I never considered getting back with either of my exes. Not that they were chomping at the bit to be with me again, either; there was far too much water under the bridge.
Yet saying goodbye to love, or what you defined as love, can be a lot more difficult than you anticipate. And you can far too easily bounce back to an ex just to avoid the pain of letting go forever.
Let’s look at some of the most common destructive patterns when you can’t make a breakup stick.
The drama of the yoyo relationship…
Many people break up and reconcile. Break up and reconcile. Break up and reconcile. These relationships can be quite dramatic, and in fact, for some, the very chaos of that pattern can be addictive. You can become so accustomed to life being full of traumatic, angry good-byes and reckless, seductive reunions that a more stable, healthy relationship seems boring in its wake.
And you’re likely to exhaust the energies of friends and family who watch you do this over and over.
The desperation of love addiction…
You can create problems by becoming obsessed with the search for love. There’s even a diagnostic category of love addiction complete with specific symptoms. One highly acclaimed treatment center says this about the love addict:
Love addicts live in a chaotic world of desperate need and emotional despair. Fearful of being alone or rejected, love addicts endlessly search for that special someone – the person that will make the addict feel whole. Ironically, love addicts oftentimes have had numerous opportunities for the truly intimate experience they think they want. But they are much more strongly attracted to the intense experience of “falling in love” than they are to the peaceful intimacy of healthy relationships.
As such, they spend much of their time hunting for “the one.” They base nearly all of their life choices on the desire and search for this perfect relationship – everything from wardrobe choices to endless hours at the gym, to engaging in hobbies and other activities that may or may not interest them, to the ways in which they involve others in conversations and social interactions.
This sounds like its own version of emotional hell to me — acting on the belief that that perfect relationship will fix your inner fear. Healthy relationships don’t complete your life. They enhance your already fulfilled life.
The bitterness and confusion of not getting emotionally divorced…
Then there’s what I call emotional divorce. Perhaps you’ve heard someone talking about their ex or their divorce, and the intensity of their anger or sadness feels raw and almost ugly. Yet when you ask, “So how long ago did the relationship end?” The answer startles you, “It was five years ago.”
Emotional divorce takes time, energy, and self-reflection. You have to take responsibility for your part of the failure or the struggle that was never reconciled. If not, you can remain bitter or despairing.
But many people do have fantasies about getting back together. They talk about what they did wrong and wonder if they’d still be together if they’d only tried harder. That kind of question is hard to face. Yet sometimes couples often don’t want to do the hard work of letting go. So, they continue sleeping together, meeting late at night at Sonic, or spending significant time together…even if they know they’re holding on to a memory of what was and no longer is.
Is it normal grieving or have I made a mistake?
But let’s say you simply miss your ex, whether you were dating or married. How do you know if this is normal grieving or if you’ve made a mistake? Relationships are a mixture of happy and not-so-happy. And remember, you’re not only grieving your ex, but you’re grieving all the effort you put into the relationship. That can take a reinterpretation of the relationship and your own history.