Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Why Is Breaking Up So Hard to Do, Even When It's the ONLY Thing to Do?

We’ve talked about stopping a break-up in the “Break-Up Busting 101” series, but what about those times when a break-up really is the best thing for both parties? Specifically, why is it so damned hard? Would you believe it doesn’t have to be?

This is one of those newsletters that had to be written; one that I would foolishly hope that none of you would ever have need of, but which reality says nearly all of you will find useful, either in surviving your present or some part of your future or in understanding something very painful in your past, the difficulty of breaking up, even when it’s the best thing for both parties and everybody, including the two parties in the relationship, know that it’s best.

I’m not like most of today’s “relationship guru’s.” I won’t tell you that all relationships can or should be salvaged, and have no respect for those who would, because people do get into relationships that are based on things like faith and hope instead of reality, and ultimately find themselves painfully mismatched and moving apart is the only solution to the problem they have caused themselves.

That’s why you’ll find the list of other relationship gurus I do respect and endorse very short. Shelley McMurtry and John Alanis are the only others offering advice on the emotions and issues of relationships that I would have any of you read, because they do embrace this self-evident truth instead of trying to convince you to buy what they are selling to have you save that which should not be and ultimately cannot be saved.

I’ve been working closely with one of your fellow readers, one whom at this point if facing the possibility that the break-up his wife initiated may indeed be the best thing that could happen to him because they are so grossly mismatched and she’s carrying a ton of baggage that she may well choose to hang onto, in spite of the fact that right now she’s facing the greatest opportunity of her life to drop all that baggage and make some incredible improvements in her life.

I’ll spare you the intimate details of their problems, but the bottom line is that he’s on solid ground, logically, morally, ethically, and every other way I’ve been able to observe, while she is hyper-creative and rejects reality with impunity, morally ambiguous, and 39 going on about 7.

He’s highly analytical and disciplined, knows what’s before him and how to react to virtually any word or action from her now (he read "How to Be Attractive to the Woman You Love" and is a very quick study, and we’ve been talking a lot as well), and yet, there are times when he still has a hard time accepting what he knows to be reality, that in all likelihood, they never should have come together and he made a bad choice, because his wife appears incapable of growing up and becoming responsible enough to rejoin him as his wife, or indeed as anything more than a chronic dependent.

He asked me a few days ago why it was that he was having a hard time accepting and emotionally committing to that which he knew to be irrefutable reality, and why people generally found breaking up so hard even when it was painfully obvious that it was the only option that could allow either of them to ever be happy.

I answered, "We all make bad choices, and being human, we tend to try to make the best of them and pick up a lot of good memories along the way that end up confounding us when we finally are faced with the reality that our bad choice is working against us."

It struck a chord in both of us. I did not, until the very instant that I wrote that to him, understand why I had had trouble with break-ups in the past, and those who know me closely would describe me to you as the most ruthlessly logical person they have ever met. I never stopped to ask myself while I was going through it why it was so hard. I was too busy asking myself another ridiculous question: “Why does this have to happen?” when I already knew the answer.

His reply to that pearl was as profound as the pearl itself:

“That needs to go in the evaluation section of your book - over and over! The main struggle in deciding whether it [salvaging his relationship, which he could easily do at this point if he wanted to] is a go or no-go is in sifting through all the wonderful memories to decide if they were ‘real’ or not…”

That’s the real rub, isn’t it? Were all those “good times” born of real love, friendship, respect, and loyalty worth celebrating? Or were they just born of two people trying to make the best of a bad situation they had created and didn’t want to face? Trying to answer that question, and cope with the answer, is what makes breaking up so hard when every available fact tells you both that there is no other alternative.

So in the event that you have to go through this torture, what do you do?

Look at the whole relationship and weigh the good and the bad. Identify what can and cannot be repaired, and how important those things are to you. In the end, if it can’t be fixed, get out, but do it like a civilized adult, with dignity, and leave the other partner room to do the same.

Don’t ever let things fall into the context or perspective of who is or isn’t good enough for the other. It has nothing to do with that. People are who and what they are, and have spent a lifetime becoming so. Thinking that you can or should be “good enough” to induce someone else to change for your sake that which they would not change for their own is foolish, arrogant to the point of being narcissistic, and just plain childish!

(Pay attention, Ladies, in case you’re thinking that you’re going to rebuild your man as you want him. If you do manage to accomplish it, you won’t respect him precisely because you were able to change him.)

Admit that there have been problems, and that those problems have been caused by the two of you having too many fundamental differences to be compatible. You gave it a good shot, you had some fun and good times, made some money and accumulated a few things, and have a few fond memories, but the stress of walking on eggshells trying to keep from tripping over your differences is killing you both.

You’re good people, just not good for each other, and you need to get out and find someone whom you are good for and who is good for you, compatible with you, and whom you can enjoy living with as your natural self. Work together to divide the rewards of your combined efforts fairly and help each other get a fresh start by introducing each other to friends that are more like them. You may not be worth a plug nickel as husband and wife but may be great assets to each other in starting over. (This is all assuming that your problems are differences in your values, preferences, priorities, etc., and not that one of you is an abuser of some sort.)

There is no point in your life where being able to evaluate a relationship will not serve you well. You need to know yourself and your needs and desires, and you need to be with someone who can naturally fulfill those needs and desires while being fulfilled by you. That in turn requires that you know other peoples’ needs and desires with regard to you, does it not? You don’t want to enter a relationship in which you have no chance of fulfilling the other’s needs and desires, do you?

That means knowing before you get into a relationship what the relationship should look like if it’s good. It means knowing after you get into a relationship if it is going to work based on how well you meet each others’ needs and desires. It means being able to communicate factually and honestly to express those needs and desires to each other, as well as how well those needs and desires are being met.

Relationships very seldom fail after ten or twenty years or more. They fail at their inception and that failure isn’t conceded until years later, when every option has been exhausted and both partners have become miserable spending so much time and effort trying and failing. If you have a good foundation for a relationship, it’s not hard to tell; there’s little if anything fundamental and significant that you’d want to change about your partner, such as their values, political leanings, etc. You can talk and get along, and have probably just become a bit bored because attraction is waning. That’s fixable. But…

If you’re in one of those relationships where the only place you get along is in the bedroom, and you find yourself fighting to have an excuse to make up because that’s the only part of your relationship that IS working, you’ve got a problem, and believe it or not, there are people with whom you can get along both in and out of the bedroom.

And since so many of you have asked, yes, it is still a good idea to learn about attraction and try to create it for your partner even if you are breaking up. Being attractive is about being a leader, being smart, being fair, handling tough situations and being able to keep your sense of humor about you. Stirring up a little attraction in your partner as you are splitting up will help ease the transition for her and you both. It will help her to feel that you are being strong and supportive during this crisis, and make her feel good that you are making the effort to help her hold herself together emotionally while you go through the process. Nothing bad can come of that for either of you, and may indeed help you to part friends instead of killing each other in a war that never had to be declared.

There you have it, the dark side of relationships. It is my sincere hope that you never have to go through a break-up, and that if worse comes to worst and you do have to go through one, that you can get through it with your dignity intact and help each other to move on to a better life with someone better matched to yourselves by understanding what it is that you’re fighting: the basic human tendency to try to make the best of even the worst situation, not each other.

No matter where you are in your relationship, from looking for one to having been in one for 40 years or longer, there’s help waiting for you in "How to Be Attractive to the Woman You Love," and it’s just a few mouse clicks away at http://www.makingherhappy.com/. Go check it out, and get the straight story while you can; there are very few of us around who will give it to you.

In the meantime, live well, be well, and have a wonderful day!
David Cunningham

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