Here is how to turn the loss and heartache of a breakup into the golden trophy of a new, healthy and fulfilling love.
1. The pain from a break up or divorce will pass. Even extremely intense pain does not mean you necessarily should get back together with your partner. Just as small children passionately protest when aparent leaves the room the same kind of reaction may occur between ardent lovers who fear the ending of their bond—even if the union is a dysfunctional disaster. Part of this pain is the loss of the rewarding chemicals in the brain and, as a result, people may truly feel ‘love sick.’ People frequently stay in unhealthy love relationships out of a fear of experiencing this pain and a desire to avoid it. Let yourself grieve the ending of the relationship, without immediately jumping into another union. Use the time to notice what kinds of problematic patterns of behavior and choices you want to avoid.
2. Conduct a serious autopsy of your history with love. Start with your early experiences in your family and then move through your romantic relationship history. Develop awareness for how love patterns from childhood are repeating in your adult romantic relationships. When being cared for in childhood meant dismissal, rejection or invalidation, people are more likely to choose partners with these same traits. Familiarity can feel like love, even when it is not. As you carefully develop awareness of your love history and how your needs went met or unmet, you will develop a greater ability to see others as they really are. Ask yourself if in your adult relationships you are playing the same role you did as a child? Have you adopted the role of one of your parents or even the role you played in a previous romantic relationship? Become fully aware of who you are choosing to become romantic with and assess whether they remind you of a dysfunctional relationship from your past. Learn to take time to get to know people who treat you well and make you feel good. Surround yourself with friends or family who are compassionate and kind toward you.
3. Transcending unfulfilling love means consciously attaching to healthy partners. If early in life loving one or both of your caretakers left you feeling undervalued, then you may unintentionally pick undependable or inattentive lovers who tend to dismiss your needs or emotional experiences. It can be intoxicating to meet a person who triggers old love patterns. What was once a powerless child who felt at the mercy of an inattentive caregiver becomes a powerful adult who, with an inattentive partner, has the hope and wish they he will magically change his inattentive ways for her, because he sees her as worthy and special. Sadly the intrigue and allure that he will become something she has never before experienced gives way, and she is left feeling once again hopeless about finding real love. When you do date someone who is directly loving toward you or genuinely interested in knowing the real you, you may not feel the ‘spark’ simply because he does not match your early learning history and resulting neuronal wiring. Push yourself out of your comfort zone; get to know new types of people—even if at first they do not elicit the intense chemistry and intrigue to which you have become accustomed.
4. Show your humanness in your relationships. Many who struggle with unfulfilling relationships have a habit of not being completely real (who they are, what they feel, what they need from others) with the people they wish to be closest. They do this because they fear upsetting the apple cart. These folks fear that if they are their genuine selves they will lose the validation and approval that they feel from the other. They fear rejection to the point that they are not completely themselves in their relationships. Work hard to be open about who you are and what you want and need in your relationships. It may feel risky but the alternative is to continue to partner with people who cannot ultimately give you what you need and who do not know the real you.
5. Take on the pursuit of psychological wellness. This could be weekly psychotherapy, art therapy, journaling, drama, certain kinds of exercise and meditation. But, carve out at least one hour a week to contemplate your own development and wellbeing as a person separate from all others. During this time, challenge yourself to grow and to face the difficult areas or emotions in your life that you try to avoid. The more you clean out your own closet the lighter the baggage you will carry into your next romantic relationship. Most do not have a squeaky clean past and many have difficult experiences to work through. The key, however, is to do this work so that earlier attitudes do not choke the life out of your next relationship or cause you to make choices that are not in your best interest.
As I describe in my book Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy—Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships, many grow up fully equipped to form fulfilling relationships, but many don’t. Fortunately, those who don’t can learn to alter their behavior and choices in ways that enormously improve their prospects for love and healthy partnership. Instead of going back out on the circuit—pause, reflect and allow yourself to reject those who merely repeat the upset of your past so that you may partner with those who can help bring you long term contentment.
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