My 20 year old daughter just broke up with her first and only serious boyfriend, and she is visibly depressed. He asked for some time apart, then made it official. As far as I know she was the model old fashioned girlfriend, baking him cookies, doing errands for him, etc. My wife and I had separate pep talks with her, and she has friends that have gone through this, so she is not alone in her grief. Also she is between jobs so work is not affected. She and her Mom also have a whirlwind trip to New York coming up. I guess it is the 'perfect breakup' in a way, but I am still bothered. She is very sensitive and emotional, a lot like me. How long will it take her to get out of her funk, and should she consider anti-depressants or counselling? After my first breakup I had to resort to both. Thanks for your thoughts!
Hi there Bud,
Thank you for taking the time to write to me and I hope that I can help.
The breakdown of any relationship (especially when it has been intense of long term) is similar in the reaction we have to someone dying. When someone dies, we go through a period of self reflection, then mourning before ultimately accepting that they are gone and that we have to continue on with our lives. It is the same with a relationship, just some people handle the fall out more successfully than others.
From what it sounds like, you and your wife are doing a fantastic job consoling your daughter and giving her the support and reassurance she needs to understand that although things may be bleak and difficult at the moment, they will get better.
Someone once described to me how we view the world when we are upset, angry and depressed and it is a good analgy. If you imaging staring straight ahead and you can only see what is front of you without being able to look up or down or turn your head, you view of the world (and your situation at the moment) will be limited. If your situation is currently negative and your focus is on that because that is all that you can see, you cannot see the good things above you or the fantastic things below you, both of which are wider and bigger than this narrow view point.
What this means is that at the moment, your daughter thinks that her world has fallen apart and that nothing will ever be the same again. She invested a lot of time, energy and love into this relationship and it sounds like she was not expecting it to breakdown which makes things worse. When you have given so much of yourself and think that everything is going well, to then have the rug pulled from under your feet and be left wondering what has happened, it cannot be easy to comprehend. Your daughter will probably be asking herself if there is anything that she could have done to change the outcome of the relationship and this is a question that she may continue to go back to repeatedly. She will be looking at herself for a reason why things broke down and to put the blame on herself. For as long as she is stuck in this negative loop of only seeing the failures in her relationship and the negativity that the breakdown has created, she will find it incredibly difficult to move on out of the grief phase of the relationship breakdown.
People who are sensative (I am as well) can sometimes internalise a lot of the blame for things that happen to them but are beyond their control. For example, if I miss the bus even though I am on time, I blame myself for not setting off even earlier when in fact, the bus was earlier than it should have been. Things beyond our control cannot be controlled by us (sensative people) but to claw some sense of control back, we turn to blaming ourselves. In the case of relationship breakdown, everything becomes 'my fault' and it is all about what 'I should have done' opposed to thinking, it was not my fault.
I think that there is no harm in your daugther speaking to both the doctor and looking into some kind of counselling. Antidepressants will help to take the edge off her anxiety and depression and may help to elevate her mood to a more stable condition. Coupled with counselling, they should start to help her put the blame for the breakdown at arms length, getting her out of a negative blame cycle and helping her to understand that this is just one of those things that has happened that should not necessarily define her life.
If your daugther refuses to try (or at least discuss both), the only real course for action is to ask her outright 'What can we do to help you get through this?'. Sometimes she will say 'nothing' or it could be 'just listening to me', either way, whatever the response, you and your wife should continue to offer the support that you have been so far.
Your daughter will come through this naturally but it sounds like it could take between six months to a year for her to do this without some kind of intervention, so all avenues should be considered.
Regular social contact with her friends and keeping her mind occupied (through work or a hobby) should also begin to help her come through this by helping her to see the bigger wider world.
I hope this helps.