By Susan Regan, MFT
Members in my divorce support group have discussed what bad habits they get into in their long-term relationships. I’ve often heard folks say that their long term relationships have changed them. They stopped doing things that made them feel happy and started experiencing less joy in their life in general. Group members question why they were with their partners and where things started falling apart in their relationships. Did they give up on their own lives? Was it possible to find happiness with their mates? Habits of not communicating, losing interest in each other and not having common interests can become a form of resistance or fighting back. Leaving a long term relationship allows people to look at what part of themselves continued to develop in a negative way. What habits should be changed?
The divorce support group that I run often has issues come up where members will say, “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.”
The group has given 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 more of what they wish to be.
When people spend a lot of energy in relationships that don’t work, they spend a lot of energy in conflict. This delays their development and hinders the ability to develop. Maybe you have spent a lot of time focusing on your partner’s problems instead of focusing on your own quality of life and friendships. There is a lot of research showing that being in a conflicted state for extended periods of time leads to physical and mental health issues. You might be in a fight or flight state for a long time. People often over develop or under develop different parts of their lives. You may be really good at one part of your life but in other parts, you may not have developed yourself at all. For example, if you have a really analytical job, you may not have fully developed a sense of creativity. You might want to look at your healing process overall as how you want to develop yourself. In what ways do you want to have more balance in your life and in what ways have you under developed? Maybe this is a good time to focus on yourself holistically.
People in my support group noticed that their focus was completely on their partner, whether it was being in denial about the end of the relationship or blaming themselves for not helping their partner stay focused on their mutual life together. There are common themes when people are in addictive relationships. They tend to shut down and allow unhealthy habits to take over, and normalize these habits. All long term relationships have co-dependent elements like those of an addict; there are parts of you that are enabling this addiction. Relationships on many levels are a co-creation. There are co-dependent elements in a relationship; some co-dependency is really healthy while other aspects are really discernible for the other person to function fully as a partner. The focus can be a combination of the under-functioning person and the over functioning person. The theme of co-dependency continues in separation because often times, the enabler worries about the other partner or feels that if they go away they will have to hold the family together. Separating from the addict adds even more pressure and guilt to their lives, especially when there are children involved. Often times, the enabler feels like they are the buffer between the children and the addict. How we engage in our relationships in terms of co-dependency is a complicated issue. 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 does each person need to be accountable for. All of these are rich topics we discuss in group.
The issue of whether or not to start dating is also a reoccurring topic in our group. Some people feel like they can’t handle anymore rejection. Others feel they don’t know who to trust, and that they aren’t sure if they can even trust themselves. If you have children, it is always important to remember when you’re dating to 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. Oftentimes, 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 when they do this. One of the ways to take time for yourself is to be a part of a support group so you can keep track of yourself and know what kinds of healing you need to do before you feel whole again. What are your values? What are your needs? What are your interests? This time when you pick a new partner you may feel like you can come to the table and be really clear about what is going to work for you.