By Susan Regan, MFT
What bad habits did you get into in your long-term relationship? Often times I’ve heard folks say that their long term relationship changed them. They stopped doing things that made them feel happy and they experience less joy. In long term relationships we sometimes question why we were together and where things fell apart. Did we give up on our own lives? Was it impossible to find happiness with our mate, or was it both? Often times the habits of not communicating, losing interest in each other and not having common interests can become a form of resistance or a way of fighting back. Leaving a long term relationship allows us to look at the part of ourselves that developed in a negative way and helps us realize the habits that we want to change.
In the divorce support group I hold, I often hear this phrase, “I don’t like who I am now. I became angry and defensive in this relationship and now it’s over. And I’m stuck with myself like this.” Joining a support group often gives people an opportunity to start looking at themselves and thinking about who they are and what they want. Grief takes up a certain amount of space but once the grief has lifted, group members state that they can start thinking about how to create a life for themselves that will bring them peace and harmony and what they want to become now.
We spend a lot of energy in relationships that don’t work. We spend a lot of energy in conflict. This often delays our development, being in a conflicted, long term relationship; a part of us does not develop. We spend a long time in a space where we are not developing the positive and good parts of ourselves. There is a lot of research that shows that being in this conflicted state for an extended time leads to health issues. For example, you may be in a constant state of flight or fight which exhausts the nervous system and can overwhelm the body in a state of over re-activity due to adrenaline and other subconscious bodily responses.
Throughout our live we also may develop some traits and be underdeveloped in others. Examine what you do for work; you may be really good at your occupation but you may have underdeveloped other areas. If your job is more on the analytic side you may be lacking in development of creativity. You might want to look at your healing process as how you want to develop yourself, in what ways do you want to have more balance in your life, what ways have you under developed and to focus on those parts. Maybe you’ve spent a lot of time even obsessing about the other person’s problems and not looking at yourself and your own quality of life and friendships.
People in the group noticed that their focus was completely on their partner whether it was in denial of the end of the relationship or because they felt they didn’t help their partner and stay focused on them that they would fall apart. There are common themes when people are in addictive relationships in which we shut down and allow unhealthy habits to take over; we also tend to normalize them. All long term relationships have co-dependent elements just like if you’re with an addict, there are parts of you that is in a way enabling the addiction and the relationship is on many levels a co-creation. Since there are co-dependent elements that are in relationships with some that are healthy while other disables the other person to function as a partner. The theme of co-dependency continues even in separation, sometimes when we’re separated from the other person we worry about them or feel like we have the entire burden of holding the family together. Co-Dependency and how we engage in relationships is a complicated issue because it is often hard to figure out where it started, who got unhealthy first, how did the unhealthy habits in the relationship get created, what are each other’s parts in it and what do you need to be accountable for. Those things are rich topics discussed in our group.
The issue of whether or not to start dating has also been a reoccurring topic in our group. Some people feel like they can’t handle anymore rejection. Others feel like they don’t know who to trust, and that they aren’t sure if they can even trust themselves. If you have children its always important to remember that while you’re dating you should not expose those people to your children unless you’re sure that you would like to have those people in your life for a while. Often times people can’t stand being alone so they jump into a relationship too quickly without taking time to heal, I often hear that people recreate the same thing that they just ended. One of the ways to take time for yourself is by joining group so that you can keep track of your personal growth and progress and know what kinds of places you have to heal before you’re ready to engage with another person. What are your values? What are your needs? What are your interests? This time when you pick a new partner you can be a whole person and feel like you can come to the table being really clear about what is going to work for you this time.