I probably can’t do this subject justice but it’s one that is close to most of our hearts, I know it’s close to mine, and it’s been haunting me lately, because I see so many people who feel unable to let go and move on and I feel for them. So this is about the things we tell ourselves and our partner when we’re in love that can keep us stuck in a painful situation if the relationship ends when we should be moving on and letting go
Of course the last thing we feel able to do soon after a separation is move on. Even if we try by seeking out someone who looks similar to the person we’ve lost, we know deep down that we have to go through a process of grieving. But a lot of people seem to get trapped in the grave of a relationship, unable to move forward. This article is about this process and hopefully may help some.
There’s a fantasy about love and connection that it will be happily ever after, we all know it’s not true but as the reality of a relationship starts to hit us, most of us feel a bit shocked by some of the painful feelings that may arise alongside the good feelings. For instance we may feel insecurities about losing our partner, having needy / missing feelings, fears they may not love us properly; that others may try to steal them; that they will change and won’t love us anymore and there are loads more fears that can bubble to the surface. We’re all different so some people are lucky enough to just have a lovely, secure experience together for all their life, but many others don’t.
I’m being a bit dark but I feel I need to remind us that it ain’t as much fun as we’re led to believe on TV. To be fair though during the process of bonding we start to feel lovely things too, like a sense of connection and completion, peace, acceptance, intimacy, and aliveness. As we feel these things we pour out our hearts with promises and thoughts that come from the depths, but these same things may well serve to trap us later too. So let’s start to take a look at some of these lines:
The first and possibly most powerful statements go along the line of “You are the only one for me”, here are a few examples:
“You are the only one for me”
“We are soul mates and we’re meant to be together”
“We fit together perfectly”
“It feels so right when we are together”
“I have never felt as comfortable with anyone else”
“I will never find anyone as good as you”
“It feels so right when we were together”
“I know many others but no one feels as good as you”
There’s often a honeymoon period of about 6 months at the beginning of relationships where the couple create a shell in which the relationship takes place, but after this initial period one of the couple will often start to make a move towards more independence, like wanting to spend time with other people, not coming round every night etc… How the couple deal with this often decides the fate of the relationship. So even after a relatively short period we may have bonded so well and said so many things that separation can still be devastating. All those ideas listed above result in us telling ourselves that we have lost the one and only person we could ever be with, and therefore our love life from now on will be completely compromised. Our emotional life is essentially over and we have nothing to look forward to.
Some people will be stuck in this position for the rest of their lives, unable to move on whilst many will slowly heal and either come to the conclusion that in fact there are many other people we can have powerful connections with or if on the other hand they believe that there’s only one person for them then obviously that last one wasn’t the right one.
As a break up starts to take place most people will take on roles, one tries to pursue whilst the other tries to distance themselves. If each person were able to see the reality of a situation they’d probably have a more mixed point of view, but people aren’t normally able to do that, so instead each takes to their entrenched positions and battle commences. The main battle is one person saying why parting is a good idea and the other saying why carrying on should be pursued at all costs. Here are some of the lines commonly used:
“Relationships are difficult and we shouldn’t just give up at the first sign of struggle”
“We are true friends and our friendship and love should be fought for”
“We like the same things, are on the same wavelength, this is so special it mustn’t be thrown away”
“We feel like we have known each other forever and we have a psychic connection, so don’t abuse this privileged position”
I personally am not advocating that people should just throw in the towel at the first provocation, however in the early stages of a relationship people can be very fickle and I have learned that when that happens it’s often better to just let go, stop being the one who does all the work to keep it going and instead let the other person feel their own doubts so that you too can feel yours. Of course it’s easier said than done but if you can it does seem to help.
We may feel that this relationship is the best friendship we’ve ever had but that’s partly because the scenario allows us to feel that. During the honeymoon period we may well tolerate a lot and not even know we’re tolerating it. Often sometime after a separation many people realise it was for the best and even though they stay friends with the person the friendship isn’t particularly any greater than their normal ones. In other words the persuasive arguments we use on others are just as much geared towards persuading us too. In desperation we daren’t face our own doubts because we are in “Love Saving” mode, and we must keep our mind focused on the job in hand.
There’s some lines from the Leonard Cohen song “I’m Your Man” that go something like this:
“But a man never got a woman back
Not by beggin’ on his knees
Or I’d crawl to you baby
And I’d fall at your feet
And I’d howl at your beauty
Like a dog in heat
And I’d claw at your heart
And I’d tear at your sheet
I’d say please
I’m your man”
We all know that throwing ourselves at someone is to be avoided at all costs, but many of us still do it. Here are a few of the things people like to say just at the worst moment:
“No one will ever love you as much as I do”
“I love you so much”
“I will still love you when you are old”
“I love the smell and taste of you”
“I love the shape of your… [Fill in as desired]
“I cannot stop thinking about you, you are in my mind all the time”
“I will never find anyone like you”
“Even if you don’t want to be with me I will still love you”
“Please I beg you, don’t leave me, I need you”
Although some of these lines may make you smile, if you’ve loved and lost then you may well know the desperate pain that can cause us to utter them, even just to ourselves. The reason why we do it may be that we know it will push them away. That we are trapped in a dance, and we cannot do anything but push, but why?
Some therapists may say we’re repeating patterns and somehow we get some sort of advantage by doing so. It might also be an automatic response, like panicking, or possibly we know deep down that the other person is not right and we are helping to bring about the end of a relationship we know ought to be ended. Some may like the drama. It may even be about us playing out a role where we end up alone because for some reason we prefer that, even though consciously we don’t feel that at all. For instance the romantic idea of being alone waiting for our true love to come back to us may be preferable to the day to day claustrophobic reality of having them in our lives.
Once the person makes it clear that they are off we are very likely to show them that by leaving us we shall be damaged or even die,
“I will die without you”
“I cannot cope without you”
“I am a wreck without you”
“I would do anything to be with you”
At this point we may reach out wanting to be rescued; it may even be that we have engineered the whole scenario to bring us to this point to see if anyone could love us unconditionally, especially if we felt we weren’t loved unconditionally as children. But the person on the other end will probably just fear becoming our slave so will probably get away pretty quickly.
And if they allow us to manipulate them, then what? Wouldn’t we rather someone came to us of their own free will? Well in an ideal world we may but in the panic stricken world of being left, the desire to possess and control may well take over. If it was about love then maybe things would be different, even those with the slightest sense of love would know that love puts those we love first, at our own expense, because underlying it is a sense of compassion and empathy. When we are caught up in a failing relationship we probably end up using all the words of love we said, to fulfil our own desires not our desire to fulfil those we love.
I once read that someone felt that separation was a process of untying many little ribbons that had been used to tie us to each other, it’s a long sad process and some of the hardest connections to break are those in the mind:
“When we are not together I still converse with you”
“You were in my dreams”
“All the coincidences that meant we were destined to be together”
“Fate has brought us together, our whole life has been drawn to this one particular point”
“All the similar things we believe mean we should be together”
The magical psychic world, that many of us can’t help but secretly believe in, keeps our thoughts trained on the person we lost, as soon as we wake they are there, they weave between every thought, and are there with us as we fall asleep and maybe in our dreams too. We know deep down that they are as much a dream to us as they were real, and without a focused attempt to let go they will remain there for far longer than is necessary. It actually takes a disciplined approach to start making someone less dominant in our internal world.
Firstly we need to realise we’re thinking about them, then we need to consciously deal with those thoughts, for instance by using visualisation techniques to imagine them getting smaller and fading off into the distance. In the real world we need to stop seeing them for a while if possible, in the virtual world stop looking at their online presence and slowly we can get to a point where they are not in every other thought. Then one day we get to realise that we haven’t hardly thought of them at all.
I’ve often found that during this period I have tried to visualise sending them off with my blessing to find the person who they can really be happy with, to let go with love will help you more than wishing ill upon them.
Given all the beautiful feelings and words experienced during the relationship it’s very hard for the person who’s still in love and being “abandoned” to understand why anyone would want to walk away from something so beautiful, “there must be something I can’t see, there must be a problem” they say:
“You need to see the truth, we are meant to be together!”
“I cannot understand why you don’t feel the same it must be a problem with commitment that you have”
“If you want other people it is because you’re damaged and you need to be healed”
“If we spend a lot of time together you will come to your senses”
“The only reason you don’t want me is because I want you, it’s a problem you’ve got”
“The only reason I want you is because you don’t want me, but I’m going to choose to ignore that”
“You want me you just don’t know you want me”
“One day you will realise that we are meant to be together”
“Other people think we make a good couple”
“Why waste your time with those others we are right for each other”
Understanding that we can’t always understand why things are as they are is often hard to accept but often there’s no alternative if we want to let go. For some people there are obscure but powerful advantages to not letting go. As said previously facing the reality of a normal non-romantic relationship may not be what some people want, in fact living in a romantic illusion may be far more suitable to them, in its own way the pain of loss may make them feel like they are living on a higher, more meaningful plane. There is also the idea that pain gives a sense of aliveness to some people whereas the drudgery of a mundane existence seems like death. The romantic may feel that by grieving forever that it shows they are able to truly love.
Death and separation are the main catalysts that people experience that can bring them to their psychological knees. If you feel devastated by such things there is a way forward, it’s not quick or painless, but maybe out of respect for the feelings of love you felt it shouldn’t be.
There are choices though, as in do you want to feel better, are you willing to work at it, by not picking at the wounds or returning to the same situation, or spending time looking at the person (virtually or otherwise)? If you start to walk away and let go you may get a sense of hope again and feel it’s possible to connect with others and have a different, but just as valid experience in pastures new.
One has to be brave, and if you feel you want to find a meaningful love in the future then helping to heal yourself for your future partner’s sake is worth bearing in mind. One should try to be as nostalgic for the future as the past.
Meanwhile as the healing process occurs it’s worth keeping track of your state of happiness or anxiety, by giving a grade to how you feel whenever you feel a bit overwhelmed, so if you feel down you can say to yourself “I feel a pain level of 4/10” as this helps you to keep it in perspective. Likewise if you’re feeling anxious try to focus on where you’re feeling the sensations in your body as that too will help you ride them.
I realise a lot of who we are is far more complex than what I have brushed up against here, but if you can keep some hope, look forward to the future, and accept (at least intellectually) that everything comes to pass, both good and bad, then you may be making some room for healing to take place. One of the ideals that I find helps is this very famous one. “Do not ask what life has to offer but what it is you have to offer life”. By focusing on helping others rather than just our own pain we can find a way to give real love as much as we may feel it has evaded us.
© Simon Mark Smith 2012