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.
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.
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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.”
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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.