05/30/2014 05:40 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Two Different Meanings of a Breakup


Breakups can have two distinctly different meanings. They can be exactly what they are, or the opposite of what they seem to be. A breakup can mean, "I'm done here. It's really over." Or, it can be a plea for love that's really saying, "I love you. You're hurting me. I want to stay with you but I feel scared, insecure and unappreciated. Step up to the plate and prove that you love me or I'll be forced to breakup with you."

How do you know the correct message within a breakup speech? How can you tell if it's definitive, or a threat set up as a test?

You need to know your partner's disposition and commitment in order to decipher the truth of their underlying feelings. The "breakup threat" can be a plea for help covered by layers of hurt and anger. They don't really want to end the affair. They want to stop the pain they're feeling. Lovers are prone to take this action when confused and frustrated. It's a last-ditch effort to get their needs met. As the recipient of this threat, you're being challenged to step up your game or lose your mate. You're being asked to fight for the love you share, because by all outer appearances you're getting lazy, unappreciative, vacillating or backing off.

It's imperative to read the underlying emotional markers. Whenever in doubt, ask. Don't assume what you're hearing is the absolute truth. Take your time. Try to listen, rather than react out of your own fear. To falsely read the meaning of a breakup as concrete is to disallow the possibility of another hidden message.

One version of a plea for love is what I call the "pre-emptive" breakup. It's most likely to occur when your partner realizes they really care about you. Fearing they've passed their own emotional limits of control, this breakup serves as a protective means of escape from the possibility of future hurt. It's a defensive move. But it's played out from an offensive position.

If you think your partner may be playing this move in reaction to his or her own fears, talk it through. Remain calm and grounded. You'll get better results and more information. Reassure your mate. Let them know that you, too, have moments of fear and all of this is completely normal. Talk about any problems they express and be open to listening. You'll be able to figure out what adjustments can be made in order to provide greater reassurance.

False breakups are in highest occurrence when the relationship leaves the honeymoon phase and things get real. Partners begin to let down their guard and quit pretending to be who you want them to be. This critical juncture is a time of tremendous internal and external change. Re-calibrations need to be made as each party secures their own identity, boundaries and goals. These adjustments are natural to a relationship that's growing. Power shifts are being stabilized. Balance is coming into alignment.

Love never comes with a guarantee and control is never a given. The nature of partnership carries all of our feelings, including our hopes and fears. When fear is triggered, the ego kicks into high gear to guard us. Many breakups could be avoided if we had enough of the real information we need from our partner and if we're able to keep our own emotional balance in that communication.

When is a breakup a real breakup and when is it a cry for love? Ask, if you don't know. Ask, if you care to know. If it's really over, at least you know that as well. If there's anything that can be done to reconnect to your partner, asking what is needed will provide the information you seek. Either way, the answers to the truth of the matter will appear. For good or bad, preferred or not preferred, you'll know where you stand and what step to next take.