No emotionally healthy single enters into a romantic relationship planning to break up. Not only do most people hope dating will eventually lead to a wedding, they also hope to avoid heartache in the process. So why do some singles experience great pain when a breakup does occur? And why do breakups haunt certain people for years? In contrast, why do others recover from a broken romance faster and stronger?
Stanford University psychology professor Dr. Carol Dweck might have part of the explanation. Through her studies, she has noticed that most people, regardless of marital status, gender, socioeconomic background or any other criterion, operate under one of two mindsets: a growth mindset or a fixed mindset.
That is, some people believe their intelligence and abilities can grow, even when faced with a setback. Others subconsciously (or perhaps consciously) believe that their qualities are set, making them less capable, maybe even incapable, of growth and change.
Dr. Dweck and doctoral student Lauren Howe have done research on Dweck’s theories. In one of their surveys, they asked people to remember a breakup and then journal on this question: What did you take away from this rejection?
Howe writes of their findings: “For some people, their answers made it clear that the rejection had come to define them — they assumed that their former partners had discovered something truly undesirable about them.” She goes on to say that people tended to ask similar questions: Wasn’t I good enough? Is there something wrong with me? Am I really that inadequate?
The key Dweck and Howe discovered in all of this? People who view romantic rejection as something linked to their self-worth were much more likely to suffer grief that delayed their recovery and hindered future relationships.
In another study, Dr. Dweck and Howe wrote articles that described personality as something that can change and grow. Howe concludes, “When we asked people with a fixed view of personality to read these articles, they became less likely to interpret rejections as an indication of a permanent, fatal deficiency.”
As you weather a breakup of your own, consider what you believe about yourself. Do you tend to dwell on what you perceive to be the negatives, rather than seeing a bigger picture? Do you learn from the breakup experience, maintain hope and move on, growing wiser through the process?
Dr. Dweck’s theory might provide only part of the answer. Christians are blessed to possess much more of it. As you navigate your way through a broken romance, here are some spiritual truths to hang on to in the process.
1. Our deepest self-worth and our identity are not in ourselves.
They are in God.
Sometimes it takes a lifetime to truly understand this, especially since the idea of a person’s worth coming from God alone is so foreign in a culture that parades talent, wit, appearance and finances. As Dr. Dweck’s subjects revealed, people are all tempted to draw self-worth from themselves. But in Ephesians 1:13-14 Paul tells us that we belong to God, we were chosen for His glory, and our inheritance is in heaven with Him as His children. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
We are reconciled to Christ. If we can avoid confusing personality (quirks and perks), possessions, relationship status and talents with personal value, we’re on the path to finding our true worth in Him.
2. Grief is necessary, but temporary.
Whether you’re the “breaker” or the “breakee” at the end of a relationship, you’re wise to grieve the loss of a good friend. While grieving is necessary, lingering in sadness is not – as tempting as it might be. The psalmists often remembered God’s faithfulness in their lives, and David writes in Psalm 42:11:
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
Though you might be tempted to dwell on your relational mistakes (real or imagined), you don’t have to stay there.
3. Satan will lie to you.
It started in the Garden of Eden and won’t end until Christ returns. We believe lies from an enemy that wants to destroy us. After a breakup, any number of lies could sneak in:
No one could love me.
I’m bad at relationships.
I’m being punished.
I’ll always be alone.
Though God sometimes disciplines believers, He does not punish. And maybe you will remain single, but God loves you and will provide just as He blesses your married friends. Maybe your relationship skills do need some fine-tuning, but sanctification, God’s work in you, can hone that. You are never “stuck” in any of the many, many lies you will be tempted to take as permanent truth.
4. Be responsible for your feelings and speak truth to yourself.
In his book Knowing God, J.I. Packer reflects on Romans 8 and writes,
Think of what you know of God through the Gospel, says Paul, and apply it. Think against your feelings; argue yourself out of the gloom they have spread; unmask the unbelief they have nourished; take yourself in hand, talk to yourself, make yourself look up from your problems to the God of the gospel; let evangelical thinking correct emotional thinking.
While this is a strong practice to adopt, it is not meant to combat clinical depression or any other underlying medical problem. Sometimes it is physically difficult if not impossible to talk ourselves out of sadness. But after a breakup, we can tell ourselves God’s truth.
5. Remember that God is in control and has a purpose.
A broken romance can feel like a huge waste of a person’s heart, time, effort and resources. In God’s economy, though, a trial is never wasted. Paul tells us in Romans 5:3-5, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
As I look back on my life’s triumphs, failures, trials and blessings, I can see God’s hand leading me through this process of suffering to hope. And one somewhat obscure verse always helps me correct any “the sky is falling” mentality: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33). The meaning? If something as seemingly insignificant as a lot (a dice-like tool used during biblical times to make decisions) is under God’s control, how could I possibly believe the events in my life are not?
Take heart — a breakup is not the end. With the right mindset, it can be the beginning of another journey to greater spiritual and relational health.
Copyright 2016 Meredith Whitmore. All rights reserved.