Relationships are a core aspect of our lives and can influence wellbeing, for better or worst. They can have positive impacts on our mental health, being sources of happiness and support. On the other hand, they can be a source of distress and difficulties in relationships can cause feelings of apprehension and sadness.
Most of us at some point in our lives will experience challenges in a romantic relationship or a relationship breakdown. Being a university student might complicate the picture. Study demands or personal change caused by going to university can contribute to breakups, and the end of a relationship can be a stressful event that may impact your studies. Some find that relationship breakdowns affect study capacity, particularly their ability to concentrate and to complete assignments and prepare for exams.
Common advice is to not go it alone, and to talk and seek support from friends and family, and if useful from university. However, it can feel difficult to talk to others after breakups for a number of reasons, including fear of judgement, perception that the issue would not been seen by others as a ‘real problem’ or that after a certain period of time others think you should be over the relationship already. Whilst many of us have experienced break-up whilst studying, it can feel like a silence exists about talking about this. However, feelings of distress are understandable – and relatable for most of us. In the written stories below, four individuals share their diverse experiences of relationship breakdown whilst studying and discuss the impacts that it had on their studies and how they dealt with the experience.
You might have found that you had an emotional reaction to the stories or that you reacted to one story more than the others. It is worth taking a moment to think about your response. What might you learn about yourself from this?
Acknowledge your feelings
Meaningful relationships overlap with our attachment system. Relationships can be what helps us feel safe and anchored in the world. This helps to explain why their loss or struggle can be so destabilizing. Therefore, it is normal that it can take time to move on. Breaking-up can be a rollercoaster of emotions – numbness, loneliness, anxiety, but also potentially relief, hope and expectations for the future. This up and down journey is normal, and it is important to give yourself space to acknowledge your feelings. Everyone has different experiences of relationship breakdown, so it is okay if the way you are feeling different to what you expected. It is important to acknowledge and process your feelings, but not to ruminate or your beat yourself up. Whilst it can be tempting to withdraw from others after a relationship breakdown, talking and seeking emotional support from friends and family may help process the feelings that you might be experiencing. If you were the person who ended the relationship, you might feel you are not entitled to feel upset, and this might prevent you from seeking support or talking to others. However, any relationship ending can be hard – even if you are the one ending things. Breaking up can involve a period of adjustment for both partners. You are potentially going through a process of mourning something that you thought you had, and a relationship breakup can shake routine, identities, and support. The decision to stay or end a relationship can also be difficult. You might be uncertain if you are making the right decision and might feel a lot of guilt about potentially hurting your partner. However, unhappy relationships are not good for wellbeing, and in the long run breaking up can be the right thing for all parties.
Seeking support from the university
You might feel like you can only talk to your university about academic issues, but if your experience of a breakup is having a significant impact on your studies – for example, you have missed lecturers or seminars, fallen behind on your work and are not sure how to catch up, and struggling to complete assignments or prepare for exams – then there might be ways your university can help you. In the video below, a university mental health advisor discusses her experience of supporting students through breakups and provides guidance on how to approach the university for support if you feel like you need it.
Sources of support and advice
After a break-up there might need to things you need to work out with your partner, especially if you are married, in a civil partnership, living together or have children.
Citizen advice provides online information on sorting out money when you separate and getting divorce or ending a civil partnership
The Mix, support for young people under the age of 25, provides advice about finances after separation. They also provide different forms of support (helpline, email, crisis messenger and one-to-one chat). Details can be found here.
Your university will have different sources of support available.
Talk to your university’s student support team if you have got behind on your studies. They will be able to provide advice about getting back on track.
You might be able to apply for mitigating circumstances. This is when during your studies you have experienced exceptional unforeseen short-term circumstances that have affected your ability to do your assignments or exams. Normally you need to apply for this in a timely manner and provide evidence so it is important to discuss with the university when you start having problems what might be covered and how you apply.
University wellbeing services normally offer counselling or therapy. If you feel like this could benefit you, your university wellbeing website should contain information on how to access these services.
Student Union – student unions have different activities and clubs that are available to join at any point in the year.
RELATE is the UK’s largest provider of relationship support. Their website contains a range of relationship advice. Shout is a free, confidential and anonymous service for anyone in the UK. Trained volunteers are available 24 hours, 7 days a week to listen and provide support. To start a conversation text the word ‘SHOUT’ to 85258.
Thank you to all past and present students who shared their experiences of relationship breakdown and created the stories for this resource.