Ending a relationship is never an easy decision by any means. Add in a global pandemic that’s shaken up your everyday life and brought some serious stress into the equation, and it’s even more difficult to figure out the best course of action. If you’ve been considering cutting ties for a while, you may be wondering if you should break up with your partner during the coronavirus outbreak or wait until it's over.
The truth is, there is no right or wrong answer. For some, a breakup may not only be warranted but necessary for the sake of their mental and emotional health. According to breakup coach and dating strategist Natalia Juarez, the coronavirus outbreak itself might cause you to rethink your relationship. Not only does a pandemic shift your perspective, shedding light on your real values and priorities, but it also forces you to re-evaluate what you want out of life. The uncertainty can put a strain on relationships, because both partners may have less patience for each other, and may be facing a slew of new changes and concerns (such as the loss of a job or financial struggles).
"This unprecedented time is testing couples greatly and bringing underlying issues to the surface," says Natalia Juarez, "We are still in the early stages of this crisis, and if it continues (which it likely will), I predict that more and more couples will choose to end their relationships."
If your SO has been responding to or dealing with this outbreak in a vastly different way than you have, that may shed light on your incompatibility. Or, if you decided to quarantine together, you may be discovering new potential dealbreakers as you spend more time around each other every day. If you're quarantining apart, you might be taking on the challenges of a long-distance relationship for the first time.
It’s always important to be absolutely sure that you want to end a relationship before going through with it, but that’s especially true under the current circumstances. Research has shown that stress can have a significant impact on decision-making — in fact, one 2017 study in Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences revealed that when people experience stress they are more likely to make risky choices. Another 2017 study in Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback reported that participants who were exposed to stressors made less advantageous choices than those who weren’t under stress.
"Do the best you can to make sure you are clear on why you want to end your relationship," says Juarez. "It’s a critical step so that you don’t end up regretting your decision down the road. I emphasize this point because half of my clients came to me to help them win back their exes."
Since you don’t want to be hasty in breaking things off, experts say there are a handful of questions you should pose to help you figure out if a split is the right decision for you.
Chelsea Leigh Trescott, a breakup coach and host of the podcast "Thank You Heartbreak," recommends asking yourself:
- What is it about the outbreak that is motivating me to break away from my comfort zone?
- Am I act prematurely or have I been wanting to breakup for a while? More specifically, am I breaking up with my partner because they aren’t reacting to this crisis in the way I want them to, or have we been out of sync for a while now?
- Is the decision to break up supporting or sabotaging my future goals?
- If I do break up with my partner, how will I use social distancing and quarantining to my advantage?
- In a year from now, looking back on breaking up at this time, will I say I did it out of fear or out of self-love?
In addition to these key questions, Juarez adds that there are others you should consider if you are currently living with your partner, such as:
- It is possible to break up while also maintaining physical and emotional safety right now?
- Do my partner and I have the means to move if necessary?
- If not, do we have enough space in our home to maintain some distance after the breakup? Or will quarantining with an ex be potentially detrimental?
If neither of you is capable of finding another place to live right now, Trescott adds that it's also worth asking yourself: How will we honor each other's boundaries and respect each other’s space?
Both experts agree that the most important thing to weigh is whether there's a sense of urgency behind your need to break up under these particularly strenuous circumstances. If possible, Juarez advises waiting a week or two to evaluate your decision, given that the circumstances around the outbreak are continually evolving, and you may feel differently as things change.
“If you aren’t in an abusive relationship, my advice would be to start the breakup process but don’t upend your life yet,” adds Trescott. “Have the conversation, begin packing your belongings, devise a plan for new living situations, and allow yourself to mourn even if it’s in the presence of your partner. Because the world has come to a halt, there’s no pressure to be anywhere other than exactly where you are.”
Another thing to take into account is how you'll be able to cope with the potentially painful effects of a breakup. Do you have a solid support system in place? For example, are friends or family members readily available to talk when you need to? If you have a therapist, are you still able to continue sessions with them remotely over video chat or phone? It's crucial to think about these things amidst the coronavirus pandemic because as Trescott points out, you may not be able to rely on many of your typical routines and distractions for the comfort you seek after splitting up with someone.
"There is no escaping into other people, no jobs to race to, no future-tripping and no numbing the feelings socially with friends," she explains.
If you're still not sure whether breaking up is right choice even after asking yourself the important questions, Trescott proposes simply initiating a break.
“Call your partner and tell them why this outbreak has forced you to reflect honestly and deliberately on your relationship,” she explains. "Talk about how slowing down is making you rethink and reexamine your relationship and this is important for you. Express the problems you have with the relationship and ask your partner whether this pandemic has brought to light any concerns within the relationship, as well.” From there, you can ask for some time apart from your relationship.
Only you will be able to determine whether or not a breakup makes sense for you right now. As long as you spend some time digging deep about your feelings and intentions, as well as thinking about how it will impact your and your SO's life under the current circumstances, you're sure to come to the right answer. Remember, when in doubt, you can always give yourself some time and space to explore your feelings on your own. If there's one gift this pandemic has offered, it's the ability to slow down, turn inward, and start listening to what your heart is telling you.
Chelsea Leigh Trescott, breakup coach
Natalia Juarez, breakup coach
Wemm, S. E., & Wulfert, E. (2017). Effects of Acute Stress on Decision Making. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 42(1), 1–12. doi: 10.1007/s10484-016-9347-8
Porcelli, A. J., & Delgado, M. R. (2017). Stress and decision making: effects on valuation, learning, and risk-taking. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 14, 33–39. doi: 10.1016/j.cobeha.2016.11.015