you shouting that it’s because YOUR EX IS AN EMOTIONALLY IMMATURE, NON-COMMUNICATIVE, SAD SACK WEASEL. Fine, but putting that aside for a moment, how is it that you were able to be in a relationship with someone who was not communicating openly, who was conflict avoidant and to some extent emotionally unavailable, without noticing that anything was off?
Maybe you did see these things, but you didn’t know what they would mean for your relationship. Maybe instead of turning away, you thought it was your job to help your Ex work through these issues. Or, maybe you have a tendency to project your own hopes, feelings, and intentions onto others, making you blind to what they’re actually thinking and feeling. To be truly close to someone, you have to acknowledge your separateness, that you and your partner are different people who feel, think, and want different things. When you aren’t making space for that, you’re not being emotionally intimate.
Were you afraid to ask how your partner was feeling, how they thought the relationship was going, or whether they could see a future with you? If so, getting more comfortable with dark emotions, including the possibility of rejection, will serve you well in the future. The truth sometimes hurts, but it is always your friend. Never avoid it.
Was Your Partner Communicating Something?
Next, think back to the conversations you had with your Ex over the course of the relationship. Are you sure they never told you something was bothering them?
It’s possible that they did try to address issues here and there, but you didn’t realize how important they were to your partner. This is understandable — some of us are calibrated to make our feelings known, loudly and as many times as necessary, and others will only emit the faintest peep before giving up and scuttling off down the road.
Like it or not, many low-conflict people will break up with you before they raise their voice or sit you down for a Serious Conversation. But they usually make some attempt at communicating, however feeble. Bear in mind, most communication doesn’t happen in words. People start acting withdrawn when they’re unhappy, or they get a little passive aggressive. Did you notice the energy shift? If so, did you ask about it? It’s not your job to make someone else communicate, but it is your job to acknowledge problems when you see them and to speak up for your own feelings.
Finally, if there truly was zero conflict in your relationship, that was a red flag in itself. It’s a signal that you and your partner did not feel safe sharing your feelings with each other, openly and with vulnerability.
Healing from a Blindside Breakup
So, how can you get over your Ex, and more to the point, how can you get over the uniquely awful experience of having been blindsided by your Ex?
The path to healing is growth. Only growth in yourself will help you feel safe in new relationships. You need to feel confident that you know how to show up and be your vulnerable, authentic, whole self with a partner. You need to learn what it feels like when someone else is doing the same, and what it feels like when they’re not. You need to be brave enough to have courageous conversations about how the relationship is going and your intentions for the future — and you need to be open to hearing it when your partner’s feelings differ from your own.
Doing breakup recovery work with an experienced, relationship-focused therapist can help you build confidence in these skills and ease your relationship anxiety. I have a team of clinicians who would be happy to meet you for a free consultation.
Once you have wrung out all of the personal growth from this unfortunate experience, you can toss what your Ex did aside, onto the trash heap. It won’t matter anymore. You are writing your own story and only you get to decide what happens next.
Make it beautiful.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
P.S. — For more advice on healing and moving forward after a breakup, check out my “Healing After Heartbreak” collection of articles and podcasts. It’s all there for you!