What Happens in a Breakup
Shared by Nina Rubin
In the last few weeks, I’ve heard about three
devastating breakups (almost all breakups are devastating). The first one was between a man and a woman and he’s 26 years her senior. Their relationship sounds like it’s predicated on his parenting her and her being “adorable” to him. They argue and fight often, rarely getting over jealousy and resentment. I get the sense that resolution comes in the form of sex, but at least one member of the couple is, at most times, feeling anxious. He described their relationship in-depth, wondering if he was making the “right” decision by leaving the relationship. Feeling trapped, he didn’t know what else to do.
The second breakup occurred between one of my clients and her long-time partner. This couple, on paper, had everything: two adorable pets, a beautiful apartment, constant travel plans, and a deep love for each other. However, my client desired closeness and intimacy, something that her partner could not give. Turns out the reason he could not be more emotionally available was that he was in the throes of an affair. They went to one+ year of couples’ therapy in the hopes that my client would eliminate or reduce her anger, and the partner would learn how to express intimacy. No such luck. The partner did not completely stop the affair, and my client could not grow closer to her boyfriend. When my client experienced the death of a beloved family member, she expected her partner to support her with hugs, empathy, and added support, but the partner was unable to share the grief. My client realized that she could no longer continue the relationship, and ended it. Naturally, I’m summarizing the story, but there were over nine months of “back and forth” in her mind. She experienced many wonderful days in the relationship and other days that felt completely unbearable.
The third breakup is between my friend and his girlfriend of two years. He describes her as “one of the smartest people he’s ever met, someone who comes from a great family, and someone with whom he’d experience enormous stability.” They enjoyed many experiences together, but when it was time for her to potentially move-in, he became aware that she was not “the one.” He described an appreciation and loving toward her, but doesn’t sound like he’s super-attracted to her. In our renewed friendship, there are two red flags that he’s mentioned: the first is he doesn’t feel like his humor is always “gotten” and the second is that he doesn’t respond to the way she smells. Over time, he acknowledged that his sense of humor changed to accommodate her, but that he had not felt seen for his silliness or long-form jokes. To me, the real worry was the pheromone issue. A “chemistry” issue like that just can’t be overlooked. According to him, the odor was not from lack of cleanliness or eating too many raw onions; rather, their smells didn’t mesh. He acknowledges that the scent kept them from cuddling as much as either of them would have liked.
In all of these recent breakups, I’ve been witness to the common thread: that people need the space and love to be able to talk it out. And I also know intimately well that breakups hurt, sting, linger. During one, there’s almost nothing worse. It’s virtually impossible to have perspective in a breakup, because yours is, or feels, the worst. Sometimes we have to stay in bed for a day or two, eat too much (or can’t eat, as is often my situation), and need to rehash the entire trajectory and history of the relationship. I’ve found that listening to my friends and clients seems to be the best course of action. For me, being listened to, not judging, and allowing me time to say the same things again and again is what helps the most.
I feel so badly for the people I just wrote about. Their hearts are in shreds and they’re constantly questioning their decisions to leave the relationship or contact their exes. Even saying “my ex” is painful at first. So what happens? Well, during the course of the relationship, things are floating along smoothly and then for whatever reason, it cracks. Maybe there’s jealousy, maybe lies and cheating, maybe people grow apart. Then, ostensibly, they try to talk about it and work things out. Over time, this pattern happens more frequently, and sometimes one member of the couple has already “decided” that it’s hopeless. Finally, one person or both decide that this is not working anymore. (In the case when one person decides that it’s not working anymore, then it is super hard to make a comeback.) I know that in some of my situations, I’ve maintained hope and optimism way too long and have been a prisoner to this hopeful feeling that “we will be okay!” It’s kept me circling breakups far too long than had I actually said the words. I was scared, full of fear and shame, and held a belief that things “really would work out.” Yet, it’s hard to make a comeback when the other person isn’t making similar efforts or doesn’t speak the same love language. I totally get my friends’ and clients’ breakup rumination… the situations are just plain hard.
Everyone has had heartbreak. I’d love to hear yours. I will listen without judgment and can tell you that it “will get better” or that “you don’t deserve this.” But really those will just be empty words. What’s really more important is that I remind you how loving and lovable you are and you can repeat the story until you don’t need to anymore and I’ll still be listening. What happens in a breakup is that the injured people need to experience love again, and know that they still matter.
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