‘I am devastated for my daughter after her break-up but don’t know what else I can do to help her’

Tell Me About It: ‘Her boyfriend has ended their five-year relationship, but she doesn’t accept that it could be over for good’

PROBLEM: My daughter’s boyfriend abruptly ended their relationship of almost five years recently. She is heartbroken, and I am genuinely devastated for her. They really seemed made for each other and were a dotey couple together, not to mention great friends. She is a beautiful girl in her early 20s who is just about to enter the next chapter of her life, to get her career off to a start.

She did not see this coming at all — and, quite frankly, neither did I. He was in my house shortly before the relationship ended and did not seem anxious or nervous in any way. I am extremely annoyed with him for the rather curt and quick manner in which he ended it, without much by way of an explanation other than saying he was a mess. I have always treated him as part of my family.

Having been through the humiliation of painful rejection myself, and wishing that I had handled myself differently, I have been supporting her as much as possible and advised her above all not to let her anger and emotions let her down. I have told her that she cannot put a time on this and that he will either come back to her or not, but a lot depends on how she plays this out. She has been advised from many quarters not to contact him at all.

She is an incredibly intelligent and intuitive young woman who understands the psychology of the situation. She has adopted a healthy coping strategy, so I am not worried that she could take to alcohol or drugs. She says that she wants to let some time go by, as he is shortly going travelling for a couple of months, and that she will reassess the situation if and when he contacts her upon his return. That all sounds sensible in theory, but it is clear that she is not accepting at all the fact that the relationship could be over for good.

Apart from being there for her, supporting her and spending some quality time with her on holiday, etc, I am not sure what else if anything I can do to help her or how best to navigate or accelerate the healing process for her.

ADVICE: One of the aspects of the break-up of relationships is the grief and loss that the parents on both sides can suffer. It is clear that you are (along with your daughter) experiencing the loss of this man in your life, and you may also be projecting your own experiences of rejection on this situation. Overall, your daughter seems to be a well-grounded person who is handling the situation well. It is not unreasonable that she give space and time to her ex-partner to figure things out. After all, they had a long and successful relationship, and she clearly wants to give him a chance to reconsider his choice.

When someone we love suffers, we often try to carry some of the weight of their anguish by overidentifying with their loss, but this is not helpful to them or, indeed, us. What you daughter needs from you now is someone who is strong, confident and capable. Allow her to carry her pain and process her heartache, as well as to allow that she may be right in holding out hope for the relationship to reignite.

In the meantime, you might look at how you can resource yourself at this time. It seems that this situation has brought up old shame and hurt for you, and now you get another chance to have a look at your past and how you might find ease and peace with it. Usually, this requires talking and reflecting, so you might engage a close friend, or sibling, in conversations around this. What you need to do is model resilience for your daughter, so invest in yourself and then you will have lots of resources to lean on if your daughter needs more support as time goes on.

You might read How Confidence Works by Ian Robertson (Transworld Publishers Ltd, 2021) as a starting point, as it might open up new (positive) avenues for discussion with your daughter, and both of you can put new practices into action. In the meantime, trust your daughter that she is managing her uncertainty and loss in her own way, and that she will ask you for support when she needs it. This means that you do not need to hover around her in a worried state, but rather show her that a full life is available after break-up and that you are living proof of this. Your own loss in terms of the man leaving is real and deserves attention, but your support should come from your own social circles and should not get enmeshed in your daughter’s grief.