Break-Ups Don’t Have to Leave You Broken | Gary Lewandowski | TEDxNavesink

Break-Ups Don’t Have to Leave You Broken | Gary Lewandowski | TEDxNavesink

September 18, 2019 34 By Stanley Isaacs


Translator: Ailie McCorkindale “So, we need to talk.” Hearing those four simple words
from your relationship partner never feels good. Your heart sinks, palpitates, your stomach flutters,
your palms get sweaty because it’s never, “We need to talk
about what a great relationship we have, how we’re best friends and how we’ll spend
the rest of our lives together.” It’s never that. It’s always, “We need to talk
about the beginning of the end.” And whether your relationship
is awful, good or great, we don’t like endings,
we don’t like to lose things, and especially, we don’t like
to lose things that are important to us. And make no mistake, relationships are the single
most important thing to you in your life. It’s the source
of all of your best memories. It’s the source
of all of your worst memories. When you think back on your life,
when you’re 95, 100 years old, and you look back
over the course of your lifetime, you’re not going to think,
“I wish I owned a better phone. I wish I spent more time on the Internet. I wish I spent more time
at work or sleeping.” It’s not going to be any
of those kinds of things. It’s going to be, “I wish I spent
more time with the people I love” because our relationships, they build us,
they define us, they sustain us, and they can break us too. And we know relationship break-up
can be tough, right? The research is pretty clear: loneliness, depression,
increased crime, increased drug use. Some of my own research shows that break-ups lead you
to experience a loss of self, so when you lose a relationship, part of who you are
as a person goes with it because relationships are important. And it’s bad, don’t get
me wrong, it can be bad, but it’s often not as bad as we think. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon
and Northwestern asked people who are currently
in happy relationships to look out into the future,
to make a prediction, and they said, you know,
“If your relationship were to end, how bad would you feel about it?” And then, those researchers do
what researchers do is they waited. And they waited for those people,
those happy, happy relationships, they waited for those people to break up. (Laughter) Because only then could they actually see
how bad was it, right? They waited for them to break up and said,
“So, how bad is it now that you broke up?” (Laughter) And they compared
what the predictions were to their actual break-up experience, and what they found was people were wrong. They were wrong. Their break-up simply wasn’t as awful
and devastating as they thought. So, I’m curious, by a show of hands, How many people here have experienced
a break-up or divorce? Show your hands. Please keep your hands up
if you survived that experience. (Laughter) Perfect, good. I’m glad you’re here. Now, please keep your hand up still
if you learned something about yourself or about having better relationships
by going through a break-up or divorce. Right? Perfect, right. It’s what Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Our greatest glory
is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.” No one emerges from
their dating life unscathed. Break-ups happen; relationships fail. And when they fail, it hurts
because you start a happy, vibrant person, very much in love –
things are going perfectly. You break up, and you’re alone. You’re sad. You’re disappointed. Things hurt; you’re heartbroken. You’re confused. This is not good. We’ve all been there. It’s awful. We’ve been there. No one likes being there. But life, thankfully,
happens on a continuum. There’s good things and bad things. It goes the other way too. Sometimes your relationship
really isn’t perfect. It could be improved. So, sometimes breaking up
in a relationship that’s not that great is like being paroled. (Laughter) Right, you’re free now,
you don’t have this other person to weigh you down
with negativity, nagging, asking you to change
how you look or how you act. Sometimes, it’s a pretty good experience. This experience, getting out
of that relationship, restores your heart. You’re back to be the person
that you know you can be. Some break-ups I would argue
are worthy of celebration. (Laughter) I don’t know if you’ve had
these kinds of break-ups, but I have, and they’re glorious. It’s really fantastic. But I acknowledge that we’re talking
about a break-up, which is typically sad, and it sounds a little counterintuitive
to say it can be such a good experience, but I know, I’ve had it. But it’s also entirely possible
that I’m weird. I mean, look at my stick figures. Right? So, it’s possible that I’m weird. So, the scientist in me said,
you know, “Let’s go out and look. Let’s go see if people when they break up, does anybody else or just me,
feel happy about it sometimes, or is it true of other people too?” So, I use the science,
my training and research to see if break-ups could be
a good thing for other people. So, as all good research does,
mine started with a very simple question: Overall, how does your break-up
influence who you are? How did it impact you? And what I did, I didn’t just ask anybody. I asked people who were likely
to be especially sad, people who had recently broken up
in the last three months, broken up a long-term relationship. They’d been in this relationship
for a couple of years, and they hadn’t found
a new relationship partner yet, so if anybody was going to be sad
about their break-up experience, it was this group. And what I found was some people were sad. They characterized
their break-up as negative, but it was one out of three people,
which sounds like a lot, maybe you didn’t expect it, but it means that two out of three people
didn’t consider it negative. In fact, one out of four
said it was neutral, a little bit of both. As many emotional experiences are,
it’s a little bit of both. Forty-one percent, most people,
characterized their break-up as positive, and remember, this was supposed
to be an especially sad group, right? So, 41% are saying, “You know what? That experience, overall – I’m not saying it had zero negatives,
I’m saying overall – it was a positive experience. So, what research is about is why. Why are those people feeling that way? And in relationships, there’s a lot of things that factor in
to what makes a relationship good. One of the things I focus on
in my research is the self because who you are as a person
touches every aspect of your life, including your relationships. In particular, I focus on self-expansion. This is the experience of a relationship
that helps build who you are as a person, it helps you grow,
it helps add to your sense of self. Being in this relationship
makes you a better person. These are the good ones;
these are the ones you want. But it’s a continuum, right;
it goes the other way too. Sometimes your relationship
is impoverished, it lacks self-expansion, your partner’s not building you up,
they’re holding you back, in fact. These ones are stagnant, stale, those relationships
like when you are stuck in a rut. Your partner’s not helping you grow. If anything, they’re preventing you
from being the person that you can be. And so, I thought if you get out of one
of those impoverished relationships, it’s literally going
to be addition by subtraction. This relationship is holding you back. By getting out of this,
I’m going to now thrive as an individual. This is exactly what we found
in people in break-up. People who got out of a low
self-expanding, impoverished relationship reported a full range
of positive emotions. They’re relieved, calm, energized,
confident, strong, happy. They’re doing wonderfully, right? It’s like their world opened up. Things are getting clearer for them,
they’re experiencing less loss of self, they’re experiencing more personal growth. And importantly, they’re experiencing more
of what I’d call rediscovery of the self, which is recapturing those things
that you may have sacrificed or diminished while you were in a relationship. So, these people are doing better
because they got out of a relationship. So, when your relationship
doesn’t help you become a better person, ending it does, which is important to realize because
it’s, again, a little counterintuitive. What if you’re not inherently strong? What if you don’t have the luxury of getting out of such
an impoverished relationship? So, I wanted to take those findings
and think, How can I help people who have experienced a break-up
or divorce accelerate their coping? How can I help them get better? Looking back at the previous study, I looked at rediscovery of yourself,
and that looked really good. So, I’m going to focus on that,
take people who have recently broken up, bring them into my lab and randomly assign them
one of two groups. Out in the world, they’ll do
activities for two weeks: either rediscovery-of-self activities
or routine activities. The rediscovery-of-the-self things are things their previous relationship
prevented them from doing. So, if you like going to the beach
and your partner didn’t, going to the beach now
is a rediscovery-of-self activity. Routine activities are those things
that you already like doing: hanging out with friends,
going to the gym or the movies, whatever it happens to be. Now, importantly,
both of these should help. Rediscovery because it helps you regain
some aspects of yourself that you lost. Routine because it helps prevent you
from sitting at home alone, eating pints of ice cream
and binge-watching television. It’s forcing you to sort of go out
in the world and get better. And as I expected,
the rediscovery-of-the-selves, those people, it was like
the dawn of a new day. They had less loss of self,
less negative emotions, less loneliness, things like that, also an increase of positive emotions,
the same ones you saw before, and also increased overall well-being,
purpose in life and self-acceptance. They were doing much, much better simply because of the types of activities
that they chose to do over two weeks. Refocusing on yourself and rediscovering
who you are accelerates coping, right? So, that’s very helpful. This is all part of a broader message: Relationships are important. Time is short. Mistakes are costly. Relationships should be
the best part of your life. Hopefully, you have found one
that builds you and sustains you. Hopefully, you have that, but if you don’t,
you have to ask yourself, What is one hour, one day,
one week, one month, one lifetime of your happiness worth? Because great relationships seldom fail. Bad ones do, as they should, and when they do,
when those relationships fail, they end because
the relationships are broken, but it doesn’t mean
you have to be broken forever. In fact, the Japanese have a word,
have an art form, Kintsugi, which is this art form where you take
broken pottery and repair it, using precious metals like gold,
platinum and silver. And you use that to make
the pot more beautiful. And it’s beautiful; it’s stunning, really. It’s not just an art form,
it’s also a philosophy which treats damage
and its repair as an opportunity, something to take advantage of,
not to conceal, right? This is exactly what can happen
in your relationship. Sure, your relationship
might leave you with a few cracks, but those cracks and those imperfections,
those are sources of strength and beauty because break-ups
don’t have to leave you broken because you’re stronger than you know. Thank you. (Applause)