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Friday, September 14, 2018

Why Do People Fall Out of Love?

There is almost nothing more tragic for intimate partners than to watch their once-hopeful relationship fall apart.
I have faced many of these saddened and disillusioned partners as they endlessly ask themselves and others, “How and why did our relationship fall apart? Why didn’t we see it, and why couldn’t we stop it from happening?”
Many times, the stressors that caused the ending did not even come from within the relationship. Some of those partnerships might actually have blossomed, yet fell prey to outside factors that neither partner could control. Sometimes there are unexpected pressures may have overwhelmed the couple’s capacity to rebound. I’ve witnessed the power of relentlessly unwelcoming families or prior relationship partners intent to destroy the relationship.
So often, even once-beautiful relationships that have everything going for them, fall apart when there are unpredictable illnesses, financial crises, past traumas, or other losses that can stretch the once-confident lovers beyond their capacity to rebound.
Then, there are the Issues that happen within the relationship, itself. Each couple has to deal with their own unique blending of histories and personalities. One or both partners too often bring unresolved issues into the relationship, some of which don’t emerge until the relationship matures. Or unequal appetites create pressures for performance and guilt for inadequacies. Disappointments and disillusionments can mount when desires are higher than resources can provide.
Sometimes, old, unfinished relationship come back to haunt and take precedence over the current one. A couple who could once speak openly and authentically to each other suddenly cannot speak their truth or listen openly anymore because of a threat neither anticipated. Negative issues, that were once only a small fraction of the relationship, slowly overwhelm what positive experiences once counteracted them. Betrayals happen. Promised don’t pan out. And dreams change.
Most often, there is a period of growing disharmony that precedes a breakup, that the partners may not want to recognize. Conflicts happen more often, last longer, and hurt more. One partner may push while the other runs. Repeated arguments become ritualistic and eat away at the core the lovers once could rely upon.
By the time the actual separation occurs, both are often ragged and begin to blame each other for their waning capacity to rebound. They are too wounded and too disillusioned to remember what they ever treasured in one another.
When I’ve spent time with these understandably discouraged patients, I steer them away from regret, guilt, or blame. It is far more important that they understand that even seemingly true love can fail its most committed partners. They must not allow themselves to fall prey to cynicism or giving up their belief that they did their best. 
Most people have the capability to end a relationship without losing love or respect for the other partner. But, sadly, most people have not been taught the skills to be able to do that, or even know that they could. Their role models have never shown them that it is possible for partners to love each other beyond a breakup and that separation always leads to disconnection.
When couples who have once loved each other deeply can leave their relationship feeling grateful that they’ve been able to live in it, they can maintain their love for one another forever. Even after years apart, they talk to others about those past relationships with pride, determined to remain grateful for what blessings they did create together, despite the outcome. 
I have long advocated that those who are able to do that are the people we should hold as the models of what true love is like. I have met them in my practice, and consider them the unsung heroes of what love should be like for all of us. They are people who seem to herald the essence of what unselfishly loving another and real sacrifice it may ask of us; to want their partners to be fulfilled and successful in life, even if it means they have to separate for them to achieve those goals.
Because they are so rarely profiled, I’d like to share two stories that illustrate what this kind of love looks like. I’ve protected their identities by altering the details to insure their privacy, but I assure you they exist.
Also, in both scenarios, it is the women who left the relationship. I’ve purposely chosen these two illustrations to challenge the widespread belief that men are more likely to leave a relationship before women do.
Kate and Tanner
From Kate:
“Before Tanner and I met, neither of us had never stopped long enough in our careers to even think of settling down. My commitment to being a reporter necessitated that I be away from home far more than I was there, and often without much warning. My friends and family knew that my bags were always packed and my keys on the counter, ever-ready to embrace any new adventure.
I only had a few relatively serious relationships that had promise, but my work came first for me. In my twenties, it didn’t matter. I was fine the way things were.
Then I somehow stopped long enough to look at the clock. I was thirty-five and everyone I’d known forever was planning a future with someone they adored. I began to wonder if I had truly missed something.
Tanner was only a ten-year-old kid when I met him. He was my best friend when we were young and androgynous. Yes, I met him at a mutual friend’s wedding. The night morphed into weeks and months of what felt like genuine and true love. He was an artist and loved the times I was away so he could paint without feeling that he was neglecting me.
My family and friends loved him. Everything seemed perfect.
We had never discussed a family and, seemingly out of nowhere, He was more connected to time, and knew that, if we were going to have a family, we’d better get going. At first, I thought he was just musing, you know, kind of like “shouldn’t we have a kid, Kate? I think it’s time.” So, I pretty much ignored him. Until I realized that he meant it. We began to argue. The conflicts escalated and it seemed that was all we talked about. I kept sweeping it under the rug, focusing on what was still so good and easy between us, pretty much refusing to take him seriously.
I came home one day to find all of his things gone. The note was simple: ‘I will always love and treasure you, Kate. I believe in your hopes and dreams. But they are no longer mine. I’ve met someone who is more in line with my desires. I would never have started an affair without leaving first. The honesty we’ve shared has fed my soul and it will always be that way. Stay on your path, Kate. Hold onto your own light.’”
Love, Tanner
From Tanner:
“I loved Kate when she had braids and a face full of freckles. We were just kids but life was always more fun when we were together. She was my best friend until I went to boarding school and she worked hard enough to get into a great college. But we always kept in touch.
My folks wanted me to be a doctor, but art held my heart and I persisted. I dated enough women to know that I wasn’t ready to commit, and maybe never would be. Maybe I just never found anyone who touched my heart in the same way.
Until that wedding.
When Kate walked in, my heart stopped. I hadn’t laid eyes on her for almost fifteen years. She was an amazing kid, but a phenomenal woman. Smart, beautiful, charismatic, welcoming. I tapped her on the shoulder and she turned around. It was mutual synergy. We hugged and talked throughout the night, and never left each other’s sides for a decade.
I was an only child. When I turned forty, I felt an urge within me that I’ve often heard women talk of. I wanted a family. I wanted to be a dad, rather than the uncle I’d become to a hearty tribe of young people. And time was running out. I began to bug Kate. After a few months it was clear that she was just not on board.
I could not let go. I could see my desires threatening and entrapping her need for freedom and her devotion to her career. I knew, deep in my heart, that true love is about letting someone go if they would be better off without you.
Then my next wife showed up one day in my studio. We hit it off. She had a two-year-old and had been widowed since the baby’s birth. It was as if some universal angel had interfered. We are still together.
Julia and Sean
From Sean:
“We met on a college trip to Uganda. Julia was full of hope for the world and open to everyone and everything that came her way. She was a true adventurer, like a jigsaw puzzle without edges. Every moment we spent together, I felt that I was expanding my world views and learning things I would never have seen without her.
I may have been overwhelmed at times, but I was never bored. She filled my head, my heart, and my soul, with ever-changing dreams and possibilities. I never would have lived a life anywhere near what we had without her constant and amazing eye for the next meaningful adventure.
We had agreed that one day, we would have a family but that it would not stop our way of life. We’d have double backpacks, carrying our two children around the world as we continued our adventures.
The kids came, and for a while, everything worked like magic. We stayed with our folks when we weren’t travelling and with the many friends along the way when we were. When Julia wasn’t spurring a cause, she’d find work in whatever country we were in and we managed to survive. Those years before the kids and following were the most beautiful of my life.
We didn’t prepare for the fact that kids are better off settled in one place once they start school. I could work from anywhere so my career was unaffected. Julia had to find a non-profit that shared her dreams and could utilize her multiplicity of talents. She applied everywhere. Nothing came up that could meet her needs.
Being her unstoppable self, she tried over and over to start programs that might further the causes of those in our area who were less fortunate. People would rally, and then drop out. She became disillusioned and then gave in, joining the other moms. She’d often tell me, ‘I feel like there is a phone growing out of my ear, and I listen to most conversations in a trance. I just don’t know if I can do this, Sean.”
I listened and comforted but just didn’t see it coming. One day she said to me, ‘You are a great dad. The kids are happy with you. I feel as if I’m smothering to death and you seem okay. I just got offered an amazing job overseas. It’s for a year. Sean, please understand. I have to go, or I will not be able to intellectually or emotionally survive.’
I looked at her and realized that the adventure that was us no longer filled her hunger to make a bigger difference in the world. And I knew she would not be back.”
From Julia:
“I truly meant it when I said ‘forever.” We were the most perfect team I’d ever known, totally and completely compatible in every way. Those first years were like a fantasy. Sean was up for anything I wanted to do.
I never noticed that it was always me who created our never-ending discovery life. He was so enthusiastic and participatory when we did things, that I just assumed he would do them on his own were I not to be in the picture.
The kids were a joint decision and they didn’t stop us. We had friends all over and defined ourselves as an easy couch potato family. We never looked back and never regretted any of our decisions.
I’d begun to notice Sean’s reticence to travel so much as the kids got a little older. He wanted to volunteer to coach soccer and hang out with the other dads. He convinced me that we just needed to enter another phase of life and it would be equally joyful. He seemed so confident and sure.
I settled down and immediately became aware that I was sinking into a depression. I began putting all of my energy into creating new ideas and shaking up the community in a good way. No one seemed interested. Even the non-profit I worked for seemed to be sluggish and uninspired.
On the other end of me, Sean was truly happy. He’d settled into the life that he might have always wanted had he not met me. The kids and he embraced their life, their new friends, and the community activities. I still loved him as much as ever but boredom began to erode my attraction to him and we stopped making love. He complained a little, but not heartily.
I knew that I had to go. It was the hardest decision I ever made. We stayed married for five more years and I visited often and kept in constant touch. I took the kids on vacations when I could and visited them often, but they became closer and closer to Sean’s family and the people who had become their “forever tribe.” It had to be that way.”
* * * * * * * *
All relationship face hurdles that stretch their resources. All couples must learn kindness, patience, maturity, and sacrifice to keep love alive and growing. Any couple who has managed to stay in love knows to feed and nurture their relationship no matter what threatens to drive it apart.
But, sometimes the most beautiful of promise cannot fulfill itself, even when all indicators point to success. Sometimes separation has to happen. Most often it is not important who was write or wrong, only that what intimate partners once loved about each other is not lost, even when the relationship must end.
Most people cannot end a failed relationship easily, let alone maintain love beyond that loss. But getting as close as possible to that no-fault, no-blame outcome should be something we all strive for. Holding a past beloved relationship in mind as we search for the next, is the surest way to find love again, and to cherish it as we bathe in what we have honored in the past.  















Friday, August 31, 2018

When Do Honesty and Dipllomacy Collide?

Most people would agree that being authentic and transparent interactions with one’s intimate partner is essential to a successful long-term relationship. Many of my own patients have expressed how much they value honesty and authenticity in their partnerships.

Their comments consistently support those beliefs:
“If you love and respect the person you love the most in the world, shouldn’t you automatically want to know what makes each of you think and behave the way you do?”
“You can’t really expect to have a truly intimate relationship if you withhold your true feelings or needs from the person you care most about.”
“If you hide stuff from each other, how can you know what is going on, or resolve problems? It’s so much better not to find out later what you might have been able to fix if you knew about it earlier.”
“Isn’t it always better to try to work out things between you and your partner rather than trying to figure them out by yourself?”
As a relationship therapist and communication specialist for over four decades, I have helped many couples learn how to openly express their inner thoughts and feelings to each other. I’ve also written multiple articles touting the importance of being honest and open and how the sharing of those behaviors often defines the core quality of a love relationship.
But many of my patients in apparently successful relationships have challenged me as to the absoluteness of those teachings. They have asked me if totally honest and unfiltered responses in all situations are always the best reactions
After many years of self-examination, I must respond that the answer is a carefully qualified, “not always.” Exempting ever using intentional dishonesty to intentionally cheat or betray the other, there is a grey area in every intimate relationship where total honesty and diplomacy conflict or overlap.
All intimate partners have their own unique reasons why, when, and how much they choose to share with one another or what to withhold. They may worry that the price of sharing certain thoughts and feelings would be too high to pay as a self-protective and self-serving reason. Or, feeling compassion for their partners, they may hold withhold them to express something that would only hurt or anger, feeling that non-disclosure is a kinder action.
Here are some of the more common reasons how and why people make those decisions at the time they do. Please explore them with your partner. If you can listen to what drives your partner to be transparent or to withhold his or her experiences from you, you might be able to help one another feel more secure in changing some of those patterns in the future.  
When you are processing this together, do not ask what thoughts or feelings have been withheld, or why. You must first understand what there is about the other that drives each of you to withhold what you do.
Secret Versus Private Thoughts
All people have internal feelings and thoughts that they keep to themselves. Whether they had been suppressed by early caretakers, experienced rejections, or otherwise lost potential opportunities by sharing too much, they have not had good experiences when they’ve been totally honest.
When you enter any intimate relationship, it is natural that you will automatically hold back some things about yourself that you yet don’t trust to share. It is up to every individual what he or she feels they can say about themselves at any stage of an intimate relationship.
Problems do arise if those experiences, for whatever reason, become exposed later on in the relationship. If your partner continued the relationship under false pretenses, he or she may wonder whatever else you are still hiding.
My patients have shared many of those feelings with me over the years:
“I just thought it best to leave it buried. There’s no chance it will come up, so why take a risk?”
“I don’t act the way I did so far back and the guy I’m dating would probably not knowing that part of me. If it does come out in any way, I’ve got a story that would hopefully minimize the impact.”
“My mom cheated a lot on my dad and my boyfriend’s last two girlfriends cheated on him. I’m afraid that he’ll lose trust in me if he knows the kind of mom who raised me.”
Many people have private thoughts that they don’t want to share, and shouldn’t need to if their presence is not a danger to the relationship. For instance, what if you occasionally fantasize about someone else while you’re having sex? Or you may feel insecure about your partner’s previous relationships, but don’t want him or her to think that you are overly possessive or jealous. Maybe you occasionally secretly wish you could have a short affair with someone else but have no intention of acting on it.
Private thoughts are normal for everyone. But, they have the potential to become a danger to a relationship when their presence is negatively affecting the other or when you are in danger of acting on them without your partner’s knowing.
Privacy then becomes secrecy. Secret behavior is anything you hide from your partner that you are going to act on that could cause him or her distress. Any action that would threaten the relationship should be open to a vote from the other partner before it is taken.
Why Many People Withhold
When my patients have confessed to me the things they withhold from their intimate partners, they have shared multiple reasons as to why they make those decisions. Sometimes they just don’t want to worry that partner or unnecessarily threaten the relationship.
If you feel similarly, you will often feel that hard-to-resolve combination of self-serving and altruistic motivations when you withhold from your partner. The more self-serving your reasons are, the more you will be concerned about your own needs rather than your partners. Alternately, the more caring you feel for your partner over your own needs, the more your motivation is likely to be consideration for his or her experience.
Here are some examples my patients have shared that illustrate those confusing mixtures of altruism and self-serving reasons for withholding.
“If I’m really turned on by his best friend because he is sexier than my partner, why in earth would I tell him that? I’m never going to act on it.”
“She’s gained a few pounds and I know how sensitive she is about it. I’m worried she’ll get out of hand but she’ll only feel terrible if I say something. She always asks me if I still desire her, but I know she just needs reassurance. She knows how being fit is important to me, but, you know, I love her anyway and I just hope she gains control pretty soon.”
“He doesn’t know I got herpes fifteen years ago from a one-night stand. I’ve never given it to anyone because I’m really careful. We’ve been together three years now with unprotected sex and things are fine. I think it would be a disaster if I told him now.”
“My last EKG wasn’t normal but the doctor just said I need to reduce my stress and lose twenty pounds and everything would probably turn out okay. My partner’s dad died of a heart attack about my age. Why would I worry her when I can do something about it myself? When the tests are normal, I’ll tell her then.”
“My high school boyfriend has been contacting me on Facebook. He said he never got over me. When he left me, I couldn’t even function for a year. Something in me just wants to meet him once to show him how well my life has turned out and to put some closure on it for me. My boyfriend would freak out if I told him, but I know I’m not going to leave him for this guy who hurt me. Just one time. Is that the wrong thing to do?”
“I’m really done with this relationship but I’m not going anywhere until she’s more stable. I don’t want the guilt of leaving her feeling abandoned like the guy before her did, but she’s literally driving me crazy. I don’t want to spring it on her, but every time I even bring up that we’re not doing so well, she either starts crying or acting like some kind of sycophant to a rock star. That just makes it harder. I told her to get some therapy, but she won’t. I don’t know what to do.”
“Whenever I try to talk to my boyfriend about the ways I want him to touch me, he immediately flips it and tells me that I am never satisfied with anything he does and it becomes a huge drama. I’ve tried everything I can to approach him in the right way, but nothing works. I know I’m building resentment and pulling away but he just can’t seem to see it.”
“My wife is so caught up with the kids that she pretty much falls into bed at night without even saying ‘good night.” I wanted these twins even though she wasn’t as crazy about the idea, but I didn’t think it meant that our relationship would be sacrificed. I know if I tell her how I feel, she’ll just think I’m a needy wimp and tell me I should help more or something like that. And, if I didn’t mention it, no sex for six months. I’m beginning to watch porn to get off, and I can tell you, that would not go over well.”
What are the Areas You Must Share Even if you Have to Risk Your Relationship?
No one wants a negative surprise. They are a two-edged sword of humiliation and disappointment. In any relationship that you value and want to continue, you must be willing to share anything that might currently or in the future endanger your partner emotionally or physically, no matter how hard that may be to share.
But when? In a new relationship, there are only a few that must be shared up-front because your partner’s finding out later could end the relationship. Some examples of early confessions might be:
-You may be in danger of developing a hereditary disease
-You have an STD
-You are deeply in debt
-You have a criminal record, even if it expunged
-You have a prior partner who has a vendetta against any new person you care about.
If your new relationship develops and begins to form a sustainable bond, you then need to uncover the parts of you that are closer to your heart. Examples might be:
-You no longer speak to your family
-You have trouble with managing money
-You have strong political or social biases
-You have sexual anxieties
If the two of you eventually become an exclusive relationship, to make family and friends a regular part of your social circle, and to begin making future plans, you must both be able to share those experiences that are more vulnerable or might require your partner to understand why you act the way you do.
For instance, you could have been raped in the past and certain words and phrases that your partner may innocently say during love-making remind you of that terrible assault?
Or, your dream job might require a lot of travelling and you don’t know how that would affect a family. Perhaps you have a checkered past but are fearful that your partner would not have approved of what you used to be, but have left behind?
Or, you might have given up your faith in a God and fear that your partner’s deep faith would make her no longer trust you?
You might be harboring terrible guilt for something you have done in the past that still haunts you?
Future Experiences Not Yet Known
All people change as they go through life. Old desires and dreams are replaced with new ones. Great relationships are all about new discoveries which can only come from continuous personal transformation. Transformation creates change and change creates new thought and feelings.
If you or your partner begin to feel differently about yourselves or the relationship for whatever reasons, and do not share those internal changes as they happen, you may lose the bond that keeps you close without even realizing it is happening. You can, seemingly out of nowhere, feel that you have become more like old friends, but no longer as intimately connected.
Many of my patients have told me that they hesitate to “rock the boat” when they’re not sure that what they are thinking and feeling might upend that balance when they are not ready to face those potential consequences. Perhaps their thoughts and feelings are just of the moment or caused by extraneous circumstances that will pass. They make the decision to postpone sharing it in hopes that will happen.
* * * * *
Every intimate relationship is unique unto itself. What, when, and how internal thoughts and feelings are shared must be decided within each partnership. However, it cannot be denied that the level of true intimacy is directly related to the level of transparency and vulnerability any couple shares.
If you are clear about our own motivations when you make the decision to withhold your inner self from our partner, you can begin by honestly answering the following questions:
Am I making this decision to hold on to something that I might lose were I to be honest for my own comfort?
Am I withholding because I truly believe my partner would be unnecessarily harmed were I to tell him or her what I was feeling?
Am I being private or rationalizing secret behavior that my partner would not be able to tolerate?
Is my holding back going to help or hinder the successful future of my relationship?
Would I want my partner to do the same?












Thursday, August 9, 2018

Why Can't I Stop Loving You?

Most relationships do not end by mutual agreement. More often than not, one partner falls out of love while the other is still attached. If you are one of those people who thought your love was mutual but ended up abandoned, you are not alone.
Living with the grief of unexpected loss is hard enough. But, if you are still in love with your ex-partner, you will have a harder time letting go. Your left-over feelings of affection and connection can fuel the hope that the relationship will resume someday.
Like so many left-behind intimate partners, you may not even know why you cannot stop loving your ex or get past the loss of the relationship. You may not be able to understand why you keep hurting when you want so much to feel better. You know that you have to let go of the past but it seems to have imprisoned you.
During the last four decades, I have listened to many of these heartbreaking stories, and helped these saddened people to make sense of the reasons why they continue to love without reciprocity. I hope that sharing some of their experiences might help you identify why you are having such a hard time letting go of someone who no longer wants to be with you.
Following are the six most common reasons that quality people like you have been unable to stop loving a partner who has abandoned the relationship. Though these examples might not be exact replications of what you are enduring, or have endured, they will help you realize that you are neither alone nor emotionally inadequate. It is only when you understand why you keep loving after a relationship is over that you will be able to change your behavior the next time you love.
1)    Believing that your ex-partner was “the one.”
After a long period of searching, did you truly believe that you had found the partner that was supposed to share your life forever? Everything checked out in perfect order and you trusted that it wasn’t just a fantasy. Your partner continually reassured you that he or she felt exactly the same way.
Now, in retrospect, you wonder if you were too optimistic and didn’t notice that you were the only one who didn’t see any red flags. Perhaps you’re a natural cheer leader, and your partner seemed to like you that way.
So, of course, totally assured, you let yourself love that person with more and more of you. You joyously invested everything you had to give, holding nothing back as you invested in your forever love.
When that partner left you, you’re understandably confused and heart-broken. Did he or she simply let you write the script and memorized the lines you offered? Was he or she as attached and invested as you were, or just seemed to be? Maybe, in your exultation and joyful plans, you didn’t see that your you were more committed and didn’t realize it was no longer as mutual.
If that partner left without warning or explanation, how could you all of a sudden not continuing loving him or her? It feels like he or she symbolically” died,” leaving you empty, bereft, broken, and alone to process the loss. You can’t just pretend your own feelings of love are gone.
2)    Putting All of Your Eggs in One Basket
Are you the kind of person who commits too fully, too completely, or too soon in a new relationship? When you fall in love, do you put aside all other commitments, social ties, individual dreams, and work issues, focusing totally and continuously on the relationship?
Have your relationships exploded into lustful joy rapidly and blotted out everything else in your life when you were newly connected? Are you one of those lovers who makes your relationship the most important thing in your life to the exclusion of everything else? If you’ve sought that kind of magical and insular intensity, you’ve probably attracted partners who do the same.  
If you’ve had friends who have told you in the past that you go MIA when you find a new partner, you may be one of those kinds of lovers. Your good friends care for you despite it and wait for you to re-emerge if the relationship doesn’t work out. But, when it does end, you may have to grieve in isolation until your social network becomes available again.  
3)    Interim Re-enforcement
If you had a parent who showed up and disappeared at whim, you may be unconsciously attracted to partners who do the same thing. Because you were trained to tolerate that powerlessness, you are nevertheless well able to keep your love intact when they are gone.
Your loyalty does have a price. You may find yourself watching your partner’s every move, trying to piece together his or her agenda? Do you make excuses for your partner when you are powerlessly waiting for each “reconnect” to happen? When he or she does return, seemingly glad to see you, do you assume that everything is okay?
Deep Inside, though, you may unconsciously be feeling childhood triggers and wonder if your partner is going to come back this time. You do everything you can to let go without complaint, re-welcome him or her without blame, and keep telling yourself that you have nothing to worry about.
If that partner eventually leaves for good, your cumulative, unrequited availability and devotion will make it difficult for you to let go. As you did as a child, you will try to wait as long as it might take for the miracle to happen again.
4)    When Your Past Defines Your Future
If you’ve dated for a while and the right person has just not yet come along, you can easily become pessimistic, cynical, or even bitter. All three of those feelings will, unfortunately, cast a formidable shadow on any of your future hopes. Even if you do not realize it, you will behave as if there is no one who can truly love you in the way you want to be loved.
You might be unconsciously broadcasting that belief to any new partner, warning that he or she could be held responsible for those who have hurt you in the past. If you have enough going for you, you may still have interested takers who might be willing to swim the “shark-infested waters” to get to the prize. You may be unwittingly and continually testing them to see if they’ll stick around until you finally drop your armor.
If you test too long before opening your heart again, that person might give up because the cost of you is beginning to outweigh the gain.  How terrible that would be if concurrently you have begun opening up the floodgates at the same time as your partner finally has had it and leaves.
Now you are sitting withal of your suppressed love bursting out and no one to share it with. Do you plunge back into the safety of your closed self to escape the torture or re-choose to give that love where it will be reciprocated?
5)    When You Make it Your Fault
In the throes of your feelings of abandonment and broken trust, you may feel as though your pain will never go away and that you will never be able to love again. It is totally natural and understandable that you would feel that way for a while, but you will find yourself in harmfully extended grief if you take all of the blame.  
If you’ve been left behind before, you may be unconsciously creating that pattern and need some professional guidance to help you. Pathological grief can keep you unable to accept the ending of relationships. You may be in danger of holding on to your sorrow as a substitution for the relationship, fearful of being even more hurt if you accepted the finality.
But, if you know that you are a reasonably balanced person who truly believed you were conducting yourself with authenticity, integrity, and honest love in this lost relationship, its loss may not have been your fault. Looking back, you are certain that you had every reason to expect that it would continue.  After all, the two of you were an acknowledged “item” amongst your social network and your families and your partner kept talking about a mutual future as if it was a guaranteed outcome.  
What if your continuing distress and confusion are perfectly normal considering what has just happened? What if you truly don’t understand why your partner left or what could you have possibly done to cause him or her to just walk out? It is totally understandable that you have continued loving feeling that the break up would, of course, eventually resolve.
You’re not some kind of self-centered wacko. You’re just trying to make it through while being publicly observed. And, in the back of your mind, you might hope that the social family the two of you have created will somehow end up getting your partner to change his or mind and the nightmare will end? You are simultaneously holding your heart open while trying to face what might be a painful and inevitable outcome.
6)    Fantasy Love
Think of all the things about your partner that you desired and those that you were afraid to lose. Those attachments are the tethers that keep relationships intact. Even after a relationship ends, you might not be able to let go of those attachments. They made you feel alive, valuable, and wanted. And you had reason to believe that your partner felt the same way about you.
Now your partner is gone and you are still remembering the relationship as though it were reciprocally satisfying and perfect. If it was, why can’t you just toss it off to experience and let it go? If you can’t stop loving him or her long after the relationship has ended, you may be feeding a fantasy that was not the actual representative of the relationship. You may be eulogizing each magnetic moment while minimizing those aspects that were not working.
If you allow your fantasies to substitute for what truly happened, you may try to keep those delusions alive. Do you find yourself buying love potions, sending metaphysical messages, pleading with mutual friends to intervene, posting picture to get a reaction, praying, or asking psychics for possibilities? If you have no indication that your ex is still interested, you may be keeping a fantasy alive to avoid the reality that truly exists.
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If you have been unable to stop loving far beyond a relationship’s end, you mustn’t judge yourself negatively. It is a human frailty to love too much and no one has escaped the pain of unreciprocated commitment.
The capability to love deeply is a blessing for the lover and loved. But, loving unequally, blindly, or beyond reciprocity is a painfully predictable pathway to grieving alone when the other partner is done before you are.
If you have faced this pattern before, it is so important for you to understand why you find yourself doing it again and to work hard at changing those behaviors. If you don’t make assumptions, stay open and authentic, face fear with courage, and check in frequently with your partner, you might have to give up unchallenged bliss, but you’ll know whether the love you feel is mutual and current.












Friday, July 13, 2018

Why Did You Leave Me?

Sadly, most intimate relationships end unevenly. Too often, one partner wants out while the other is still attached. No matter what the circumstances or causes, unrequited love for the person left behind is a painful and deeply distressing experience.
That grief can be worsened when the reasons given for leaving the relationship simply don’t ring true. It leaves the abandoned partner befuddled and confused, filled with unanswerable questions: “What happened? Why didn’t I see it coming? Why didn’t I believe it could happen?
In my forty plus years of counseling people through relationship breakups, I have faced many of these grieving partners. Most had some idea that the relationship was faltering but didn’t anticipate the prediction of an end game. Sure, there were some conflicts, but they just didn’t seem that serious. From their vantage points, the make-ups still seemed adequate and the benefits clearly outweighed the costs.
Listening to their stories, I have felt both compassion for their distress and sadness at their confusion. I wondered why they’d seemed so unprepared for the ending. Their reasoning was that they truly believed the love between them was still basically secure and didn’t get that the relationship was over until their partners actually walked out. They were, in fact, totally confused.
Searching for answers, they come into therapy asking if I can help them gain some sanity as to why their partners left. They want to let go and move on, but can’t resolve their grief because they don’t know what to let go of.
As a relationship therapist for over forty years, I have also been on the other end of the partners who chose to leave. Because of those many exposures, I can often help the partners left behind by sharing what other partners have told me as to why they left the way they did.
If you are one of those devoted partners who have faced this kind of unexpected and unpredictable abandonment, I hope I can help. From the generic pool of information given to me by the men and women who have left a partner behind, I’ve accumulated the following ten most common reasons why people decide to leave a committed relationship. They certainly do not cover all of the possible explanations but do encapsulate the core of those motivations and decisions.
1)    Affairs
The most common reason that a partner leaves a relationship is because he or she has connected with a new love interest. More than half of the couples I see in therapy come in because one or the other has been unfaithful.
Initially, most of the straying partners initially deny, avoid, or even challenge the obvious truth with outrage. Eventually, the evidence usually emerges and the couple must face that crisis. 
Unless the affair has been long on-going, most couples initially choose to try to make their relationship work, but specter of lost trust can severely impair the outcome.
2)    Boredom
Though many people do not realize it, the relationship security and comfort does not always bring happiness to both partners. When intimate partners know so much about one another that they can accurately predict the other partner’s every thought, feeling, and reactions, they may concurrently lose the excitement of discovery.
Often, it is only one partner who begins to feel bored but doesn’t want to hurt the other by admitting it. After all, he or she co-created the security they share, and should not be complaining if constraints come with the package. They experience  restlessness and desire at the same time as guilt and embarrassment for it no longer being enough.
3)    Battle Fatigue
Continuing and constant disputes will wear down any relationship. Too often, though, only one partner is destabilized enough from them to want out. Some people are just able to tolerate tension better than the other.
Repeated and unresolved arguments most often result in cumulative emotional scarring that is often not as evident on the outside as the damage they cause to the relationship core. The final straw tips the scale for one partner even if the other is still willing to fight it out.
4)    One Too Many Crises
No matter how many good qualities exist within it, any relationship will eventually fall apart if the partners face too many traumatic challenges and they affect each differently.
Financial losses, physical or emotional illness, deaths, geographical changes, sexual dysfunction, problems with children, family pressures, new career demands, or even crises of faith, can take one partner down while the other is still intact.
Some couples have multiple challenges, sometimes without the opportunity to rebalance and regenerate. One partner may blame the other, become too needy, or become too exhausted to keep up his or her end, feeling that they have to get out to save themselves.
5)    Changing Dreams and Goals
When partners first commit, they most often share similar dreams and goals. Sadly, those initial common desires can change for one partner while the other is still attached to them.
If, however, over time, one partner finds that his or her original goals and dreams have shifted and no longer are mutual, that difference can create a crisis of faith. People can change their religious beliefs, relationship expectations, social groups, political views, family commitments, careers, sexual needs, parenting styles, choice of resource distribution, and how to conflicts should be resolved.
When couples have good communication and their love is intact, those differences can create a positive challenge that can alter and improve the relationship. More often, sadly, one of the partners cannot live by those new choices and leaves to pursue his or her new dreams.
6)    Disappointments and Disillusionments
When people are first in love, they believe in, and fully support, each other’s possibilities and are quick to forgive errors. They have faith in the relationship’s capacity to overcome any problems within or between them.
More commonly, one or both partners will eventually face behaviors in the other that become too hard to deal with. The feeling that the “relationship is mostly great” changes to “I can’t live with this…,” That issue, if unchangeable, becomes a deal-breaker for one of the partners.
Most couples try hard to work around these potential “disconnects” if they can, but previously patient partners may have less wiggle room over time. Situations and behaviors that they could once endure are now too difficult to keep experiencing.  
The partners who have been easily forgiven for those thoughts, feelings, or behaviors in the past, may not see that there is a cumulative emotional credit card accruing. At some point, one of the partners may have “had it,” and is no longer willing to do what was once promised.
7)    Needing Aloneness
Though this is not as common a reason why some partners leave relationships, I have heard this story often enough to share it.
There are times when people make initial commitments with all of their hearts, and fully intend to carry them out forever. But, for whatever reasons, their lives turn inside out or upside down and they feel they need to separate out from everything they’ve known before and to independently redesign their lives.
These unexpected hungers for autonomous and complete transformation often happen after devastating loss or painful exposure to trauma. Sometimes the partner needing to be alone is humiliated by something that has happened, or some other realization takes them down. Perhaps they don’t feel worthy because they are no longer able to provide as they did before. They may even develop physical liabilities that makes them feel unable to continue as they were before.
Sometimes, they feel an urgent need to seek a spiritual path. The partner left behind cannot understand why he or she is not good enough to be invited on the journey. They cannot fathom why aloneness is better than partnership.
8)    Running from Maturity
Though this section is not meant to embarrass or humiliate those that leave for this reason, there are some people who fully intend to “grow up” within their committed partnership and then, sometime later, realize that the responsibilities of a life-long relationship are too much for them.
There are people who willingly and intentionally commit to a relationship with the full knowledge they would eventually take on financial liabilities, children, have to make compromising career choices, and commit to a monogamous sexual relationship. And though they fully meant it when they promised that life to another, they later feel entrapped by their premature promises.
These people may be fearful of growing up because it feels like being stuck and limited. As their partner is fully able to embrace those mature passages of life, they feel more and more constrained They want to return to an earlier time in their lives when they were free to go in whichever way they wanted to.
9)    Wanting More
As relationships mature, many intimate partners find themselves seeking new adventures away from their primary partnership. They once ached to share everything with each other, but now find that home is a place to refuel rather than regenerate and discover. The relationship has gone from a haven to a place to just refuel.
These partners may have formed a comfortable and rewarding friendship, but it is no longer exciting or challenging. They love and respect each another but one of them is feeling the need for greater adventure.
Many times, these feelings occur in mid-life, and are seen as a common temporary crisis, but they can actually happen at any time. One partner has settled in to a relationship he or she feels deeply content within, while the other cannot live any more within the relationship’s lock-ins.
10)                    A Mistake from the Beginning?
Sadly, many partners who leave relationships tell me that, looking back, they knew the relationship was a mistake from the beginning. They committed nonetheless for many reasons. Perhaps they were caught up in the excitement of the moment. Maybe they just couldn’t disappoint the people they had committed to. Sometimes they were pushed by friends who saw more than what was there.
Trying to deny their internal conflicts and to act with integrity, they did everything they could to “make it work,” while simultaneously knowing that they were not into the relationship and maybe had never been.
As the normal challenges to any relationship accumulate, these regretful partners feel an increasing need to bolt. At some point, often without the other partner having ever suspected, they feel imprisoned and are unable to stay.
* * * *
I always ask those who felt they had to end an on-going relationship why they did not tell their partners what they were feeling before it was “too late.” The two most common responses are that they either didn’t fight for change early enough and now cannot recreate their devotion, or that they did try to improve the relationship but felt that their partners couldn’t, or wouldn’t, listen or want to change.
Caveat: It is important to note that even wonderful relationships can end if their “time is up.” I’ve been with partners who once were everything to each other but realized that one or both were ready to move on. They’d been open, honest, and authentic from the beginning of their partnership and neither would ever want the other to stay with them if they would be more alive and content somewhere else. They honor and respect each other and the relationship enough not to hold onto something that no longer works for either of them. Yes, there is grief when these relationships end, but it is shared and processed together. The partner who was still content is understandably sad, but not bewildered nor destroyed.