For teens, a relationship ending can feel like a failure. They may develop the irrational belief that they will never be in another relationship, that this was the person they were supposed to marry, or that they are somehow “unlovable”. They may go to extreme ends to hold on to the relationship, some feeling so helpless that they are willing to sacrifice their values, while others may resort to making threats to discourage the break-up. All this is in effort to regain something that they fear, if lost, will never be experienced again.
The loss of a relationship during adolescence is particularly difficult because of the high probability that these teens will see their “ex” often, either because they may attend the same school, or socialize within the same group of friends. Seeing this person regularly makes the difficult process of moving on much more difficult. Often teens become so distracted that their focus on academics may shift and they may begin to struggle with grades.
Although this can be a difficult time, there are important lessons to be learned in the process of experiencing the break up of these relationships. These lessons include the newfound belief that they can be self-reliant, they can be assertive, they can survive difficult feelings, and they can survive the loss of one relationship without the fear that they will never find love again.
Parents can play a key role in helping their child to deal effectively with the loss of a relationship. By being empathic, understanding and available to teens, you can help to ease the emotional distress. You should also try to support teens and encourage them to continue to pursue new experiences. Teens often think they are alone in their feelings. In order to help your child feel less alone and recover more quickly from a breakup, you can normalize these intense feelings. People should avoid using terms like “good” or “bad” to define their teen’s feelings. After all, feelings are real, and teens need to be allowed to feel them without judgment.
Commentary by Laurie Linscheid, MFT