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Friday, October 13, 2017

Is this Fantasy Love or Authentic Love?

So many promising relationships don’t last. Despite the partners trying everything they know to succeed, they can’t seem to make it to the next step.

When I talk to either of the partners when the relationship Is in trouble, they both tell me that this started out as what seemed like the perfect relationships. They felt certain that the other was their true soul mate, emotionally, sexually, mentally, and spiritually, and that nothing could diminish what they felt about each other.  
When these couples come into therapy, they are understandably confused and demoralized. They have been unable to make sense of why their near perfect union became derailed and desperately want to know what possibly could have happened, and if they still have a chance.
Too often people enter intimate relationships with an internal fantasy of what that new partnership will look and feel like. These fantasies exist within each person before he or she begins the current relationship but absolutely drive the behaviors that have invented them. When their partners do not act or feel as they believe they should, they either ignore the evidence or see those incompatibilities as workable later on.
When two people falling in love do not share those fantasies up front with each other, they are bound to be disappointed when the other partner doesn’t fall into line. They don’t realize that authentic love is never pre-written before a new relationship begins. They fully understand and believe that lasting love is born of actual experiences two people have only with each other from the moment they meet, and continues to deepen as time passes.
The dilemma is that both fantasy love and authentic love feel very similar at the beginning of a new relationship. Both are filled with passion, devotion, and unconditional support. Yet, they are distinguishable early on if the partners know what to look for.  
There are six criteria new lovers can use to help them differentiate fantasy love from authentic love at the onset of their relationship.
1)    Families of Origin
Whether we recognize it or not, we unconsciously model our expectations of relationships from those we observe growing up. Unless we were exposed to multiple variations of how people give and receive love, we are highly likely to believe that what we have seen in our own corner of life is the way everybody is supposed to be.
Many people repeatedly fall in love with those who are combinations of relationships they have seen and internalized from the past. Feelings of familiarity can often trap us into relationships that are simply re-creations of what we’ve been shown. It’s as if we’ve been part of a script we didn’t write, but learned by heart, and are able to automatically recall any role by rote memory.
Until we can re-write our own relationship script, we are pretty much doomed to repeat those patterns. In addition, we are likely to project those roles onto others, expecting them to have memorized the lines they were “supposed to know.” The blush of new love can make both partners strive to do just that, taking their cues from the responses of the other. All seems familiar and secure, until underlying realities emerge.
Authentic lovers are different from fantasy lovers in the way they help each other rapidly recognize these internalized, childhood patterns and then explore them together. If many other parts of the relationship are good, they can have the confidence to successfully integrate what works and leave the rest behind.
2)    Rigidity of Beliefs
Most people, consciously or unconsciously, become very attached to what they believe is the only right way for themselves and others to think and behave. In the throes of the passion and devotion of early love, they may temporarily let go of those rigid beliefs, but are eventually bound to re-submit to them.
When that happens, those initially adaptable lovers become less tolerant of whatever doesn’t fit their internal schema, and they can’t help but try to make the other partner who they want him or her to be. Too soon, criticism and control begin to replace acceptance and tolerance.
Couples who understand and practice authentic love can weather these emerging differences can teach each other new ways of thinking. As they increase each other’s world views, they are able to move from overlapping fantasy expectations to new possibilities for both.
3)    Past Love Relationships
If new lovers have both learned from each past relationship, they are less likely to repeat unsuccessful patterns. Beginning each new relationship based on the same old fantasy expectations dooms people to repeat previous patterns of failure.
Childhood scripts that repeatedly create similar adult relationships will end in predictable similar outcomes. For instance, if a newly-in-love person had one parent who dominated the relationship and one who regularly submitted, he or she may alternate between those two roles in each new relationship as if they were the only ones to exist.
As these repeated relationship failures play out, it becomes apparent that pre-existing internalized fantasies have been a major factor in why they do not succeed. Authentic lovers can see these unworkable patterns early on in the relationship and help one another open up to new ways of being together that neither may have experienced before.  
4)    Trustable Agreements
Both fantasy lovers and authentic lovers sincerely promise their good intentions at the beginning of the relationship. Those with pre-conceived fantasies have more difficulty keeping their agreements as the relationship plays out. They made promises based on certain expectations of behaviors. When they turn out differently than expected, they feel trapped by agreements they no longer want.  
The other partner hasn’t “memorized the expected script,” and innocently behaves differently. Now the once-sincere partners are likely to feel duped and disappointed. Believing that their trust has been broken, they justify withdrawing from their commitment, and often blame the other for the failure.
Authentic love plays out very differently. These honest intimate partners express their love with courage and authenticity, and expect to adjust and re-define their initial promises as they get to know each other better. They are open to alter both behaviors and responses as conditions change, and continue to want the best for each other, whatever the outcome.
Authentic love is made stronger by challenge. The lovers talk over their desires and disappointments from the beginning of the relationship and look for innovative ways to stay connected with genuine and innovative options.
5)    Social Circles
Fantasy love survives well when it is exposed to established social circles that support its expectations. If friends who hang out together watch the same TV programs, search out the same information sites on the media, and reinforce one another’s expectations, they may inadvertently continue to encourage unrealistic beliefs.
Authentic love can uproot those expectations and may threaten existing social circles. When lovers are willing to explore new possibilities because of their relationship’s unique potential, they become more open to unfamiliar experiences that an existing social circle may find uncomfortable. They see each other as though the other was a new culture to explore, and welcoming each other’s differences. They are open to having their separate pre-existing world views challenge, and to break through any limitations of outdated thoughts or principles.
People who love each other authentically will continue to learn from their past mistakes. In the process of relationship transformation, they can end up threatening the comfort of their current social circles. Friends and family who helped spawn and maintain the original existing order can then put pressure on a new relationship when it doesn’t fit the old mold.
Authentic lovers who may experience criticism from their friends or families can either try to change the mores of their current social circles, or realize they might need a new and different support group. Those challenges only serve to make them more determined to live in the present and to leave old relationships behind.
Authentic love creates opportunities for adventures that have not existed before. Its partners are totally committed to love in a courageous and genuine way. They have entered that new relationship with the full commitment to explore and learn, and are open to whatever comes.
6)    Transparency
Transparency is the willingness and commitment to be deeply known and to want to know the other in the same way. Transparency and true intimacy are inextricably intertwined and nourish each other’s existence. Authentic love depends upon each partner’s courage to be fully open and honest with another whatever the outcome. They would rather know the depths of exactly who each other is at his or her core, than pretend anything other than that reality.
Authentic lovers delve deeply into each other’s expectations, desires, and fears early on in the relationship. They try early on to separate out what is possible from what is not, and decide together how to invest in what works for both of them.  
      * * * * * * * *
Fantasy love is based upon untested and often inaccurate expectations that a new relationship partner will feel and act as the fantasy dictates. Because of childhood programming, many people do not realize that its automatic practice defies the possibility of success.
People continue to enter new relationships with these internalized fantasies searching for the security and comfort of familiarity. They are counting on a “just” world. If they do what is expected of them, the other will certainly behave as expected. When their relationships end in failure, they naturally assume that they didn’t pick the right partners.
People who seek authentic love, instead, know that successful love relationships can never be based upon fantasy expectations. What is possible changes with each new relationship as the partners within it create what can only happen uniquely between them, in those special moments in time. Though they know that the honesty and courage inherent in genuine communication requires them to take on a continuous challenge, they would not have it any other way. 





Friday, September 29, 2017

From Trust to Betrayal - The Trauma of Infidelity

Of all of the threats to a committed relationship I have treated in four decades of working with couples, the most difficult to heal is infidelity. When a trusted partner in a committed relationship betrays the sacred trust of the other, the relationship will undergo severe instability.

The partner who has been betrayed is emotionally tortured and humiliated when knowledge of the infidelity emerges. They are clearly in trauma and experience the same array of symptoms that professionals now describe as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Similar to any others who have suffered threats to their physical or emotional well-being and security, they are disoriented and confused by what has happened.
Relationship partners of both genders experience similar of the classical symptoms of PTSD:
-Repeated intrusive thoughts.
-Unstable emotional regulation.
-Out of body experiences.
-Alternating between feeling numb and striking out in retaliation.
-Inability to stop scanning for any new data that might cause more distress.
-Feeling overwhelmingly powerlessness and broken.
-Needing to regain self-worth by assigning blame.
-Confusion and disorientation.
“Ever since I found out about the affair, I can’t stop thinking about what happened. I have repeated nightmares. My faith in trust and love is demolished. The person I believed in most in the world betrayed me without seeming to care.
If I’d known something was wrong, maybe I could have stopped it before it got going. I spin between being devastated and being enraged. I can’t seem to find any peace, knowing that there is probably more than I will ever be told. I feel like a goddamn fool, humiliated and broken. How could my partner do this to me?”
The trauma of betrayal can also trigger memories of buried or unresolved emotional and spiritual damage from the past. When those prior traumatic experiences are triggered and re-emerge, they significantly complicate the healing process.  
For there to be any chance that the couple undergoing this situation can ever transcend the distress of broken trust, they must deal with two simultaneous challenges: The first is to understand and work through the combination of both current and re-emerging trauma responses of the betrayed partner. The second is for both partners to both commit to specific roles in the healing of their mutual distress.  

The First Challenge – The Five Most Common Re-Emerging Issues:
1)    History of Prior Trauma
When people experience a life-threatening event earlier in life, they create defenses that allow them to survive those traumas. Those defenses can be either barricades to future pain or unconscious seduction to recreate what is familiar.
If a relationship partner has been harmed by threats of loss or harm in the past, he or she will have a stronger and more persistent trauma response to a partner’s current betrayal. Dependent on how much they appear similar to what is happening in the present, they will mesh with the current pain and make recovery that much harder.
2)    Emotional and Physical Resilience
Whether born into a person or learned throughout life, resilience is the conqueror of prolonged sorrow. Though grief must not be denied, those who are lucky enough to be more resilient can endure it without falling prey to extended emotional heartbreak.
Resilience after betrayal is also buoyed up by the kind of social support a person has access to. When infidelity is discovered, it is easy for traumatized partners to lose sight of their own worth. Authentic, caring, and responsive others are able to remind them of who they were before the trauma and help them to regain emotional stability.
Sadly, the most common excuse many unfaithful partners give when they stray is that they were unable to get their needs met in the relationship. Those accusations increase the anguish of the betrayed partner.
3)    The Strength of the Primary Relationship
When people have a strong bond, both partners openly talk about their needs and disappointments as they occur in their relationship. They know that outside temptations are always possible, but they are committed to making their relationship stronger if they arise.  
If a relationship is wavering and the people within it are no longer as bonded as they once were, one or both of the partners may be searching for meaning outside the relationship. If those yearnings are not shared and the relationship goes unresolved, they are more likely to transform into actions.
Some relationships feel more okay to one partner than they do to the other. If those feelings are not shared and an affair happens, the unknowing partner has had no opportunity to intervene. They feel they are doing everything right, that their love is intact, and that trust will never be broken. That partner is understandably more demolished when an affair emerges.  
4)    Double Betrayal - When the Infidelity is With a Known Party
Besides the experiences of humiliation and anguish, an even more destructive heartbreak occurs when the third member of the triangle is a close and trusted friend or a family member.
When the betrayed partner discovers that two deeply trusted people could collectively collude behind his or her back is almost unfathomable. In these cases, there are often others who know what is going on causing even more potential loss of relationships when the affair emerges. Those who have remained silent may then pull away for fear of being seen as accomplices.
5)    How Long the Infidelity has been going on
An affair that is quickly confessed along with true remorse and the desire to do whatever is necessary to help the betrayed partner heal, has the best chance of success if it never happens again.
On the other hand, a partner who finds out that the betrayal has been going on for weeks or months, or even that it is still active, is fundamentally more damaged and finds it much harder to heal. For most women, it is not just a passing affair any more. It is a fully developed relationship of secrecy, passion, and emotional connection, stealing love and commitment from the existing partnership. For most men, it is the sabotage of being cuckolded by another male who has taken his woman from under his eyes and sold him out as a “brother.”
The person outside of the primary relationship, who has been willing to be a co-betrayer, often feels that he or she has claimed possession of the infidel. That individual may not be willing to be dismissed and can become a deterrent to a relationship’s potential healing.
                                                            * * * * *
Given the seriousness of these potential emerging issues and the ways they may combine, it is understandable how much influence they may have in whether or not the relationship can heal and over what period of time.
How do two people who do not want to lose their relationship navigate the process of broken trust to a possibility of reconciliation?
How does a betrayed partner ever learn to believe the other again?
How does the partner who chose to act this way get past his or her guilt and remorse?
What must happen for recovery and recommitment to even be possible?
Once both partners understand how likely it is that a betrayed partner will evidence the symptoms of PTSD, they realize that the healing process is the same for all traumas. The betraying partner must simultaneously play the dual roles of an ally to his or her partner’s healing and a seeker of absolution from the very person they have carelessly wounded. The other must survive the trauma and learn to love again.
The Role of the Betraying Partner – As an Ally in Healing the Trauma
Most betraying partners truly want to heal their relationship but have difficulty not blaming their other partner in some why they chose to stray. Gender responses are often different. For instance, more men than women justify that decision by stating that their sexual needs weren’t being met, that their partners didn’t pay enough attention to them in general, or that they felt exploited in the relationship. More women than men traditionally cite their reasons for an affair as lacking emotional connection with their primary partner, a lack of availability in general, or inadequate romantic support.
In order to expedite healing, the betraying partner has to recognize that they must put aside anything they felt that drove them to give in to an affair until they recognize and feel remorse for the act of betrayal, itself. They are legitimately on trial for invalidating the worth of their primary relationship, succumbing to a self-serving motivation, and the willingness to risk severely wounding the other partner.
As now allies in healing the relationship, they must be prepared to encourage and weather whatever frustration, anguish, or retaliation their betrayed partner needs to express. They must be willing to stay the game for however reasonable time it may take, to put their own needs and underlying grievances aside, and to fully commit to the healing of their partner’s rage and grief. The more committed the betrayer is to the process, the sooner his or her partner will be able to heal.
The Role of the Traumatized Partner
Feeling devastated, humiliated, and broken are hard experiences to survive. Though the traumatized partner has every reason to be upset, he or she must work through those responses in a sincere and committed way, alongside of the other partner’s commitment to do whatever is mutually needed for healing.
The partner experiencing PTSD will most likely have wildly swinging mood changes, emerging experiences of underlying, unresolved issues, and agonizing waves of grief. While simultaneously feeling the need to strike back, run away, or feel immobilized, they must learn to self-soothe, create resilience, seek outside support, and commit to a renewed faith in a better future.
If, additionally, they’ve been the object of previous trauma, they must also sort out what is happening in the present from what they may have endured in the past, so as not to blame their partner’s current betrayal for something they did not cause.
Building a Future Relationship
Both partners must realize that their past relationship is over and that their goal is to build a new one that will withstand challenges in the future. When the partner who is the ally in healing merges with the partner who is ready to move on, they can create a new kind of sacred trust that can be significantly stronger by virtue of what they’ve been through together.
This process is not for those who want a quick fix, nor for those who hold fast to the past. Superficializing a true betrayal can create unresolvable pain. Similarly, carrying mistrust, anger, and pain forever will eventually destroy any hope of true healing. The betraying partner must take seriously what he or she has done. The partner who has been betrayed must truly want to rebuild the relationship and to ultimately learn to trust that person again.
Yes, I have seen partners do this kind of healing, and do it beautifully. They take the lessons from the past, learn to communicate courageously and honestly, and build something neither has known before. Their relationship Phoenix can emerge from the ashes of their mutual sorrow.













Friday, September 15, 2017

How is Your Relationship Really Doing?

Most intimate couples sense when their relationship is in trouble. When discord is brewing, one or both of the partners usually talk to each other about it. They know that ignoring potential distress is not a good thing.  

Most of those issues are relatively obvious and amenable to resolution. However, there are some common, more subtle ones that many intimate partners don’t recognize or don’t seem that important at the time. These underlying issues can slowly unravel the basic fabric of a relationship if not addressed.
In my four decades of working with couples, I have observed eleven of these under-the-radar saboteurs that can infiltrate even the best of relationships.  Caught early, they can easily be resolved. If they are allowed to fester, they often become much more damaging.
As you and your partner read through them, you’ll be able to identify whether any of them are currently present in your relationship. You’ll also be able to compare how their presence contrasts to how they manifested when you were first together.   
To evaluate how these issues may have changed from the beginning of your relationship to now, score each in the following manner:
Use the numbers one to ten, with “one” representing the issue as not important and “ten” as very significant. You’ll use this number evaluation span twice with each issue. The first evaluation will be to identify how this particular problem may exist currently. The second will measure how you experienced it when you first were in love. 
Once you’ve individually scored each example, you’ll want to explore the results with each other. If you have any major differences between each of your evaluation numbers, you’ll want to share your thoughts and feelings with each other. When you compare the present evaluations with those of the past, you will also have a clear picture as to whether or not that issue has become potentially damaging to your relationship.  
As you share your thoughts and feelings with each other, please listen without judgment. If your early relationship was not burdened by any of these issues but now is, you’ll need to help each other express any distress that accompanies those thoughts and feelings.
Bringing up potentially difficult situations can sometimes be disturbing. If that happens, tread gently as you explore together. Courageously facing the issues that cause distress is the best way to put your relationship back on the road to resolution.
The Eleven Subtle Issues That Can Harm Relationships
1) Gunny Sacking
When couples are first in love, they are acutely aware of anything that might upset the other partner. Most cannot bear sadness or anger between them for long, and are anxious to resolve their differences as soon as they become known.
As relationships mature and life’s challenges emerge, too many couples begin to suppress small irritations to maintain harmony in the moment. They avoid bringing up upsets and hope they’ll just away on their own. Over time, those seemingly insignificant distresses can build up, and a small infraction can unexpectedly trigger a torrent of saved-up gunnysacks of negative emotions.
With 1 being the least and 10 being the most, evaluate each situation as it existed at the beginning of the relationship and then as you experience it currently.
When your love was new, were you able to express any distresses you had with each other as they occurred? _____
How about now? ____
2) Percentage of Positive to Negative Interactions
When love is just beginning, most intimate partners are very complimentary and supportive, sharing on a regular basis how important each is to the other. Most new lover’s interactions are far more positive than negative.
As couples spend more time together, too many tend to drift away from expressing the positive parts of their relationship and continue share what they dislike or want changed. As that percentage of good interactions to bad ones lessens, the capacity for the relationship to heal diminishes.
Were there more positive than negative interactions between you when you were first together? ____
How about now? ____
3) More Rapid Escalation during Conflicts
New partners constantly strive to maintain harmony. When they do disagree, they try to resolve their differences gently, with care, and as rapidly as possible. Instead of attacking or criticizing, they are more likely to talk from their hearts, listen carefully, and ask for what each needs to feel better. They search for greater understandings and strive to avoid offensive behaviors in the future.
In sad contrast, many established couples not only disagree more often, but react more quickly and intensely during their conflicts. They become more concerned with getting their own points across than listening to the other. The relationship turns destructive more often and takes longer to heal.
How patiently and caringly did you resolve conflicts when you were first together? ____
How about now? ____
4) Boredom
Novelty, intrigue, and discovery are the core experiences of new love. At the beginning, romantic partners fervently seek the combination of security and challenge. Both partners are eager and curious to explore the other’s sexual, emotional, mental, and spiritual world views.
As a relationship matures, many couples forget how important it is for them to keep searching for new experiences together. As their relationship becomes more predictable, neither partner has to put as much into it, and the impending laziness can easily turn into boredom. Knowing everything there is about each other can result in a loss of intrigue. The attraction to security and predictability does produce comfort, but may be at the expense of the novelty that great relationships need in order to regenerate.
How present or important was intrigue and discovery to either of you when you were first together? ____
How about now? ____
5) Frustration Tolerance
New couples seem to have almost unlimited patience for each other. They remain caring and supportive even when faced with difficult challenges.
As relationships mature, disappointments or disillusionments can build, and frustration tolerance lowers. When that happens, that safety net of inexhaustible patience often wanes, and the ability to stay open and patient can quickly give way to impatience and dismissal.
What once seemed like an innocent challenge can be experienced as a more urgent demand for resolution. What once was a need for connection can be perceived as an insistent requirement for attention. Repeated expressions of needs of any kind might be met with an irritated or impatient response.
How quickly did you get frustrated with one another when you were first together? ____
How about now? ____
6) Inquiry before Judgment
New lovers act as if they are like emotional anthropologists to each other. They are excited to explore and embrace any differences in their emotional, spiritual, cultural, mental, and physical world views, and do so with curiosity and patience.
As most couples mature, they become more urgent to get to the bottom line, and replace timeless inquiry with impatience. Those rapid reactions can obliterate the possibilities of new thoughts and feelings that could have emerged when the partners had more patience.
How patient were you with your partners needs to share when your relationship was new? ____
How about now? ____
7) Staying in the Moment
When people first connect, they experience the comfort of timelessness. They live in the moment and let the past and future dissolve. They are absorbed by one another’s facial expressions, voice intonations, body language, and rhythms. Ever-watchful for new data, they “focus in” when they are together, searching to sense any changes in the other’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
As intimate partners get to know one another, that exquisite attentiveness often diminishes. They may think they are listening to their partner, but are actually more preoccupied with something else.
How well were you able to be timeless and deeply involved with your partner when your love was new? ____
How about now? ____
8) Prime Time
New lovers make their relationship central to their lives, often putting life’s other demands on a back burner. They give their best selves first to one another and make other needs less important.
As relationships mature, too many couples give the best of themselves elsewhere and use their relationship as the place to recharge. Often without realizing it, they forget to make each other a high enough priority. They are aware how easily the challenges of life can steal that special time away from them, and forget to keep those sacred moments from dissolving into life’s other demands.
How often did you give the best of yourself to your partner when your love was new? ____
How about now? ____
9) Emotional and Physical Affection
Most human beings not only yearn for affection, but cannot truly thrive without it. Affection is the way most loving couples communicate warmth, safety, and welcome in their interactions. Though the need for the kind and frequency of affection can widely vary from person to person, new couples make certain that their partner’s needs are known and met.
As relationship partners spend more time together, they often become lax in remembering to express affection in the ways the other partner desires. They may take the other for granted, or forget to check in on a regular basis, often incorrectly assuming that he or she is okay.
How well did you express emotional and physical affection to your partner when your love was new? ____
How about now? ­­­­____
10) Responses to Mistakes
New lovers are quick to forgive when their partners do something wrong, often expressing concern and reassurance even before understanding the full impact of their partner’s actions. They respond to most errors with concern, support, and reassurance. Their love for each other is more important than assigning blame.
Long-term partners too often forget to do that. They are more likely to respond impatiently and negatively, leaving the other partner hurt, embarrassed, and defensive. Instead of working to diminish the distress and to focusing on what they continue to love about that partner, they react in a way that hurts and distances.
When your love was new, how patient and caring were you when your partner made errors? ____
How about now? ____
11) Shared Sacred Commitments and Beliefs
New lovers strive to make their partners feel deeply known, treasured, and beloved. They accept and commit to the same values and ethics that sustain their trust in each other and the relationship.
As relationships mature and life’s challenges intervene, the partners are likely to develop new thoughts and feelings that may be different from those they originally shared with each other. If either feels those changes could threaten the other partner, he or she may choose to keep those thoughts and feelings to themselves instead of sharing them.
If partners continue to keep those kinds of secret thoughts or feelings from the other, they may eventually seal them off and then not know how to talk about them later. The longer that goes on, the more the other partner will feel betrayed when those new interests emerge.
Were you in fully honest, and in accord with each other’s beliefs, ethics, and values when you’re your love was new? ____
How about now? ____
* * * *
These eleven potentially damaging relationship issues can be revisited as often as either of you feels they may need to be throughout your relationship. The sooner they are identified, confronted, and resolved, the more your relationship will get back on track and realize the possibilities you both deserve.











Friday, September 1, 2017

How Fear of Loss Keeps Love Away

Despite the many options available on today’s dating-site media blitz, many relationship seekers still can’t find a successful match. They are frustrated and discouraged, holding on to hope in the midst of despair.

If their love relationships continue to fail, most develop emotional armoring to protect themselves against future losses. They don’t want to become cynical or enter their next relationship pre-defeated, but are understandably cautious. They just don’t want to make the same mistakes again.
Though a combination of cynicism and caution may be the safest policy to minimize future losses, it can also be a powerful detriment to successful relationships. The longer that people practice that hyper-vigilant attitude, the more deeply entrenched it can become.
Yet, most people find themselves doing just that. They unwittingly become less willing to risk as disappointments stack up. When they’ve been hurt too many times, they are, understandably, less willing to risk uncertainty. Unfortunately, over time they become blind to new options. A gavel has come down in their emotional courtrooms: discovery is over and only what is already known will determine the outcome.
After more than four decades of working with discouraged relationship seekers, I can sadly attest to that phenomenon. Most have become pessimistic about ever finding a quality, long-lasting relationship. They want to know what it takes to find one, and what others who seem to be more successful do differently.
“What are people like who actually are successful in their love relationships?”
 “How do they deal with relationship failures?”
“Are some people just luckier than others?”
“Don’t I have a right to protect myself?”
“Doesn’t everyone get a little cynical after so many relationships don’t make it?
I feel that I can now answer those questions unequivocally. If we put aside those life challenges over which none of us have control, people who are successful in their relationships do the opposite of shutting down when a relationship ends. Instead of allowing failure to defeat them, they become more determined to love more deeply the next time around and become even more determined to take whatever risks that entails. They willingly accept that loss may be inevitable and that the only way to deal with that possibility is to live life fully until that happens.
Loving and risking more after the loss of a relationship is neither typical nor easy, but those who have committed to it are remarkably effective in finding the kind of love they seek. Though each person is only able to do it in his or her own way, everyone can master some part of this change.
In observing those who do intentionally invest more in life and love after loss, I now understand what three combinations of attitudes and behaviors they share in common. When my patients are able to embrace and master them, they see their lives and relationships positively change as a result.
Resilience is the determination to bounce back as quickly as possible after love ends. It incorporates the five A’s:  acknowledge, adapt, adjust, accommodate, and accept.
Though each person must go through this process in his or her own time and way, the goal is to do so purposefully and efficiently. People who have mastered those responses and have learned to use them while simultaneously grieving come back stronger. Their next relationship benefits because of what they’ve learned from their previous losses.  
With each determination to bounce back, people’s capacity for resilience actually grows stronger. When my patients use the five A’s to learn from mistakes and create new ways of dealing with upcoming challenges, they do become stronger and more confident over time.
Processing Loss
The second characteristic is the understanding of the process of grief. People who are determined to love more deeply after loss understand the difference between a normal grieving process and a pathological one. Healthy grieving includes the acceptance that the more one is attached to another, the more it will hurt if that person is no longer part of the relationship. They willingly risk one for the other.
Those who experience pathological grief, on the other hand, feel as if life’s joys will be permanently over when love ends. The loss of love takes over their lives, making all other positive elements pale by comparison. The depression that accompanies pathological grief can totally absorb all of their energy to the point where that person feels doomed to forever live in a past that will never return.
Faith in Love and Life
The third and perhaps most important characteristic is an unrelenting faith that new love is always possible and options for that to happen will only increase as awareness and learning mount. People who are able to love more deeply after loss focus on options rather than limitations. They know that the most attractive people are in love with life and with what is not yet known, and that new discoveries only enhance that process.
* * *
Please remember that the messages you send out into the world invite the kind of person you want to respond to them. If you’re in the dating game and looking for the kind of partner who is undaunted by pass relationship losses, listen for these kinds of stories he or she tells you about past relationships:
“My ex is a great guy. I’ll never regret the time we spent together. We learned so much from each other, just from the way we were as a couple. We both realized over time that our differences might eventually separate us but we knew that the good made it worth it. I’d fix him up with anyone.”
“My relationships with women have run the gamut from great to not so great, but I’ve benefited from every one of them. I have a much better idea of who I am, what I have to offer, and what the right woman would have to put up with to make a long-term commitment work with me. Every woman I’ve been with has taught me something I didn’t know about myself.”
“Sure I’ve been hurt and even stymied at times by why relationships don’t work out, but I’ve never stopped looking for a great one and won’t ever give up my faith that it will happen someday. I guess you could call me the eternal optimist, but keeping my heart and energy in the game is its own reward.”
“I once read that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I know that some people have more sorrows than they can bear and I respect it when they need to quit, but somehow, so far, I’ve been lucky. When relationships don’t work, I double down on recommitting to finding the next great adventure.”
                                                            * * * *
Though it may be hard to believe, the people who respond like this when their relationships end actually do exist. And they’re not just neurotic optimists. For sure, some are the lucky ones who have always become stronger after loss. But most have just been determined to get better with practice. And they have.  





Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Why do I Keep Holding on to You? - The Sorrow of Unrequited Love

Most people will eventually heal after a relationship ends, especially if both partners have mutually agreed to separate. With helpful guidance, they learn from their mistakes, get comfort from friends, and ultimately commit to a new relationship.

Sadly, it is a very different story if one partner walks out when the other is still attached. The anguish of being the rejected partner in an aborted relationship can be devastating. Some people experience unending grief, ruthless pessimism, and a deepening fear that love might never happen for them again.
I have spent many hours with these deeply saddened, abandoned partners who cannot seem to get past their losses. I have listened to their stories of one-sided relationship endings and their confusion as to why they cannot seem to make love last.
If people are repeatedly abandoned in sequential relationships, others often judge them harshly. These consistently rejected lovers too often find themselves on the other then of well-meaning friends who push them to “just get over it,” or that they are somehow responsible for the relationships not working out.
That is so rarely true. Most who suffer prolonged grief have usually tried everything they knew to make their relationships work. When they are once again left behind, they are in understandable confusion and sorrow, wondering if the pain will ever go away.  
In the many years I’ve worked with these often repetitively abandoned partners, I’ve been able to help them see how the way in which they approach relationships may have something to do with why they end. Armed with that knowledge, they are better able to understand what they might have done differently.
Following are the most common personality characteristics and behaviors that many of these patients have shared with me, in hopes they will be able to help those who still live in prolonged suffering after being rejected by someone they still love.
The Ten Most Common Reasons Why People Can’t Let Go of a Lost Relationship?
1)    Innate Insecurity
It is natural for people to feel insecure when threatened by the loss of something that matters deeply to them.  If their comfort is disrupted by an unpredictable threat, most people have mastered defense mechanisms that help them overcome their legitimate feelings of sadness and fear. Over time, they are able to move on.
Sadly, there are people who suffer deeper levels of anxiety and may also have had multiple losses from the past. As relationship partners, they may have more difficulty rebalancing when abandoned by a once-trusted partner. They feel significantly more helpless and hopeless, as though they will never be able to trust love again. Sometimes, almost unable to function, their pain overcomes any hope that they will ever get better.
2)    Topping Out
If people feel that they have finally found the “perfect relationship,” and their partners then walk away, they may despair that they will never find a love this wonderful again. Relationship partners who have experienced these kinds of one-way abandonments may have always dreamed of having a special, reliable, and loving partner. Yet, upon finding someone who seems to fit the bill, they may become too fearful to inquire as to whether or not their partners have had the same desires or expectations.
When they believe they have found that perfect partner, they put everything they have into the relationship, hoping against hope that it will never end. Any warning signs from the other partner are often ignored until it is too late.
3)    Childhood Abandonment Trauma
Children are too often helpless pinballs in a life game that tosses them from relationship to relationship, usually unable to affect the outcome. These early experiences make them more likely to either distrust relationship partners or try too hard to over-trust them. Their insecure attachments to their care takers in early life too often cause them to become overly-fearful adults, unable to let love in for fear that inevitable loss will occur.
People with these kinds of fears of attachment may believe that they are fully in the game of love but, instead, are self-protective and unable to risk genuinely committing to a relationship. They see security as elusive and out of their control, but earnestly continue to fully commit without careful discernment.
That underlying fear too often frustrates the people who try to love them. They often end up discouraged and have to leave the relationship, recreating childhood abandonment trauma in the person they leave behind.
4)    Fear of Being Alone
If a person is fearful that love will never happen, he or she will often tolerate neglect, abuse, or disingenuous behavior just to stay in any relationship. If their relationship partners continue to participate in these uneven investments, one of two things will happen: the other partner will begin to feel too guilty to stick around, or will stay in the relationship while simultaneously search elsewhere for a better deal.
5)    Relying Only on One’s Partner for Self-Worth
It is dangerous for any intimate partner to allow the other to be entrusted as the sole definer of that person’s basic value. Like putting all one’s eggs in the same basket, there is bound to be total devastation if that belief does not result in a positive response.
If that partner chooses to end the relationship, the rejected partner has only that one person’s negative self-image to rely upon. They can only find fault in who they’ve been, what they’ve done wrong, and that they may always be unlovable to anyone else.
6)    Fear of Failure
There are people who are literally terrified of failing at anything, and relationships are just one piece of the puzzle. They give their all to whatever they pursue, and can’t face that their efforts might not bear out in something as important as a love relationship.
In their fear of failing, they too often either overreact when something seems to be going wrong, or miss crucial cues because of their hyper-vigilant focus.
When their partners leave the relationship, they often take all of the blame, feeling that they should have done more or better. Often that self-denigration makes each succeeding partnership more susceptible to failing for the same reasons.
7)    Romantic Fantasizers
Relationships that thrive are not romantic in the storybook sense. Though they begin, as all new love relationships do, with mutually seemingly unconditional acceptance and forgiveness, they must eventually work out the differences and challenges that all long-term commitments create.
Those who are dedicated to holding on to romantic fantasy, however, are a different breed. These partners want to be all things to their lovers, as though in a cloud of intensive and ongoing rapture. When the normal disruptions of life intervene, romantic fantasizers see them as only temporary obstacles and don’t take them seriously.
When a romantic fantasizer wants to hold onto bliss at any price, the other partner often feels unseen and unknown, and eventually will seek a more realistic encounter.
8)    Undying Love
There are people who believe that loving someone until the end of time is a virtue and pride themselves in never giving up loving their partners even if the relationship is over. They truly hold onto the belief that a love once so beautiful will never die, and commit to waiting forever for the other person to come back.
Interestingly enough, many relationships do end prematurely for the wrong reasons, and the partners who leave may regret doing so later. For most, though, the unswerving commitment to stay loyal to a partner who has abandoned the relationship stops them from embracing any new love. The lost love is continuously eulogized so that any other partnership pales by comparison.
9)    Unmatched Hole Fillers
Occasionally a love partner finds another who is more unbelievably perfect in some crucial areas. The rest of the relationship may not be as rewarding, but the experience of total satisfaction in that one place is overwhelmingly fulfilling. Once they have that experience, they feel they can never again go without it, and significantly narrow their future options. When rejected, they become hyper-focused on getting their partners to return, offering any sacrifice to make that happen.
10)                    The Truly Agonized Stalkers
Sadly, there are people who cannot give up their romantic partners, no matter how clearly know that the relationship is over. Even when the other partner avoids, ghosts, or openly humiliates them, they still won’t, or can’t, give up.
There are a multitude of reasons why people hurt themselves this way. They might feel they have no other place to go. Or, they feel they will never find someone so right for them again. Perhaps they choose partners who can never love them the same way in return, and yet can’t accept that finality.  Maybe they watched a parent continue to sacrifice without reciprocity, believing that it was a noble way to behave.
If the pain is great enough, they might stalk, punish, or intrude, unable to stop pursuing that broken relationship. No amount of self-degradation or humiliation seems to ease their pain or keep them from trying to stop their fate.
* * * * * *
Unrequited love is painful and demoralizing. It is only human to try to alter the aftermaths of lost hope. 
Many relationship seekers who experience repeated rejection become weary cynics, risking less and less in every succeeding partnership. They stop believing that love relationships can ever work out because they can’t afford to be hurt again.
Once understanding why those situations happen, many can learn to choose better partners, face the realities of what relationships offer and cost, and increase their capacity for resiliency if loss is inevitable. Only then, can they understand that the more one loves, the more painful its loss. There is no other possibility.  
Every relationship seeker must decide how much to risk when seeking true intimacy. To achieve the most beautiful outcome, he or she must give up the prior goals of holding on to love at any price, and create in its place, an authentic and real relationship regardless of what the outcome might be.