We all know what the typical post-breakup scene looks like because our film industry has been built on heartbreak. The half-drunk bottle of whiskey plonked on a desk, just waiting for the forlorn to drown their sorrows in it again; the long phone calls to friends as they tell you that he was never good enough for you in the first place; the self-loathing trip to social media to pine over photos from the “good old days” when everything was better. It’s been done a thousand times before and it’ll be done a thousand times more.

The one thing that sets your breakup apart from the others, however, is that everyone has their own reasons for breaking up and that, sometimes, it’s hard to be certain of what those reasons might be. The truth is that the period of time leading up to the breakup can be just as mentally and emotionally exhausting as the breakup itself, and new research suggests that it can also be filled with uncertainty and ambivalence about the impending decision to part ways. So, if you’ve just gone through a bad breakup and can’t quite fathom just why you were so unsure about going through it in the first place, then we might have some news for you.

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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

A study published in the internationally-renowned psychology journal for Social Psychological and Personality Science attempted to map the thought process that takes over while contemplating a breakup. In part one of the study, 447 volunteers filled out a survey about their current and former relationships and answered a series of open-ended questions about the reasons someone might give for wanting to stay with or leave a romantic partner. Based on their answers, the researchers identified 27 different reasons for wanting to stay in a relationship and 23 for wanting to leave.

Then, in part two of the study, a new group of participants was brought in and the one thing binding them together was that they were all contemplating breaking up with their partners. The 50 reasons from round one were compiled into a questionnaire and the members of this new group were asked to mark the reasons for staying or leaving, which they’d been considering during this period of contemplation.

Nobody is 100% Certain About Breaking Up

What emerged from the study was surprising, to say the least. Most people in round two selected multiple reasons from both categories, indicating that they both wanted to stay with their partners, even though they were actively considering ending the relationship at the same time. In the words of the researchers themselves, “Many participants were simultaneously motivated to both stay in their relationships and leave, suggesting that ambivalence is a common experience for those who are thinking about ending their relationships.”

In the end, it turns out that all those debates you had with yourself, when you were last contemplating a breakup, are indeed a universal experience for everyone who’s had to let go. Those heart-rending feelings of conflict are completely normal and, honestly, it would be impossible to let go of someone who meant that much to you without remembering all the good they’ve done for you as well.

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