Monthly Archives: September 2016
There is a literal pain that comes with the loss of a relationship: a sharp, palpable pain that most people feel at the point that their lower ribs connect. It’s a pulsing, weepy pain that digs into your diaphragm, and takes your breath away. It’s a pain that defies distraction, repels food, and throbs even through sleep.
For many broken-hearted people, this physical pain is one of the worst parts of going through a bad break up or divorce. For one thing, it scares them. They can’t make it go away, so they wonder when it will ever stop, or whether they will ever feel better.
Furthermore, maddeningly, it feels like contact with their ex is like the only thing that will stop the hurting. This is true even if they know intellectually that the relationship with their ex is toxic, and any contact will only bring more pain in the end. They still crave the temporary relief it might bring.
If you are in this aching, confusing place here are some tips to help you get through it:
1. Stop beating yourself up.
Most people who are going through this experience believe that there is something wrong with them for feeling the way they do. This is because there is a powerful, and false, myth circulating in our culture that you should just be able to “get over” a relationship without such massive pain and devastation.
Not true. Everyone who has lost a deeply cherished relationship goes through what you are going through. The people for whom breakups were easy simply weren’t bonded to that particular person as deeply as you were to your ex. You hurt so badly because you loved so deeply.
But ironically, the people who experience this sort of devastation often feel ashamed and like there is something wrong with them. So they hide / numb / suppress the pain, and try to get through it alone. You are not alone. And there is nothing wrong with you. On the contrary — you are good at bonding and attaching to others. That is a wonderful thing, in the context of a healthy relationship.
2. Reframe this as withdrawal.
Human beings are built to bond, and form extremely powerful attachments. There are physical systems in your brain and in your body that emotionally weld you to other people. These systems have a great deal in common with the physical systems of addiction. When your attachment bonds are broken, you go into withdrawal.
Heroin addicts, deprived of their fix, writhe sweating on their beds in physical pain, craving the only thing that will make it stop — even though they know, intellectually, it could kill them. They often literally trade their lives for the hope of a few more hours of peace in the arms of Morpheus.
Similarly, heartbroken people lay curled on their beds like shrimp, in the grips of pain that feels like being slowly impaled through their solar plexus. In their agony, they crave the temporary peace of contact with their ex, even though they know it will almost certainly only lead to more disappointment, rejection, and shame.
The difference is that heroin addicts know that they’re in withdrawal. And they know that if they can make it through a few days, it will get better. People suffering through the pain of a breakup have no such assurances, and just feel scared and helpless.
When a relationship comes to an end, the process of healing and moving on hopefully begins. The person you’re trying to let go of may be a recent part of your love life or an old flame. Now comes the task of wiping the slate clean, so you’ll be ready when a new partner enters your life.
Here are 15 practices that will help you leave the past behind:
1. Keep a realistic perspective of the person. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and every relationship has good and bad times. Acknowledging both assures you that your old love was not, in fact, ideal.
2. Clean your emotional house. Honestly inventory the strong feelings left over–pain, anger, regret–and then take time to heal. Proven techniques for doing that abound. Find the ones that make sense to you and get to work.
3. Clean your physical house. You might still have reminders of the relationship you’re trying to leave behind — photographs, mementos, and letters. Boxing them up can have a cleansing effect, a signal to your subconscious mind that a new beginning is underway.
4. Burn the bridge completely. If you know the relationship with your ex is truly over, then there’s nothing to gain from trying to be “just friends” or other variations. The best break is a clean break.
5. Watch your language. Meaning, watch how much you talk about your old relationship. The more your ex’s name comes out of your mouth, the more that person stays in your thoughts.
6. Close anything left open-ended. Whether they left your life weeks ago or years ago, you might have things you still need to say, amends you need to make, items you should have returned, or feelings you want to convey. Bring closure by taking care of what you need to.
Technology has exploded our dating options and put dating effectively on amphetamines. The sheer quantity of choices gives us the feeling that we can and will meet someone through technology. How could we not?
And yet, precisely because there is so much choice, we often don’t give the person we’ve met a real chance. If anything isn’t to our immediate liking, we dive back into our device, back into the land of possibility. Sometimes we do this even when we like the person we’ve met, because we can, and there still could be someone better.
Technology creates a climate of always chasing better—something else.
Rather than focusing on the relationship in front of us—giving it our full attention, we look outside for what we might be missing out on. Consequently, it can feel like no one is ever good enough to stop searching for better. As a result, relationships that, before technology, might have turned into successful partnerships, never get the chance. It was difficult enough for a relationship to get out of the starting gate before technology, but now, despite or maybe because of all the possibilities, it can feel nearly impossible. There’s more potential but the potential remains unrealized.
These days, when a relationship does start, the primary form of communication is often texting. This can create a host of challenges that didn’t exist before technology. When we begin dating, we don’t know someone well and yet we text as if we do, sometimes communicating dozens of times in a day, sharing banter, minutia, and whatever else comes to mind. We communicate as if we are integrated players in each other’s lives, which we are not, at least not yet. So too, we now text with a flirtatious confidence, sometimes sexual, that does not match the actual level of intimacy we’ve achieved. Then, when we meet our person in the flesh or even on the phone, we have to play a game of emotional catch up, to try and bring the real relationship into sync with the virtual. We feel embarrassed and awkward, overexposed. We are building a relationship between two avatars, but not these two humans. But we can’t turn back, we’ve gone too far down the virtual road, and so are frequently left to continue in the virtual relationship, or nothing at all.
Dating in the age of technology presents challenges that can be difficult even for the most confident of daters. It is now possible to know if and when someone has read our text, which means that if our recipient has indeed read our words but not responded, or chosen not to read it at all, to leave it in the dreaded unopened, we are forced into the often unkind and frequently brutal hands of our inner dating critic.
With the help of modern technology, we are left to live a good portion of our dating life inside the maze of our own personal narrative. While we naturally craft our own story about what is happening within the relationship, technology exacerbates the storyteller within us by providing just enough information to send our mind into a tailspin, but not enough to set us free.
Technology is remarkable for many tasks, but if what we really want is to find meaningful connection with another human being, then technology is probably not the right means to achieve that end. Online dating allows us to meet people we would never get to meet, it provides options and inventory, but after we meet, we still have to be willing to do the real life work that real life relationships require. If we’re over the age of three, getting close to another person takes time and effort, but when we put in that time and effort, the infinitely possible can become infinitely real.
My single friends and I often joke about the advice we’re constantly given by our parents, our coupled-up friends and basically, anyone who hears yes, we’re ‘still single’ and yes, ‘still looking.’ The words of wisdom are never delivered with any malicious intent and really, are meant to raise our spirits and ensure we don’t adopt a mostly-bitter attitude toward finding our life partner. But the kicker that’s humorous – especially if you’ve been dating for quite some time, like I have – is that all advice seems to contradict itself. You have to put yourself out there, but not try too hard. You should try online dating, but don’t rely on it completely. You should play hard to get, but don’t be too unavailable or you’ll come across as unapproachable…
…and the list goes on.
As an effort to approach the New Year with a refined attitude toward love and to transition our mindset in a healthy direction, it’s time to let go of some of these tired, old fashioned ways of looking at love. Therapists who are trained to help their clients work through difficult times and take long, hard looks at themselves are better equipped to offer meaningful tips for dating that could actually benefit you in the long run, instead of, well, confusing you.
That’s why, they’ve decided to officially give you permission to stop following these bad pieces of dating advice. And best of all: offer you a different solution instead.
‘Don’t get your hopes up.’
It’s frankly a mantra I repeat in my head over-and-over before any date I have. Since going into date number one, I rarely know much more than the basics, I tend to remind myself to not get too excited. Licensed family and marriage therapist Dr. Wendy O’Connor says instead of being negative, I should actually be positive. “Quit being a downer and negative! Stay positive, motivated, ambitious. If the dating style gets old, boring or just plain bad, find inspiration. Find new interests, new groups. Inspire yourself and others will quickly follow. You will see your luck shift into positive outcomes. Positive thoughts become positive actions,” she explains.
‘You have to research your date and partner, so you’re not blindsided.’
As talented as you might be at identifying someone’s full name by piecemealing the information you know about them via a dating app, therapist Dr. Nikki Martinez, LCPC says to resist the temptation. You may think that you’re setting yourself up to not be shocked when you meet this person, or discover their unruly past, but in reality, you’re taking a lot of the magic of dating discovery out of your experience. “It is not healthy, it is taking you away from doing productive things, and it keeps you stuck in a time and place that is not good for you,” she explains. The same goes for once you’re in a relationship (or about to make things official) and decide to take a joyride through their personal phone. “This is a violation of trust, and a huge question mark to your relationship. If you can not trust this person, you either have some personal work to do, or you are with someone you can not trust. Neither makes for a healthy relationship right now, so address it ASAP,” she notes.
‘Just join all of the dating apps, they’re all the same.’
Just like you wouldn’t go to a Chinese restaurant looking for Mexican food, Dr. Martinez says being strategic about the apps that you invest your energy, heart, and time into is important. Online dating can produce a relationship, but if you’re only swiping in an app that’s intent is based around casual encounters, you’re likely going to be feel disappointed. “There are many sites, and they are pretty clear what their purpose is. So, match your purpose. If you want to have fun, there is nothing wrong with that, but if you are looking for something serious and long term, don’t set yourself up for hurt and failure,” she explains.
Being married for any length of time is truly an accomplishment these days. Just last week a woman asked how long I had been married and when I said forty years this July, her eyes got huge and she said, “To the same person? How is that possible?”
When we got married, people were taking bets on how long our union would last. The average bet was between two weeks and two years because of our age difference and personalities. Let’s just say, my husband is calm, wise, and conservative and I am the exact opposite. I do remember feeling really shaky when I said my vows … “for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and health, till death do us part.” Now that’s a huge promise! Could I really do this?
Flash forward forty years. We are still married, happy and love each other, although it hasn’t been an easy road and our relationship has been tested on many occasions, and I’m sure more will come as we navigate through our senior years.
Someone once said, “I married you for better or worse, but not for breakfast and lunch.” I never really understood that until now. Obviously, when couples first get married, it is exciting, challenging, romantic, and fun. And then if children come along, the marriage gets even more interesting and challenging as people try to raise their kids together. But after the kids are gone, and retirement looms, people start to feel displaced as their roles in life change. Who are we without our careers and kids? What do we have to talk about? And why do we keep bumping into each other in the kitchen?
So in order to keep a relationship going all the way to the end, here are six rules of engagement to keep the fires burning.
Stay Vibrant and Interesting! Continue to learn and try new experiences. You can do this as a couple or individual. No one likes to get stuck in a boring routine or a mundane life, so make sure you keep reinventing both yourself and you as a couple.
Have Date Night at Least Twice a Month. It’s important to have something to look forward to and it doesn’t have to be fancy. Just carving out a special time together is meaningful, thoughtful, and fun!
Make Sure You Don’t “Let Yourself Go.” Even though our partners have probably seen us at our most unattractive, we need to continue to make an effort to look appealing to our spouse. Try to stay fit, have good hygiene, and take good care of you. Doing so is imperative if we want to keep the intimacy going in the marriage. No one likes to sleep with a slob.
Listen! We have Two Ears and One Mouth for a Reason. Communication is essential for long-term relationships. To have someone who actually listens to you is one of the best gifts you can get from your marriage and give to your partner.
Never Go to Bed Mad at Your Partner. A friend once told me that when he and his wife have an argument that can’t be resolved, they “fight naked.” He said that it is impossible to keep arguing when you are in bed close to the one you love. My husband and I haven’t tried this one yet, but we won’t count it out.
Never Take Your Partner for Granted. Always show appreciation, even for small acts of kindness and help. And don’t forget to say those magic three words, at least once a day: I LOVE YOU!
These rules seem simple, but how many couples do you know who don’t abide by any of them? Are they happy? Are they fun to be around? I saw an older couple at a restaurant the other day and they just sat there, ate their food, and never spoke or even looked at each other. It was sad!