It’s tough to part ways with a partner at any stage of a relationship, even in the early days. But if you go through a breakup after ten years together, it can come with a new set of difficulties. First of all, “a breakup after having been together for around a decade is a substantial change,” Lauren Cook, MMFT, a clinician practicing emotionally-focused therapy, tells us. “Not only is it a loss of a romantic relationship, but a friendship, partnership, and general sense of comfortability.”
By the ten-year mark, you’re way past the honeymoon stage, which Cook says can last for up to two years, and well into the committed, companionship stage. You aren’t just dating anymore, but have truly become a solid part of each other’s lives — with a shared routine and shared goals for the future — making it more difficult to adjust to a new life.
There’s also the fact that the longer you’re in a relationship, the closer and more interconnected you become as partners, Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist, and relationship expert, tells us. “On an emotional level, one key factor is that couples who are together longer are more likely to have experienced significant life events together — whether it be job changes, moving, illnesses, family issues, etc.”
Going through these things together forms bonds that become key elements within your psyches and the relationship itself, Manly says. You don’t just know each other, you really know each other, so the idea of no longer having that connection can be incredibly painful and disorienting.
To add to this, there’s all the growing you did as individuals, as well as a couple during this time. You’ve not only gone through a lot together but are entirely different people from who you were when you first met. “Even more so than five years, a decade is a transformative period of time,” Cook says. “Chances are, your life looks considerably different than it did 10 years ago and if you have a partner who has seen you through all of those seasons, it is a tremendous change.”
Maybe you grew up together, and went through a lot of firsts, like new jobs and big moves. Or maybe you helped each other overcome obstacles, in order to learn more about yourselves. While all of that is still true, and it still happened, it can be tough to look back on the time spent together. In many ways, when a breakup occurs, it might even feel like you’re losing all your memories, Manly says, and all that history.
To untangle your lives at this point can also be tough logistically. “Often, your finances have become merged, you may have shared a living situation, and your other relationships with friends and family are intermingled even more so than in a shorter-term relationship,” Cook says. “Rewiring all of this takes time and processing.” It may be a while before you settle into a groove again, or figure out how to move through life without each other.
Of course, it’s always possible to amicably part ways and feels ready to move on, no matter how long you’ve been together. But many times, “recovering from a breakup of a long-term relationship can take quite a lot of time, particularly if the breakup was sudden,” Manly says. “If one or both partners are resistant to the breakup or shocked by a toxic issue (e.g., infidelity), the adjustment and healing time may be significant.”
Whatever the case may be, if your relationship is ending after ten years, it’s possible to make it easier on yourself, usually by quite literally taking it easy. “Part of the recovery process includes adjusting to a new normal, which means knowing that things will not feel normal for quite some time,” Cook says. “The important thing is to engage in self-care strategies, including spending time with family and friends, picking up a hobby, and getting enough sleep, exercise, and proper nutrition.”
It may even help to chat with a therapist, as they can be “incredibly helpful in addressing underlying issues such as anger, sadness, and grief,” Manly says. You can also talk with friends and mentors about your emotions and progress, she says, and any sense of “stuckness” you may be feeling.
Breaking up after only a few years together can be extremely difficult, but make it to that ten-year mark and you may find that it’s even trickier to part ways, and find your footing again. Since the process will likely be different, be sure to take your time, talk about it, process your feelings, and you will eventually be able to adjust.
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