When you’re dealing with the pain and trauma of a breakup, there are few phrases more annoying than “look on the bright side” or “it’s probably for the best.”
Your heart has been shattered. Your life, upheaved. Who will get the friends? What will I do with my weekends? Will I ever see my blue T-shirt again?
It’s a time to cry, punch pillows, eat ice cream, and curse the stars. It’s when you vow to never again look at your ex’s Facebook page—and then spend an hour and a half analyzing their party pics and political rants.
This is fine. When you’re in the early stages of a breakup, I think it’s perfectly healthy to simply be with that grief. If well-meaning friends chide you to buck up, kindly show them the door.
But at a certain point, it’s important to view your breakup story as something other than catastrophic, and a recent study by Erica Slotter and Deborah Ward at Villanova University shows that your irritatingly upbeat friend may be onto something.
In the study, adults who had recently experienced a romantic breakup were asked to write in a journal about the end of their relationship for up to ten minutes a day for four days. Some of the participants wrote what researchers call a “redemption narrative”—they reframed their breakup in a positive way.
“Redemptive narratives entail seeking the silver lining in dark clouds, focusing on the positive outcomes that can emerge from negative consequences,” Slotter and Ward wrote in a paper on the study, published in the Journal of Personal and Social Relationships.
For example, one participant wrote, “I’m really sad that we broke up, but maybe it’s for the best. I am better off without somebody who doesn’t treat me right.”
The researchers found that individuals who constructed these kind of redemption narratives experienced less distress over time—the first day of journaling did not show an impact, but the fourth day of journaling did.
“The findings from the present study suggest a potential point of intervention for helping individuals cope with the loss of a romantic relationship. Although the reductions in distress evidenced in our data started small, they appeared to accumulate over time,” Slotter and Ward wrote.
When you’re in the throes of heartbreak, it might feel like a very small thing to take a notebook and detail the meaningful lessons or positive outcomes you’ve gained from your breakup. And in some ways, that initial moment of putting pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard) is small. But over time, the research finds that these tiny actions can bring significant relief.
And it beats stalking your ex’s Facebook page.