To put it plainly, break-ups suck—both for the person initiating the split and the person on the receiving end of things—and there’s no real way to shield yourself from it ever happening to you. (We all go through it; the key is learning from it!) That said, there are apparently ways to make a break-up sting a bit less.
According to a study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships—initially reported by Science of Relationships—something called “compassionate love” can make a big difference both in the relationship itself and in the relationship’s ending. In this case, “compassionate love” is defined by Science of Relationships as “the concern and care people have for the well-being of others, especially when those others are suffering,” with an emphasis on areas like understanding, support, and tenderness. In a nutshell, these are types of emotions you’d associate with being a really good friend, as opposed to “passionate love,” which centers more on—you guessed it—passion.
In the study, researchers asked people who’d just been through a break-up about how much “compassionate love” they’d felt in the relationship, as well as how much “compassionate love” they felt for people on the whole. Then, they asked them how they’d ended their most recent relationship, offering options ranging from “withdrawing and avoiding the partner” or “manipulating the partner” to “using a positive tone” or “being open with the partner.”
No surprise, the latter two proved the least brutal in terms of the break-up, and and it turns out that the folks who had experienced more compassionate love during the relationship were more likely to opt for those methods of ending the relationship over less thoughtful approaches.
While it might seem obvious at first—being more compassionate will help ease the pain of any break-up—the bigger lesson here is around the right kind of relationships to look for in the first place: If you have “passionate love” in your relationship, but you don’t have “compassionate love,” you’re probably in for a rough time, emotionally, if things go awry.
A lot of folks talk about “the friend zone” as being a horrible place to end up if you’re really looking for a serious relationship, but it turns out that friendly feelings can save you a lot of heartache in the long run—and relationships that end with friendly feelings intact are a lot easier to manage. Basically, if you think of your significant other as both a friend and a lover, make sure that you picture that person in a “friend” light if you consider ending the relationship.