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Is it wrong to ask for a ‘personal day’ off to get over a breakup?

When Giorgia Meloni, the Italian prime minister, announced she had split from the father of her child, she came in for criticism for having a day off to recover from the breakup. But taking time out to process big life events only makes you more resilient in the long run, says Rosie Wilby

Monday 23 October 2023 15:16 BST
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<p>The Italian prime minister, who broke up with her partner of 10 years, Andrew Giambruno </p>

The Italian prime minister, who broke up with her partner of 10 years, Andrew Giambruno

Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni has made headlines by taking a “personal day” off to absorb the shock of her sudden breakup.

Her partner of 10 years, television presenter Andrea Giambruno, was recently caught on camera using foul language, touching his groin and appearing to make advances to a female colleague. Last week, an audio recording emerged in which he could be heard talking about being in an affair.

In announcing that she needed a day off to recover, Meloni – the 46-year-old head of a right-wing coalition government – released a message saying: “I, too, am human.”

But rather than query the notion of a personal day, shouldn’t we all perhaps take inspiration from a leader demonstrating self-awareness, practicing self-care and setting boundaries on a day when any human would automatically experience excessive stress, impaired focus and judgement, reduced immune function and a host of physiological symptoms that are no different to the illnesses we regularly take sick days off for?

Broken heart syndrome is a recognised medical condition, with symptoms similar to those of a heart attack. We are hardwired to fear rejection, and this social pain has been shown to activate the exact same areas of the brain activated by the physical kind.

Meanwhile, the impact of a breakup is widely understood by psychologists to be similar to that of a bereavement. Typically, during the aftermath, we work through the five stages of grief, as first documented in 1969 by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

It’s no accident that after a breakup, we can find ourselves saying: “It’s like somebody died.” While there may not be a body, there’s still a gaping chasm of loss.

We seem to feel culturally comfortable with the notion of compassionate leave after a death. Yet the companies in Japan, Germany and Australia that offer heartbreak leave are seen as quirky and unusual. Miki Hiridate, CEO of a Tokyo marketing company, says: “With heartbreak, everyone needs time off, just like when you get sick.”

In the UK, the idea of divorce leave hit the headlines in February after a number of companies introduced family-friendly HR policies for staff going through a separation. These policies would place a breakup on the same footing as other significant life events, such as family death or illness, and grant access to more flexible ways of working.

However, there’s currently no legislation in place that would compel employers to offer this kind of leave. It is entirely at the discretion of employers. So there are question marks around who really has access to this type of support. If divorce leave is unpaid, would everyone who needs it be able to afford to take it? And is it primarily for couples who have children or are married? Are these employers only focussing on allowing time for the practical and legal negotiations that are one small part of getting through a breakup? Does this type of leave really take into consideration the emotional health of the two individuals who are separating?

The friends and colleagues who have spoken on my podcast The Breakup Monologues about powering through a heartbreak and seeking solace in the distraction of work have typically found this a flawed strategy, merely deferring their grief to a later date. Some have experienced a much longer period of feeling unproductive further down the line. When grief hits us later at unexpected times, that’s when it can mess around even more with deadlines, schedules and important meetings.

It strikes me as the far healthier choice to deal with the shock of a breakup in the moment; to sit with the pain, feel the feelings and reach out to friends and support networks. Even a day of reflecting on what has happened and facing up to our abruptly altered future will make us more resilient and ultimately, even more human.

Rosie Wilby is a comedian and the author of ‘The Breakup Monologues’ (Bloomsbury, £10.99)

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