Managing the end of relationship

Gareth Hughes

Gareth Hughes is the Clinical Lead for Student Space and is a psychotherapist, researcher and writer on student wellbeing, including the book Be Well, Learn Well

The end of a relationship can be both emotionally and practically challenging. However, given time and the right strategy for you, it is possible to overcome these challenges and enjoy university life again.

The end of any relationship can be difficult, whether it was a romantic relationship, a friendship, a family relationship or a work relationship. It isn’t unusual to experience strong reactions when a relationship ends. In fact, even if you are the one that initiated the end of the relationship, you may feel some upset even if you are absolutely certain that this is the right thing and your life will be better without it.

There are a number of reasons that the end of a relationship can feel difficult:


When a relationship ends, we are losing something from our life and it is normal to grieve for loss. We don’t just grieve for the loss of the person in our day-to-day life now, we also grieve for all of the imagined futures together that we thought we would have. This is simply the mind’s way of adjusting to this change. The emotion we feel brings our attention to the fact that the person is not part of our life now or in the future and so we need to alter how we think, plan and imagine. Given time and the opportunity to adjust, this grieving will usually pass.

Change is disruptive

In many ways, we shape and structure our day-to-day lives around our relationships. You may have spent a lot of time together and now have to find other ways or other people to help fill that time. You may have engaged in specific activities or hobbies together and aren’t sure how to keep up the same activity without them or you may doubt if you even want to do the same things now.

Change and uncertainty are generally things we find difficult to manage so it isn’t surprising that you may feel upset, anxious, angry or numb as a result. However, it is important to know that we normalise to new circumstances very quickly - once you’ve had the time to find new structures, routines and activities your mind will allow you to move on and accept and enjoy the new normal.

The relationship may have helped you meet your emotional needs

We all have social and emotional needs, including the need for attention, intimacy and love. Sometimes a lot of our needs can be met in one relationship, particularly if it is a very close or romantic relationship. As a result, when the relationship ends, we may feel that these needs are not being met. This can be upsetting and may leave you feeling lonely, isolated or down. Again, it may help you to think of this emotional response as simply a way of guiding us to the fact that we need to find other relationships that can help us meet these needs now.

Helping to manage the end of a relationship

There are a number of steps you can take to help you manage the end of a relationship:

Accept and be kind to yourself

It can be tempting to want to hide away from what has happened or to place expectations on yourself that you ‘should’ be able to get over it quickly or that you ‘shouldn’t’ still be feeling like this. Grief and adjustment are unpredictable and take time. Your feelings are natural and it’s ok to feel however you feel.

This doesn’t mean that you have to allow the feelings to control you or what you do, it simply means that it is usually better to not fight with your emotions. It may help to instead accept how you feel, be curious about what your feelings are telling you, observe them as they come and recognise that they go and then act in the way that helps you most. You may find some useful guidance on this site to help you with this.

7/11 breathing exercise

Try not to give too much time to ‘what if’

When relationships end it is normal to think over what went wrong and whether it could have been avoided. This can provide useful learning for future relationships. However, if you begin to ruminate over and over what happened, without taking anything helpful from your thoughts, this can make you feel worse.Wishing that things could be different is a perfectly normal response but we can’t rewrite reality with our thoughts. We need to find a balance between allowing ourselves to acknowledge how we feel and planning for the actual circumstances we’re in. Read more about Wishing This Wasn’t Happening.

Consider the changes you may need to make

It may help to think about the role that the relationship played in your life and consider practical ways in which you can find other people or activities to fulfil that role. This may include

  • people to spend time with

  • new activities you’d like to take up or old hobbies you’d like to restart

  • ways of meeting your social and emotional needs through new or already existing relationships

  • whether there were things that you couldn’t do because of the relationship, that are now a possibility

It may be that you need to find new relationships to help address some of these changes – if so, it may help to read our guidance on ways you can do this.

Trying something new can be a good distraction. It shifts your focus and helps you grow. Going for walks helps clear your mind. Nature has a way of calming your emotions. For me, participating in writing competitions, volunteering, and attending various university workshops have proven essential for both distraction and personal enrichment. These activities not only provide a much-needed break from difficulties but also offer valuable opportunities for individual growth and development.

Look after the basics

When going through the end of a relationship the basics really matter. Adopting healthy habits can lessen the emotions you experience and help you to recover – sleep, diet, exercise, daily structure, sunlight and fresh air can all help you during this experience.

Using the support around you can help you to reshape your life and recover emotionally. This could include the support offered by friends and family and that offered by your university. Support can help you to process what you have experienced, feel more connected to others and make decisions about what you want to do next.

Give yourself time

Try not to put pressure on yourself to feel better straight away. With the right mix of the above steps and giving yourself some time, it is very likely that you will overcome the ending of a relationship. Use the resources on this site and those around you to help.

Page last reviewed: June 2024