Gary Lewandowski: Break-Ups Don’t Have to Leave You Broken at TEDxNavesink Conference (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of relationship expert Gary Lewandowski’s TEDx Talk: Break-Ups Don’t Have to Leave You Broken at TEDxNavesink Conference.

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Gary Lewandowski – Relationship expert

So we need to talk.

Hearing those four simple words from your relationship partner never feels good. Your heart sinks, palpitates, your stomach flutters, your palms get sweaty, because it’s never ‘we need to talk about what a great relationship we have, how we’re best friends, and how we’re going to spend the rest of our lives together’, it’s never that; it’s always ‘we need to talk about the beginning of the end.’

And whether your relationship is awful, good, or great, we don’t like endings, we don’t like to lose things. And especially, we don’t like to lose things that are important to us. And make no mistake, relationships are the single most important thing to you in your life. It’s the source of all of your best memories, it’s the source of all of your worst memories.

When you think back on your life when you’re 95 or 100 years old and you look back over the course of your lifetime, you’re not going to think: “‘I wish I owned a better phone’, ‘I wish I spent more time on the Internet’, I wish I spent more time at work or sleeping’”. It’s going to be any of those kinds of things. It’s going to be: ‘I wish I spent more time with the people I loved’, because our relationships they build us, they define us, they sustain us and they can break us too.

And we know relationship breakup can be tough, right? Research is pretty clear: Loneliness, depression increased crime, increased drug use. Some of my own research shows that breakup leads you to experience a loss of self. So when you lose a relationship, part of who you are as a person goes with it, because relationships are important. And it’s bad, don’t get me wrong, it can be bad. But it’s often not as bad as we think. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon and Northwestern asked people who were currently in happy relationships to look out into the future, to make a prediction, and said, ‘You know, if your relationship were to end, how bad would you feel about it?’ And then those researchers do it, researchers do is they waited and they waited for those people, those happy, happy relationships, they waited for those people to break up — because only then could we actually see or could they actually see how bad was it, right? And so they waited for them to break up, and said, ‘So how bad — how bad is it, now that you broke up?’

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And they compared what the predictions were to their actual breakup experience. And what they found was people were wrong. They were wrong. Their breakup simply wasn’t as awful and devastating as they thought.

So I’m curious, by show of hands, how many people here have experienced a breakup or divorce? Show of hands. All right. Please keep your hands up if you survived that experience. Perfect, good. I’m glad you’re here. Now please keep your hand up still if you learned something about yourself, about having better relationships by going through a breakup or a divorce, right? Perfect.

It’s, as well, Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘Our greatest glory is not in never failing but in rising up every time we fail’. No one emerges from their dating life unscathed. Breakups happen, relationships fail. And when they fail, it hurts because you start your happy vibrant person, very much in love, things are going perfectly. You break up and you’re alone. You’re sad, you’re disappointed, things hurt, your heart broken, right? You’re confused. This is not good, we’ve all been there; it’s awful. We’ve been there, we saw, we’ve been there. No one likes being that.

But life thankfully happens on a continuum. There’s good things and there’s bad things, right? So it goes the other way too. Sometimes your relationship really isn’t perfect and it could be improved. So sometimes breaking up in a relationship that’s not that great, like being paroled, right? You’re free now. You don’t have this other person to weigh you down with negativity, nagging, asking you to change how you look or how you act, right? Sometimes it’s a pretty good experience, right? This experience, getting out of that relationship, restores your heart, right? You’re back to be the person that, you know, you can be.

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Some breakups, I would argue, are worthy of celebration. I don’t know if you’ve had any of these kinds of breakups but I have and they’re glorious. It’s really fantastic. But I acknowledge that, I mean that sounds you don’t talk about breakup which is typically sad, and sounds a little counterintuitive to say that it can be such a good experience. But I know, I’ve had it. But it’s also entirely possible that I’m weird. I mean, look at my stick figures, right?

So it’s possible I’m weird. So the scientist in me said, ‘You know, let’s go out and look. Let’s go see if people, when they break up’ — does anybody else — is it just me that feels happy about it sometimes or is it true of other people too? So I use the science in my training and research to see if breakups could be a good thing for other people. And so as all good research does, it might start with a very simple question: Overall how did your break-up influence who you are and how did it impact you, right?

And what I did — I didn’t just ask anybody, I asked people who were likely to be especially sad. I asked people who had recently broken up in the last three months, broken up a long-term relationship, they’ve been in this relationship for a couple years. And they hadn’t found a new relationship partner yet. So if anybody who was going to be sad about their breakup experience, it was this group, right? And what I found was: some people were sad, they characterized their break-up as negative. But it was one out of three people, right, which sounds like a lot. I don’t know if that’s what you expected.