It was 1987 and Catherine had broken up with me for the third time. The storm had ripped trees from the ground and roofs from the houses and garages. I spent all morning cutting up a fallen tree in her front garden in a selfless act of selfishness. If only she would catch sight of me from her bedroom window she’d realise what a mistake she’d made.
Coming home in the days that followed I’d glance at the message pad on the hall table by the cream coloured telephone hanging on the wall, but it would be blank. “Anyone call for me?” I’d ask. I already knew the answer.
I suppose I lasted a few days before calling Catherine on some flimsy pretence or other. When you chase love around a corner it simply runs faster.
Several of my clients are in the middle of relationship break up. No matter how much time passes, regardless of how poorly our needs are met, and even when we are treated disrespectfully and downright cruelly, we still seem unable to move forward with any confidence.
Why do we hang on so tightly when there seems so little to hang on to?
We seem able to effortlessly exacerbate our own misery when we feel rejected. Rather than mine for the precious realisation that being with someone who doesn’t want to be with you is a waste of time and energy we look for ways to make it less true. Denial in a break up is debilitating and deeply damaging to both the situation and our own sense of self worth.
“Can we just meet for a chat?”
This line, or something similar, uttered by the broken hearted in the weeks after a break up is like trying to heal a wound by picking at it with a pencil.
We know why we do it, there are so many reasons, but none of them are good. “I want to show her I’m over her” You aren’t. “I just think it would be nice if we were still friends” It’s too early. “I want to see how he’s doing”. Don’t be a stalker. “I don’t want him to think I don’t care anymore”. He clearly won’t, but it doesn’t make any difference because he probably isn’t bothered whether you do or not.
So often relationships break up because the people have changed, or their true character has become visible, and this has altered the dynamic. “But I still love her so much”. This probably isn’t true either. I can remember being in a relationship where I was sure I was deeply in love with someone who treated me with constant disdain while being wholly self obsessed. How could I possibly love her? In truth I was in love with my idea of her. Sometimes the object of your love once existed but is there no more, at least not for you. Sometimes we become so wrapped up in who we think someone is we fail to recognise who they really are until it becomes impossible to ignore.
I have noticed too that those who find it hard to prioritise their own needs have particular difficulty with break ups. A myopic focus on the wellbeing of others invites more bad treatment than we deserve and more pain than we can handle.
It took me years to learn that the very best way to heal a broken heart is to leave it broken. Like the tree I cut down in Catherine’s garden, the terminal damage was already done. The best thing to do was tidy things up and go home.