When in need of breakup advice, people turn to various sources. They may turn to friends or family for personal support and guidance. They may turn to a trained therapist or counselor for professional help. Or they may explore the wide range of books and videos on the market that offer advice on how to best survive and thrive through a breakup.

From these sources, they are likely to hear a range of different advice reflecting various schools of thought. However, despite the seemingly vast variances between the answers provided, they will tend, nonetheless, to fall into two fundamental categories. We will call these categories symptom-focused and origin-focused.

Symptom-Focused Breakup Advice

Symptom-focused breakup advice is aimed primarily at simply easing the immediate discomfort of relationship issues as quickly as possible. Thus, if a person finds talking to his or her partner or ex-partner painful, symptom-focused advisors may suggest seeking ways to distance from the partner, thus avoiding the symptom of pain. If a person feels restricted by their partner’s needs, a symptom-focused advisor may suggest seeking ways to escape those restrictions in order to feel more free and uninhibited.

Origin-Focused Breakup Advice

Origin-focused breakup advice, on the other hand, is aimed at discovering the deeper roots of symptoms and addressing them. Therefore, it is not as quick to advocate avoidance or suppression of relationship challenges. For instance, if a person finds talking to his or her partner or ex-partner painful, the origin-focused advisor does not necessarily suggest simply distancing. If a person feels restricted by his or her partner’s needs, an origin-focused advisor does not necessarily suggest immediate escapism as an optimal solution. Instead, they are more likely to promote proactive and constructive engagement in the conflict with an aim of more fundamental resolution. This very different approach stems from the origin-focused advisor’s more comprehensive understanding of relationships.

What Origin-Focused Breakup Advisors Know

The origin-focused advisor realizes some very important facts about relationships that give wise individuals pause before jumping to simplified conclusions about the cause or solution of symptoms.

He or she knows, for instance, that:

  • We tend to project unresolved feelings from earlier life relationships onto current partners – If we struggled with certain traits or behaviors in our relationships with our parents, caregivers, relatives or others early in life, we may find our current partners triggering unprocessed emotions connected to those early interactions that have remained latent in us. Thus, despite the close association of the current relationship with certain symptoms, the true cause of these symptoms may actually lie not in the current relationship at all, but in past relationships.
  • Sometimes, unpleasant symptoms are indicators of areas that need exercise, not indicators of a need to escape – For example, if our partner’s needs seem to restrict us, it may be a sign that we have chosen an ultimately incompatible partner. However, it may instead be a sign that we ourselves fear intimacy or limits and that our partner’s needs pose a healthy challenge, spurring us to finally face certain growing pains that we failed to confront earlier in life.
  • Working through challenges in a relationship may strengthen it to levels beyond those attainable in relationships that are never seriously challenged – Many of us have been fed the fantasy, from Disney and elsewhere, that a healthy relationship should always be smooth sailing. In some cases, with very mature partners, smooth sailing does indicate a remarkably compatible partnership. However, in many cases, prolonged smooth sailing simply indicates a more casual, less engaged partnership. In the long run, most relationships will meet challenges. But these challenges are not necessarily signs of ultimate incompatibility. If both partners are willing to accept them as opportunities to learn, grow, practice and improve relationship skills, the challenges may eventually be remembered as pivotal catalysts in the development of real, sustainable love.

  • Failing to resolve relationship challenges often leads to repeating them again in future relationships – If we simply opt out of confronting the challenges posed by symptoms in our current relationship, there is a high likelihood that we will find ourselves facing similar symptoms in a future relationship.

Comparing The Approaches and Roles of Symptom-Focused Breakup Advice and Origin-Focused Breakup Advice

Because they understand the aforementioned fundamental relationship principles, origin-focused breakup advisors are likely to take a very different approach to relationship challenges than their symptom-focused counterparts. The chart below contrasts some features of the two approaches.

Symptom-Focused Breakup Advice Origin-Focused Breakup Advice
Views current relationship symptoms as problems indicating incompatibility Views current relationship symptoms as indicators of areas with potential opportunities for growth
Offers simplified explanations for relationship challenges Views relationship challenges as complex and multi-faceted
Explains symptoms as primarily stemming directly from the current relationship Sees relationship symptoms as usually having roots throughout the partners’ entire life stories
Leans toward advocating suppression of or distancing from discomfort in a relationship Leans toward advocating deep investigation of the sources of discomfort in a relationship
Leans toward promoting purported “quick-fix” solutions or escapes Promotes an ideal of experimenting with and testing a combination of a wide range of essential approaches before resigning oneself to the status quo or ending the relationship
Offers suggestions for restoring peace of mind in the short term Provides a variety of tools and techniques aimed at optimizing relationships to support partners in striving toward their full potential in the long term

This chart hints at our general preference for an origin-focused approach to breakup advice. However, symptom-focused breakup advice does have its place. In a certain set of relationships characterized by previously unforeseeable abuse, addictions or personality disorders, for example, the current relationship may indeed be the fundamental cause of unhealthy symptoms for one of the partners. In that circumstance, a fast, focused approach to escaping the relationship may be ideal or even necessary. Sometimes even an origin-focused advisor would agree that the immediate situation really is the origin of symptoms and requires swift and immediate intervention. And sometimes, even when a deeper origin-focused approach is eventually called for, it can be helpful to use a symptom-focused approach first in order to stabilize the situation.

Nonetheless, ultimately, we believe that origin-focused relationship approaches are superior in catalyzing lasting insight and health. This is especially true because, even in the portion of cases where a symptom-focused approach is most appropriate, an origin-focused advisor would be likely to recognize this. A typical symptom-focused advisor, on the other hand, is less likely to recognize cases where an origin-focused approach is optimal.

Imago Relationship Therapy: A Recommended Form of Origin-Focused Breakup Advice

One of the most comprehensive and powerful sources for origin-focused breakup advice is the field of Imago Relationship Therapy. This is why we highly recommend the field’s landmark books Keeping the Love You Find and Getting the Love You Want to singles and couples, respectively, who are struggling with challenging symptoms in their relationships.

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