Thursday, December 29, 2011

Why Is Breaking Up So Hard? Surviving the End of Relationships and Marriage

MUST READ: We’ve talked about stopping a break-up in my free “Break-Up Busting 101” report, but what about those times when a break-up really is the best thing for both parties? Specifically, why is it so bloody hard? Would you believe it doesn’t have to be? Even if you’re already out of a relationship, if you are dating or want to start dating, there’s a lot here that you need to learn…

This is one of those newsletters that had to be written; one that a fool would hope that none of you would ever need, but which reality says nearly all of you will find useful to some degree, 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.

Some people get into relationships that are based on things like faith and hope instead of reality. Others based them on need, attraction, or simple lust instead of the requisite combination of love and attraction. These couples ultimately find themselves painfully mismatched and moving apart is the only solution to the problem they have caused themselves. You can’t put a mongoose and a snake in the same place and expect them to just bend to meet each other’s needs and get along, nor can you expect incompatible men and women.

Compatibility doesn’t come from the choices you make, but from the values and tastes that cause you to make the choices you make. Those things just don’t change that much over the course of an entire lifetime, and they certainly don’t change because somebody else wants or needs for them to.

I’m not like most of today’s “relationship gurus.” I won’t tell you that all relationships can or should be salvaged, and have no respect for those who would because it’s simply not reality. That’s why you’ll find the list of other relationship gurus I do respect and endorse very short.

I maintain a list of those who have been recommended to me by my readers in this newsletter and in the margin on my main blog at http://blog.makingherhappy.com. Those 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.

There are others who will tell you that any relationship can and should be saved just to convince you to buy what they are selling, playing on your emotions to sell something that won’t help; it’s very easy to get someone to pay money for hope when what they really need is facts and truth, and there are a lot of predators in the information business. Some will even employ guilt to try to make you feel like you’re a loser for simply acknowledging the truth, because acknowledging the truth would be in conflict with buying their book, seminar, retreat, or counseling or coaching service, or whatever.

Notice that’s a very short list of resources taken from a very large pool of authors. Sad, isn’t it? And by the way, feel free to help me add to it by letting me know if you have had a positive result with any product. Word-of-mouth isn’t just the best advertising; it’s also the best way to weed out the charlatans and bad ideas that sound good “on paper” but don’t work in the real world.

I’ve been working closely with one of your fellow readers, one whom at this point is 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 therefore rejects reality with impunity, is morally ambiguous, and is thirty-nine years old going on about seven. Well, maybe twelve at most.

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 "THE Man’s Guide to Great Relationships and Marriage" and we’ve been talking 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, irresponsible and dangerous dependent.

He asked me why 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 ever allow either of them to 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 moment 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] 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? Or was it something somewhere in the middle?

Was it just two people with raging hormones having an adventure with no way to follow through in the long run, a good time that couldn’t be the basis for a life? Could it be that two good people who had been in bad relationships came together, saw what they had as being good when it was merely an improvement over what had become their very low standard? Trying to resolve those questions, and cope with the reality the resolution presents, is what makes breaking up so hard when every available fact tells you both that there is no other alternative.

I could tell you stories on that last point that would make your hair stand on end. I went to high school with a woman whose first marriage turned out to be to a lazy drunk who would drink up her paycheck and beat her up as reward for bringing it home. Several relationships and marriages -- and 30 years -- later I ran into her again and she said she was blissfully happily married because she finally had a man who wouldn’t cheat on her or beat her. He did in fact cheat on her, he took her paycheck and gave the money to his kids, friends, and pet charities, and left her nothing but a massive pile of debt, attacked her self-esteem at every turn and kept her completely under his thumb.

Every relationship had been better than the last, and was therefore “great” because she had no frame of reference to recognize a functional relationship, let alone a good one. She ended up divorcing that creep and now is in fact single, happy, dating several people, enjoying life and several interesting casual relationships, and having the time of her life, and knows that if she keeps doing what she’s doing she’ll eventually run across a good husband, which a few weeks ago she indicated she may have finally found. And it only took her about 35 years and a lot of hours of arguing with her relationship coach – ME – to get there. A full 35 years of dysfunction and torture to finally get to a functional relationship and an idea of what happiness is really like.

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 the relationship 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. Indeed, LEAD HER to do the same. And if a friendship can be maintained, by all means do so; you may not have enough compatibility to live together happily, but you may still have common interests that you can enjoy together. Think about that...

Not being able to live together happily is by no means an indication that you can’t have an enjoyable conversation or dinner from time to time, help each other with a project or hobby on occasion, or do any of the other things that friends do. It takes a lot more compatibility to live together than it does to visit, as the focus of a visit is much more narrowly defined and creates boundaries that protect you from the things that caused trouble while you were married – if you pay attention to them, that is.

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 sake 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. A man who can’t stand up TO you can’t stand up FOR you or WITH you, right? The attitude that "he should love me enough to change for me," has broken more women's hearts than men ever could, and it’s a choice that YOU make, not 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 if you are the type who needs to or enjoys being married, 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 if you have any.

Go out together a couple of times to build “social proof” for each other by being seen, and make dates with other people while you’re out; there’s no better “wingman” than a member of the gender opposite. You may not be worth a plug nickel together as husband and wife but may be great assets to each other in starting over, not only in helping each other to attract dates, but also in helping each other to read the people who approach them, since we all read our own gender better than the other. (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.)

And if you can’t do this together, then try to get one of your friends to go along, wife’s friend with husband and husband’s friend with wife, or one of your own friends of the other sex. No matter how preposterous this may sound at the moment, you’ll find that it works incredibly well when you try it, so go for it.

There is no point in your life where being able to evaluate a relationship will not serve you well. You need to know yourself as well as your needs and desires, and you need to be with someone who can naturally fulfill those needs and desires while being fulfilled by you. (I laid out a most excellent process for doing this on our forum at http://forum.makingherhappy.com/showthread.php/175-Getting-Your-Life-in-Order-for-Happiness that will lead you through figuring everything out and getting it recorded so that you can regularly consult it.) 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 and they have no chance of fulfilling yours, 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 other’s 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.

Contrary to how it often appears, relationships and marriages very seldom fail after ten or twenty years or more. What really happens is that they fail at their inception due to bad choices and that failure isn’t conceded until years later, when every option has been exhausted, there is no longer anything to hide behind (like children), and both partners have become miserable spending so much time and effort trying and failing, or lying to themselves about trying, lying to each other, etc. 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, habits, desires, 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 especially if you find yourself fighting to have an excuse to make up because that’s the only part of your relationship that IS working, you have a serious 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, because it tends to keep tempers at bay. 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 together. 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 fought, a war in which the only victors are the lawyers.

There you have it, the dark side of relationships and marriage. It is my sincere desire 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 (and assets) 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, no matter how inappropriate or even self-destructive it might be, not each other.

Our adaptability is at times our greatest strength; at others, our greatest weakness. It’s our greatest strength when we use it to overcome adversity and ultimately succeed. It’s our greatest weakness and enemy when it causes us to settle for lower and lower standards until finally we are completely compromised, have no self-esteem left, and have lost sight of the fact that succeeding and being truly fulfilled and happy is a choice that we are obligated to make, lest our life be entirely wasted.

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 "THE Man’s Guide to Great Relationships and Marriage," 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 can and will give it to you, and your life is too short to fail to have and use it. And while you’re at it, swing by our forum, http://forum.makingherhappy.com and make a few friends, too. It never hurts to have a few relationship-savvy friends to talk with when you’re not sure what’s going on or what to do about it.

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

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