Thursday, November 3, 2011

"When the heart breaks, no it don't break even..."

These lyrics from the popular song "Break Even" by The Script illustrate an unfortunate truth about the end of relationships. In theory, people would like their intimate relationships to end mutually over relatively benign, agreed upon statements such as "We were growing apart" and "We were just two different people." In reality, it's usually a lot messier and the stories often stand in sharp contrast. In my office, people often come for help because they are stuck with either feelings of rejection or feelings of guilt.

Person #1 feels rejected, abandoned, and sometimes betrayed. Sometimes, Person #1 starts therapy with some denial about whether the relationship is truly over. Attempts may be made to win back the affections of Person #2. When the reality that the relationship is over sinks in, Person #1 is stuck with intense feelings of sadness, loss, and devastation. S/he commonly feels rejected or even abandoned.  Sometimes, the pain is so significant that s/he cannot see a future where there is hope. Is there something wrong with me? Person #1 wonders. Will anyone ever truly love me and stay around?

Person #2, in contrast, usually feels a combination of guilt, shame, and relief.  Person #2 often feels like a "bad" person for wanting ending the relationship in light of the pain of Person #1. Sometimes the shame and guilt leads Person #1 to make decisions that are appealing in the short-run but ultimately prolong the pain, such as attempting to comfort Person #1 about the divorce or break-up. Person #2 may also deal with the guilt and shame by minimizing the pain of Person #1 or by trying to prove to themselves and others that they were justified to end the relationship. Ultimately, Person #2 wonders: Will I ever be able to love someone without hurting them?

Whether you are Person #1 or Person #2, your pain is legitimate and psychotherapy can be a good option. Identifying the problems that led to the end of the relationship can help you avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future. Also, grieving in a healthy way will allow you ultimately to open your heart to future happiness.