Breaking Up After A Long Relationship

Sometimes a love relationship ends after years of being together. I could list all the possible reasons why this could happen, but I won’t. I think it would be more useful to point out that we cannot really control what happens to love over time no matter what the reasons are.

Some couples take good care of their love, fixing problems when they arrive, and working on experiencing a deeper intimacy in their relationship. This kind of work can and will improve the chances of a lasting love.

But still, the longevity of love can never be controlled or guaranteed. This reality is the subject of this post. For some people, the end of a long-term love relationship, perhaps one that started when the couple were quite young, signals the end of their love-lives.

A long love relationship, whether married or simply living together, is guaranteed to hurt when it ends. But it doesn’t have to mean the end of a love-life. The hurt I’m talking about could have its source in the fact that love is lost and/or the security the relationship provided is now gone. Either way the pain of loss is felt.

What helps, what doesn’t, and how you can cope with the emotions that occur when a long-term love relationship ends are our guiding questions in this discussion. I’ve come to the realization in recent years that for a lot of people the problem with love is grief. What I mean is, love hurts like hell when it goes. So if you are afraid to grieve a loss of love, and believe it will overwhelm you and never stop, you won’t be comfortable with deeper love.

Grief is the flip side of love. Grief is love in the form of loss. It’s not a sickness or weakness. Grief is as natural as rain. In fact, grief has to occur. Why? Because if you love someone you will miss him or her when he or she leaves. Especially if the leaving is permanent. Getting relatively comfortable with grief is one of the most important ways to prepare for love.

By the way, if you don’t have a lot of experience with grief, for example when growing up, that doesn’t mean you can’t get on the job training, so to speak. What I mean is, with sufficient courage you could jump into a love relationship, take your chances, hope for the best, have some faith that you could survive a loss, and if and when love leaves, embrace grief as a necessary and temporary healer. The reward you get for your receptivity is a shorter period of grieving, fewer or no emotional complications, and a feeling of relief that you can now move on when it’s over.

When long-term love dies, the ‘supports’ you have in your life will be very valuable to you. This may seem obvious to you, but it’s importance should be appreciated. You see, when loss is complicated because a person is not ready to let someone go, depression is a common symptom. One of the classic and troubling symptoms of depression precipitated by loss is isolation.

People who are suffering a complicated loss tend to isolate themselves from others. This is not healthy. In fact it makes recovery difficult and prolongs illness. Letting people who care about you take reasonable care of you is very important when you are grieving the loss of a long-term love relationship.

When the grieving is done, and you’ll know when, it’ll be time move on. If you’ve been living in the space where the two of you used to live, it could be time to make some changes. You could move out, or you could make changes to support and reinforce a feeling of newness.

Moving on can be complicated by ‘familiarity. When something is familiar we attach to it. When we attach to something we obviously don’t want to let it go. It or him/her becomes part of our emotional ‘family.’ Sometimes when a long relationship breakup or dissolves for some reason, one or both people keep ‘shrines’ to the other person.

A shrine can exist in many different forms. A shrine can be something like a giant stake of saved love letters written to you by your lover years ago. When you read them you cry and remember. It’s like hanging onto a peace of the person you’ve lost. The worst part is hurting yourself over and over again.

Another common shrine exists in the form of a room left exactly like if was the day he or she left. Or a closet full of his or her unclaimed or left behind clothing, he or she will one day claim. A shrine exists in order to manipulate time. As long as the shrine exists, the part of you that is trying to let go, hangs on to something in the world that represents the person who is gone. You can see how under these conditions the mind has not completed grieving and has consequently not let go.

Other people can and do come into this experience of ending a long love relationship. The two most common ways they do is when members of your family or even friends interfere with your desire to move on, and when you take the memory of your lost lover and graft it onto other people.

When other people like your kids or your lover’s family try to influence or interfere with your moving on after the breakup, they are doing so because of their own feelings about the breakup. In the case of children, it’s pretty obvious they prefer separated or divorced parents not move on to other relationships. It would understandably signal the ‘absolute’ end of their parents’ love relationship.

The other way people can get drawn into this is if you take the memory and feelings you have of your lost lover and project them onto your reactions to a new lover or friend. And don’t kid yourself, it’s very easy to do this. In fact we all do to one degree or another. We all use the past to understand the future.

But like they say in the stock market, past performance is not a guarantee of future performance. From time to time we have to clear out the past from our eyes and see the present more clearly and accurately. Otherwise we could lose important opportunities when they happen to come around.

Is it possible to love more than one person in a lifetime? Absolutely. The question is not whether you are capable, but more like, are you willing? I think the first step in rebuilding after a loss of this kind is to take good care of and love yourself.

During the grieving period and beyond, taking care of yourself will allow you to strengthen and be available for the next love not in an extreme state of need but in a more balanced state of being able, once again, to give and receive love with somebody. Instead of swearing off love, which only means you’re still hurting, the objective is to heal and love again.

To go from, “I can’t love without you” to  “I deserve as much love in my life time as I’m able to give and receive” is the only true objective after the loss of a long love relationship.  Remember, comparatively there’s still less than enough love in this world of ours. We need as many born lovers as we can get out there.

Comments? Welcome. Dr. Tom Jordan







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Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

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