By Chris Seiter

Published on October 11th, 2023

Today I’m going to rank 11 types of breakups from least hurtful to most hurtful.

Now, I’m going to be honest, ranking this list is a little like “picking the least painful way to get burned.” No matter the choice, it’s still going to hurt.

For those of you looky loos. Here’s a quick snapshot of the list,

  • Outgrown Each Other Breakup: This comes first because, while it’s sad, there’s often an understanding that the breakup is a natural result of growth. It’s an almost inevitable part of life; people change, and not always in tandem with their partners. The pain stems from the loss of compatibility more than any personal betrayal.
  • The Complacency Breakup: Here, the pain arises from monotony rather than acute incidents of harm. The relationship might feel like a habit rather than a source of joy or growth. The hurt is more about the loss of passion and intimacy over time.
  • Mutual Breakup: This is typically one of the least painful scenarios since both parties are in agreement. The understanding between both parties can cushion the emotional blow.
  • Toxic Relationship Breakup: While the end of such relationships is, in the long run, beneficial for the person’s well-being, the emotional scars and trauma make the process very painful. The pain isn’t just about ending the relationship; it’s also about healing from the damage it caused.
  • Distance-Driven Breakup: This type of breakup is heart-wrenching because it’s often about external circumstances rather than a loss of love or respect. The feeling of “right person, wrong time” can haunt individuals for a long time.
  • The “One that Got Away” Breakup: This breakup can be so painful because it’s often laden with “what ifs” and lingering feelings of regret. The person left behind often feels that they lost their one true chance at happiness.
  • Blindsided Breakup: The suddenness and unexpected nature of this breakup amplify the pain. The person on the receiving end often feels disoriented, questioning the reality of their entire relationship.
  • Trust-Breaking Event Breakup: Trust is fundamental in relationships, and when it’s broken, the foundation of the relationship crumbles. Whether repairable or not, the immediate aftermath is deeply hurtful.
  • Move On To Someone Else Breakup: According to the Comparative Rejection concept, being left for someone else can be profoundly damaging to one’s self-esteem. It’s not just about losing a partner but also facing direct comparison and perceived inadequacy.
  • Infidelity Breakup: The betrayal in infidelity runs deep. Not only is there a breach of trust, but the act of cheating can shatter one’s self-worth and belief in love.
  • Death of a Partner: This is the most painful because it’s final. Unlike other breakups where there’s potential for reconnection in the future or closure, death is irrevocable. The grief intertwines with the love, leading to an immense emotional toll.

Alright, let’s get down to business.

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11. The You’ve Outgrown Each Other Breakup:

I’ve positioned at the beginning of the spectrum because this type of breakup, though melancholic, tends to carry a certain philosophical acceptance.

The essence of the pain in this breakup isn’t rooted in sharp betrayals or sudden abandonments but in the slow realization that the paths of two individuals have diverged.

As humans, we evolve, our perspectives shift, our ambitions transform, and our personal journeys sometimes take us to places we hadn’t foreseen. In the context of a relationship, when both individuals start evolving in different directions, it becomes akin to two parallel lines that once met at a point but now move forward without ever crossing again.

This change isn’t always about dramatic shifts. It could be subtle nuances in aspirations, values, or lifestyle preferences that start creating a gap. Over time, conversations that once flowed effortlessly might feel strained, shared hobbies might no longer be of interest, and dreams that were once mutual might now seem alien.

What exacerbates the pain is the memory of how synchronized the relationship once was. There’s a lingering nostalgia for a time when both parties effortlessly resonated with each other. The heartache is in accepting that the compatibility, once taken for granted, has waned.

Unlike more tumultuous breakups characterized by heated arguments or evident betrayals, this kind of separation is marked by quiet reflections, bittersweet memories, and the painful wisdom that love, sometimes, isn’t enough to hold two evolving individuals together.

10. The Complacency Breakup:

In long-term, non-married relationships, the Complacency Breakup emerges when the bond, once vibrant and evolving, stagnates into predictable routines.

The lack of formal commitments like marriage, while offering flexibility, can also lead to inertia. As days turn into a loop of predictability, the passion and discovery phase is replaced by a comfortable yet uninspiring familiarity.

The true heartbreak in this type of separation comes not just from ending the relationship, but from realizing that over time, routine had overshadowed genuine affection and intimacy. The looming question for many is whether they stayed out of genuine love or merely the fear of starting anew.

9. Mutual Breakup:

In the realm of relationship endings, a Mutual Breakup often stands as a beacon of maturity and mutual respect.

While there’s still a sense of loss, the collective acknowledgment that the relationship has reached its conclusion lessens the sting.

Both parties, armed with mutual understanding, navigate the end together, often prioritizing shared memories and respect over blame or regret. This joint acceptance tends to facilitate healing, making the transition to singlehood smoother than more contentious breakups.

8. Toxic Relationship Breakup:

I placed this here because while it’s incredibly painful in the long run it’s actually a good thing. It’s one of those pay now, succeed later type situations.

Think of it like you are emerging from a storm: there is relief in leaving the chaos behind.

Of course, that doesn’t mean there won’t be emotional damage. Such relationships often involve patterns of manipulation, emotional or physical abuse, and consistent disregard for boundaries.

The individual, over time, might grapple with eroded self-worth, trust issues, and even anxiety or depression. Breaking free, then, isn’t just about ending the relationship; it’s a starting point for a journey of self-healing and rediscovery.

This breakup often necessitates not just distancing from the partner but also confronting and working through the emotional baggage they’ve left behind. While the eventual outcome promises personal growth and newfound strength, the initial stages can be among the most challenging and painful experiences one endures.

7. Distance-Driven Breakup:

Navigating a Distance-Driven Breakup can be likened to watching a ship sail away while standing anchored on the shore.

The emotional tether remains, but geographical or circumstantial barriers make sustaining the relationship untenable.

Unlike other breakups rooted in personal conflicts or fading feelings, this one is marked by an agonizing paradox: the love remains intact, yet the relationship can’t thrive.

Such separations are often doused in a mix of longing and helplessness, as both parties might still see a potential future together but are thwarted by present realities.

The persistent “what could have been” thoughts serve as a poignant reminder of love lost not to emotional differences, but to life’s unpredictable challenges.

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6. The “One that Got Away” Breakup:

This kind of breakup is a poignant blend of nostalgia and unfulfilled dreams, evoking feelings akin to an unfinished symphony.

The individual often perceives the lost partner as the epitome of love and connection, making their absence feel like a gaping void that other relationships can’t fill. Whether it’s due to unfortunate timing, insurmountable external pressures, or seemingly unsolvable disagreements, the separation feels like an untimely end to a story that had much more to tell.

Over time, memories might become idealized, amplifying the pain as the person becomes an almost mythic figure in one’s heart.

This idealization can sometimes inhibit the healing process, making it difficult to move on or to view subsequent relationships without comparing them to the profound connection that was lost.

The haunting question of “What if?” lingers, casting a shadow over future romantic endeavors and imbuing the past with a bittersweet melancholy.

5. Blindsided Breakup:

A Blindsided Breakup is the emotional equivalent of a rug being pulled out from underneath one’s feet.

When one party perceives the relationship as stable and thriving, the sudden revelation of the other’s desire to part ways can be both shocking and disorienting.

This unexpected turn of events disrupts the individual’s sense of security, leading to intense feelings of vulnerability and confusion.

The pain is often amplified by a scramble to understand “why” and “how” things went awry, especially if there were no apparent signs of discord.

Feelings of self-doubt, betrayal, and even denial may surface, as the individual grapples with the unexpected end of what they believed was a secure and mutual connection.

4. Trust-Breaking Event Breakup:

Trust is a foundational pillar of any relationship, and when it’s compromised, the stability of the entire relationship can be jeopardized.

In a Trust-Breaking Event Breakup, the pain arises not just from the event itself—whether it’s a betrayal or a significant misunderstanding—but from the shattering of previously held beliefs about the relationship. Even if the trust-breaking event seems minor on the surface, it can unearth deeper insecurities or doubts.

The affected individual often feels a mix of anger, hurt, and disbelief.

While there might be potential for repair, the lingering question remains: can trust be fully restored? And if not, what does that mean for the relationship’s future?

This type of breakup often involves an internal struggle, weighing the love and history shared with the partner against the pain and doubt introduced by the trust-breaking incident.

3. Move On To Someone Else Breakup:

You might be wondering why I ranked this one among one of the most painful outcomes.

It’s actually because of this research I found here. That study was run by Cornell University and found that breakups including the comparative rejection concept are considered to be among the most painful.

Comparative Rejection: According to the Comparative Rejection concept, being left for someone else can be profoundly damaging to one’s self-esteem. It’s not just about losing a partner but also facing direct comparison and perceived inadequacy.

So, getting broken up with only to find ten minutes later that they’ve moved on to someone else.

Well… that’s really painful but not quite as painful as….

2. Infidelity Breakup:

Here we are sticking with the comparative rejection concept just in a much more potent way.

Infidelity strikes at the very heart of a relationship, wielding a double-edged sword of betrayal and rejection. Rooted deeply in the comparative rejection concept, the pain of being cheated on isn’t just about the act itself but also the implicit message it sends: that someone else was chosen over you, even if momentarily.

This not only erodes the trust that’s foundational to any intimate bond but also wreaks havoc on one’s self-esteem and self-worth. The individual left behind often grapples with a whirlwind of emotions—anger, hurt, humiliation, and even self-blame.

They may endlessly replay moments from the relationship, seeking missed signs or wondering what they could have done differently. Infidelity doesn’t just end the relationship; it shatters the narrative that both partners shared, replacing cherished memories with doubt and suspicion.

The journey to healing from such a betrayal is long and arduous, requiring one to rebuild their sense of self and trust in future relationships.

1.Death of a Partner:

And number one on my list, even above comparative rejection breakups is the death of a partner.

The death of a partner transcends the typical framework of breakups, plunging the surviving individual into an abyss of grief that’s both profound and multi-layered. Unlike other separations where there’s potential for reconnection or reconciliation, the permanence of death introduces a raw finality that can be overwhelmingly hard to grapple with.

The future that was once envisioned together, the shared dreams and plans, now lie suspended in a heart-wrenching void.

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This loss isn’t just about the absence of the partner, but also the accompanying silence of shared jokes, mutual understandings, and those unspoken gestures of love. Everyday moments become poignant reminders of their absence, and special occasions can feel hollow without their presence.

Grieving individuals might also wrestle with regrets, unspoken words, or unresolved issues, adding another layer of pain to their sorrow.

While time might dull the sharpness of the initial pain, the sense of loss can linger, often evolving and manifesting in different ways as life progresses. The journey of healing isn’t about moving on but finding ways to integrate this profound loss into one’s life and learning to find joy and meaning once again.

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