There are seven billion people in the world and one soul mate out there somewhere for you to find, right?
Maybe, but maybe not.
Research has quite clearly shown that a strong belief in destiny can actually be harmful to you and the success of your relationships. Here’s why: Having the mentality of believing that you’ve found your soul mate is related to all kinds of unhealthy thinking about your love life.
Let’s illustrate: You fall in love and start a relationship. And all relationships have processes and phases that they tend to follow. Infatuated love—when most of your time is spent thinking about that special person—will most likely only last a number of months(1). What really matters is what happens next. In other words: How will you react when your soul mate starts looking a bit less perfect?
People who hold strong beliefs in destiny are prone to lose interest in their partner much faster than others and are likely to give up much more easily when the relationship looks a bit less rosy (2). Look at it this way: If you believe that “we’re either meant to be together or we’re not” then you’re more likely to see negative things in your relationship as an indicator that perhaps that “special one” actually isn’t your true soul mate after all. Perhaps you were simply mistaken: if you were meant for one another, then why should you have to work so hard at the relationship?
The Work-Through-It Mentality
Are you the type of person who naturally faces hardships with a “work through it” mentality? In other words, do you see good things and bad things as equal part of the process of life? All relationships will go through hardship—it’s how you respond to that hardship that matters. That’s why the best predictor of whether your relationship will succeed in the long term is how you resolve disagreements(3). Research shows that people in relationships who have a “work through it” mentality will cope much better when the inevitable trials come—and that their relationships will stand a better chance of long-term survival(4).
- Ask yourself what kind of general view you have: Do you believe that things are either meant to happen or not; or do you believe that things happen as a consequence of how much effort and hard work you put into them? Try to realize what you can control and what you can’t. Understand that to get really good at anything (including relationships), thousands of hours of practice are needed.
- Start looking at “working on your relationship” as romantic: There may be no predetermined soul mate waiting to be found. That said, over time, you can certainly experience the feeling of a specific person being your soul mate. That feeling comes from working on the relationship, compromising, and learning to understand your partner very well.
- Beware the soul mate fallacy. People who believe in fate are likely also to also believe that a partner can read his or her mind without any specific communication of needs—If he’s my soul mate, he’ll understand what I need; that men and women are extremely different in their relationship needs—an assumption not consistent with relationship science; or that sex in a relationship will always be good—evidence actually shows that sex will change as a relationship changes and that a “good” sex life needs to be nourished through continuous practice.
I picked the wrong man to be my first husband because my parents were pressuring me to get married. I hadn’t met many men at that point of my life, and nobody had taught me how to find true love: not high school, not medical school, not even my parents.
So I “settled.”
And I paid a steep price: my first marriage lasted less than three weeks.
Yet, I was determined to find a love that would last forever. I had a vision of being happy with my perfect match, of falling asleep in his arms, of waking up with a big smile on my face ready to take on the day. But how could I make that dream come true?
I decided to start my journey in a quest for true love using the power of the Internet. I joined a dating service and looked at hundreds of profiles. But looking at men’s profiles wasn’t enough. I had to meet them. Because I didn’t know any of them, I arranged to meet each time in a public place.
I selected 100 men and met about 50. Each time, I was very excited before the meeting but during the meeting, I had the feeling that something was missing. I didn’t know what it was, though. Trying to analyze my feelings, sometimes I felt very attracted to the man’s body but not his brain. Other times, I liked the way the man was thinking but there was no sexual attraction. Once, the man was exactly what I was looking for on paper but when I met him, I felt ill at ease. My body didn’t feel comfortable with him. I listened to my body and said goodbye. I kept on meeting new people. I lost hope many times but never gave up.
When I met Steve, I felt something I had never felt before. It wasn’t infatuation, it wasn’t pure sexual attraction, it was a feeling that is hard to describe but I am going to try my best. It was a mixed feeling of deep comfort, inner peace, sexual attraction, emotional closeness, intellectual stimulation and fun. That was the feeling I had been looking for all those years without finding it. That feeling as I learned quickly, was reciprocal. A few years after the start of this wonderful relationship, we got married.
Unfortunately after 12 happy years of marriage Steve passed away from very aggressive brain cancer.
What was I to do now? Stay a widow for the rest of my life or start the exhaustive search for a life partner once more?
I decided to join an Internet dating service and look for true love again. Could I be lucky enough to find true love twice in my life when some people never found it once?
The advantage I had over the previous time is that I knew what I was looking for. I didn’t know the type of man I was looking for but I knew the feeling inside of me that I needed to experience: For me, encountering true love was having that special feeling inside both my body and mind: a unique mix of reciprocal sexual attraction, emotional closeness, intellectual stimulation, inner peace and fun. It is a chemical reaction that happens when two people meet and are right for each other. The feeling that together we are stronger that each of us alone and we can go through everything and anything together.
In search of that rare and elusive cocktail of feelings, I joined several dating services all over the world, selected over 200 men and met 120. I went to Singapore, Vietnam, Bali looking for Mr. Right. I didn’t care where I would end up living. All I knew is that I wanted to find true love again. I lost hope several times. Many times and for several years, I felt that I was like a leaf floating on the ocean, not knowing where I was going, at the mercy of rip tides, destructive currents and predators. Yet I kept on going, continuing to meet more men. What was the point of making money if I had nobody to share it with? What was the point of living a loveless life? But I was not young any more. Could anybody be interested in me?
“Choosing love seems to mean swallowing your kid’s crap.” – Philippe
I have two parenting mantras, which have become life mantras.
The first is “It is not an emergency.” This always helps me calm down so I can pay attention to what’s actually happening, instead of getting hijacked by my alarm system. It allows me to make better choices. It worked so well when my kids were growing up that now as young adults they continue to use it, to themselves and to me, when things get tense.
The second is “Choose Love.” This reminds me that in any situation wherefear is tightening its grip or anger is building toward an explosion, I can defuse the situation. I may not know what to do or say. I may be scared, or angry. But I always have the choice to turn away from fear or anger, to open the door and let love in. I can’t always pull this off, but when I can, it always transforms the situation. In fact, it can turn things around so completely that it feels miraculous.
Choosing love doesn’t mean that you don’t set limits: “No throwing sand…..Out of the sandbox.” Only that you aspire to be supportive rather than punitive: “You wish you could play in the sandbox. It was too hard for you to stop throwing sand. We’ll try again tomorrow.”
But choosing love does mean that you accept the other person with compassion, even when they’re falling apart or lashing out. That’s why it’s common for parents who begin choosing love to find themselves wondering if they’re “taking crap” as Philippe said.
And yes, choosing love does mean that we choose to swallow hard and refrain from taking our anger or worry out on our child. But we’re not actually swallowing our child’s crap. Instead, we’re noticing our own suffering, which is making us overreact to our child. Choosing love doesn’t mean we “swallow” that pain, which would be harmful to us. But it does mean that we refuse to take it out on our child.
How do we know this is old baggage? Because children will always act childish; they don’t have a fully developed prefrontal cortex. But we as adults only stoop to that level when we get triggered. The definition of getting triggered is that the prefrontal cortex stops bringing reason to the situation because the emotions seize control. In other words, we overreact with big emotions because of our old unconscious learning. And of course, the child did not install that trigger. It’s been there inside us for a long time. In fact, our child is giving us an opportunity to notice and heal that trigger. If we don’t, we will probably take that old baggage and dump it on our child.
What can we do instead of swallowing that suffering? Just notice it. Sit with it. Breathe into the sensations the emotion causes in your body, and don’t let your mind get sucked into any storyline. Just breathe. Love yourself through it. This is the hardest thing in the world, sitting with our own pain. But when we don’t deal with our own suffering, we inevitably take it out on others. And the miracle of this mindful approach is that it works, just by bringing more consciousness to that old pattern. Think of it as shining a light, and the shadows melt away. Little by little, that old baggage begins to loosen its hold on us and to disappear.
Does it matter where you meet a potential partner? Can it tell you something about who they are, and what they’re looking for? New research has found that when people are seeking a mate at certain venues, they do so with particularpersonality traits and with short-term or long-term intentions in mind.
Peter Jonason of the University of Western Sydney and his collaborators conducted new research that has taken a lot of the guesswork out of the mating game. There were three aims:
- to examine where people go in search of short-term and long-term mates;
- to discover how personality traits are linked to the preferences of certain venues to search for a mate; and
- to find out whether there are gender differences in the preferences of certain venues in the search for a mate.
Here’s what they did: First, the investigators created a list of 50 venues or “niches,” as they were referred to in this study, where people might look for short-term and/or long-term mates, or sex and relationship partners, respectively. This sample was comprised of 100 students (70% female and 30% male) who attended the University of South Alabama, ranging in age from 18 to 38. Remarkably, the men and women in this sample largelyagreed on where to go find a fling vs. a relationship.
Here are the Top 10 for each category, from most to least:
- Coffee shop
- Volunteer groups
- Dance Club
- Fraternity party
Next, Jonason and his team examined how certain personality traits related to the preferences of these niches. They had participants complete questionnaires that assessed the traits of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism (known as the Dark Triad) and HEXACO, an acronym for honesty/humility, emotionality, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness.
The participants were also asked to imagine going to the places on the “niche list” and to rate how likely it would be for them to look for a mate at that venue. This time the sample consisted of 209 students from the University South Alabama (65% female and 35% male), ranging in age from 17 to 56 years old. The investigators crunched the numbers to see if there were significant relationships between particular personality traits and short-term and long-term-oriented niches.
Are you falling in love? How can you tell?
There’s no question that the early stages of a relationship can be confusing. You might puzzle over your own feelings, and wonder what the person you’re datingreally thinks of you. Your own emotions may be difficult to fully decipher, and trying to categorize them as falling in loveor as just a passing attraction can be tricky. Is what you’re feeling the real thing, or are you just prone to feeling this way and need to be careful moving forward?
Drawing on recent research (focused on heterosexual relationships), here are some questions to help you sort it out:
- Are you suddenly doing new things?As people fall in love, they often branch out beyond their normal range of activities and try those that their partners favor. You might find yourself trying new foods, watching new shows, or attempting new activities like running, fishing, or gambling. People who fall in love tend to report growth in the content and diversity of their own self-concepts (Aron, Paris, & Aron, 1995).
- Have you been especially stressed lately?As welcome as falling in love might be, evidence links the experience with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol (Marazziti & Canale, 2004). So if you’re anxious, tense, or just plain jittery, it might be a normal response to the strain of repeated social encounters with someone whose impression matters deeply to you.
- Are you highly motivated to be with this person?Transitioning from a casual relationship to falling in love may have a chemical underpinning: Evidence shows that dopamine-rich areas of the brain are involved in the beginning stages of love (Fisher, Aron, & Brown, 2005); these areas are considered part of the brain’s “reward system” and serve as highly motivational. Once couples are “in love” for a while, the intensity of these emotions tends to decline and different areas of the brain, potentially more closely linked to attachment, become more active.
- Does the person you’re falling for return your feelings?If you’re a woman and you feel like you’re falling in love, you might be interested to know that women experience reciprocity in those emotions more than men (Sanz Cruces et al., 2015). Maybe women are more apt to hold back their emotions until they believe they are returned, or maybe women are more successful at seducing partners. In either case, women who think they’re falling in love tend to have their feelings returned more often than men, making them more likely to find their feelings turn into relationships.
- How intense are your emotions?People high in attachment anxiety (i.e., they question their own self-worth in relationships) tend to experience a high degree of passion when romance is budding (Sanz Cruces et al., 2015). If that’s not you, a lack of intense feeling isn’t necessarily a sign that Cupid hasn’t struck—not everyone experiences falling in love the same way. In fact, those who have avoidant attachment orientations tend to fall in love with much less intensity.
- Do you fall in love frequently?If falling in love is a feeling you feel frequently, you’ll have less chance of missing the real thing—but more chance of heartache from mistaking attraction for something more. New evidence suggests that men fall in love more frequently than women (Sanz Cruces, Hawrylak, & Delegido, 2015). Researchers can explain this tendency from an evolutionary perspective, linking love to sex: Whereas women are likely to be more stringent in their partner criteria before declaring love, because their potential investment in an offspring is greater (e.g., pregnancy, childbirth), such emotions for men might promote reproduction and could therefore be considered evolutionarily advantageous.
- Are you tempted to say, “I love you”?A sure sign of romantic interest, some people are more hesitant to utter these three words than others. Although people might imagine that women are the first to utter it, though, research on heterosexual couples again indicates that it’s men who are more apt to say “I love you” first (Harrison & Shortall, 2011). They also tend to fall in love faster.
- Are you investing more in this person?
One hallmark of successful couples is investment—all the time, energy, emotions, etc. that people put into their relationships (Rusbult, 1980). People falling in love are likely increasing their investment in a person, linking their lives together in a way that might promote commitment and stability.
In doing research for my new book, Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World, I got to revisit all the fascinating and infamous studies from the annals of psychology’s Hall of Fame, from electric shocks to simulated prisons, from doomsday cults to how we remember 9/11. Some of them you may recall if you ever took a psychology class; others were more obscure. What struck me most, however, is just how many of them are relevant—no matter how old they are—to modern day relationships. And the more we understand our behavior, the better we can understand ourselves and choose to act in ways that are most healthy. Here are four classic psychological principles that help explain how you behave with the people around you, even in the age of social media.
1) The gain-loss theory of attraction
Eliot Aronson and Darwyn Linder’s groundbreaking 1969 social psychology research discovered a curious phenomenon: we like someone more if they didn’t seem to like us at first but then came around, compared to if they always seemed to like us from the beginning. This helps explain why we may want to ditch our tried-and-true friends and lovers after winning over someone else we thought we had no chance with—the plot of many a Hollywood movie and teenage melodrama. The gain-loss theory also applies to the workplace. Let’s say you have two bosses. One is kind and always generous with praise, whereas the other never seems to approve of anything that you do. One day, you finally knock a presentation out of the park, and the usually gruff boss compliments you heartily, and is positive and warm with you over the entire week following. Suddenly, you don’t think that formerly gruff boss is so bad after all. You feel validated because you won them over; and you now think of them not as cruel and unfair, but rather as discerning and hard-to-please—and the fact that you passed their test makes you love them even more. Before long, this boss might become your favorite. You leave the boss who’s always been your supporter in the dust, setting yourself up for a drama-ridden
2) Cognitive Dissonance
This classic psychological principle established by Leon Festinger in 1957 says that when we have two dissonant—or conflicting—pieces of information, our brains are uncomfortable and will try to reconcile that discrepancy. Often, the two pieces of information that are at odds are our opinions versus our actions, and this plays out in relationships constantly. Let’s say you are dating someone new that you are lukewarm about. The person is nice, funny, and moderately attractive, and any given date is better than staying at home with Netflix. After the person meets your family, however, your family begins openly to disapprove. They say he or she is arrogant and boring, and they can’t see what you see in them. This starts the dissonance, with two conflicting pieces of information: 1) There is evidence that this person may not be a great choice for you to date and 2) You are dating this person. Since you’d still rather date this person than be home alone, you seek to reconcile these pieces of information by changing what you can: the validity of the “evidence.” So you start to convince yourself that your family must bejealous or biased or simply doesn’t know your date well enough. You convince yourself that they are wrong, to help get rid of that evidence—and that dissonance. Before long, your attempts to reject your family’s opinion result in your singing your date’s praises, convincing yourself he or she is actually quite great. Your family’s disapproval—and your discomfort with cognitive dissonance—has made you go from lukewarm about this person to being their biggest fan, and may be sucking you into a sub-par relationship.
roller coaster if Gruff Boss eventually goes back to their usual ways.
3) Approach-avoidance conflict
Kurt Lewin’s 1947 theory said that we could get paralyzed with indecision by the fight between our desire for a certain something versus our discomfort over the drawbacks of it. This, unfortunately, can keep many of us trapped in unhealthy relationships or workplaces. Let’s say you’ve been in a relationship for two years with someone you love but who you know treats you poorly at times, and probably holds you back from some of your greater goals in life. When you spend a day or two on your own thinking about it, you always end up concluding that you need to pull the plug on your relationship. That becomes the goal. But when you wake up the next morning and think of approaching that goal, you are flooded with all the scary things about it: breaking his or her heart, disentangling your finances and belongings, being lonely, and eventually having to start over with dating. These negatives are felt more and more acutely the closer you get to actually breaking up with the person, which makes you want to avoid it. And so it pushes you back into inaction, and the cycle continues again, like a ping-pong ball going back and forth. Lewin even argued that this type of conflict creates a situation that can paralyze you into inaction for indefinite periods of time, because it’s inherently stable and balanced, making you not want to rock the boat.
4) Social learning theory
It is sometime said that couples tend to look more and more similar the longer they are together. Why is this? Do their facial features pick up signals from each other and grow matching cartilage? Does a time machine go back and revise their DNA to make it more similar? Nope. Instead, it likely has a lot to do with Albert Bandura’s 1963 social learning theory, which emphasizes how we learn through observation. Did you and your partner gradually develop similar laughs, after years of hearing each other’s? Have you gradually started to dress in similar styles? Do you now roll your eyes the same way, have the same mannerisms as you quote someone, mispronounce words in the same manner, or bite your nails together when nervous? Social learning can also apply to health behaviors and how we take care of ourselves: our eating habits and activity levels, the care we give to personal hygiene, and whether we smoke, drink, or get a lot of sun. These all then impact our appearance, and when our health behaviors begin to match our partner’s—which happens almost passively over time, just by the subtle forces of living together—then our physical appearances may start to look similar as well. This, of course, can work for better or for worse, as even when we don’t intend to or realize it, we often mimic the behaviors around us that we are consistently exposed to—especially if we admire the person. So if your longtime mate develops a habit that’s bad for them, beware: it’s all too easy for you to pick it up yourself. And it just might show in the mirror someday!
Most of us are creatures of habit, listening to meet our needs or to pay attention to demonstrate we care whether we do or not. The next time you leave a conversation, ask yourself, “Did I get the outcome I desired?” It’s possible you could have achieved more.
Before you meet or call someone, stop and ask yourself:
- Why am I listening?
- What do I want to happen?
- What shift do I need to make to achieve the best outcome?
To make an informed choice, consider the following reasons for listening and the outcomes you might get depending on your mindset and emotions.
Listening for personal need
Often the intention behind listening is to fulfill a personal need or to follow the rules you have been taught to show you care. When listening for information or perspective, you keep your distance. You stay in your head, maintaining isolation even when you say you want collaboration. The person feels little connection with you when you part.
You listen with the purpose…
1. To collect data. You listen for how to argue, defend, compare or refine your own point of view.
2. To give an answer or solve a problem. Once you have an answer, there is no further need to pay attention.
3. To obey the rules. You listen because it is the right thing to do, generally for the minimal amount of time you think it takes to demonstrate the competency. You listen because you should, not because you want to.
Listening to connect
When you choose to be present and connect with someone, you listen beyond your analytical brain. You are fully awake in your heart and gut as well as in your open mind. The person feels heard, valued, and possibly transformed as a result.
You listen with the purpose…
4. To connect with the person. When you desire to establish a connection, you go beyond paying attention to words. Connection starts with maintaining curiosity throughout the conversation, resisting the urge to know what is coming next while being at ease with not knowing. Feeling curious keeps you present. Once you lose curiosity, you risk the conversation devolving into dueling monologues. Unfortunately, the better you know someone, the more likely you quit being curious enough to seek what could be new. Can you seek something special each time you say, “Hi, how are you?”
Linda: Great relationships are characterized by sympathetic joy. The definition of sympathetic joy, according to Wikipedia, is a translation of the Pali and Sanskrit word Muditā “the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people’s well-being.” It is characterized by sharing positive feelings with another, looking upon them with favor, and particularly characterized by feelings of respect for the successes of another.
According to Martin Seligman in his bookFlourish, there are four possible responses when someone shares something with you about their success: active constructive, passive constructive, passive destructive, and active destructive. If something wonderful happens to you and you share it with someone, the most likely response is a passive constructive response like “That’s nice or congratulations.” Occasionally there is passive destructive response such as being ignored when you share your good news. And what is even more rare is an active destructive which is critical such as “You didn’t earn that promotion.”
What truly enlivens a relationship is an active constructive response, when the person who hears of our success is sincerely happy for us. An active constructive response shows our generosity of spirit and eagerness to hear more details about their good news. Celebrating the triumphs in life, from the small seemingly trivial ones to those that are more significant, strengthens the bond. Being genuinely enthusiastic in our response to our partner’s good fortune has a weighty impact on them. Here’s a good example of an active constructive response.
Jesse: “I’ve been selected to receive an award at the company party because of myleadership and high performance.”
Cassia: “That’s great! You really deserve to be publicly acknowledged. You’ve worked so hard for this. We must bust out a bottle of champagne to celebrate right now. I am so proud of you I could pop. Tell me all about it”
Cassia is being sincere about her enthusiasm about Jesse’s success, rather than envious and competitive. She is happy to have Jesse speak of the details leading up to the good news, how he worked towards promoting the conditions that gave rise to the success and what it means to him. For Jesse to have Cassia rejoice in his good fortune with him is a direct method toward building their trusting bond. Cassia’s taking time to show interest in him and his accomplishments shows deep respect.
Great relationships don’t just happen automatically; they occur when we give our time, attention, and care to another. One of the big benefits of romantic partnerships is support when difficult life circumstances befall us. Our partner can be there in our time of need when dark events happen, to be sympathetic and provide a shoulder to cry on. Such sincere support softens the blow and helps us to get through it.
It is an equally bonding experience to celebrate the successes, to have our partner’s vote of confidence when things are going well. We want to know that they are not competitive with us, or envious of our good fortune. We want them to be proud of our achievements, and to celebrate with us to magnify the joy. Envy, by becoming aware of its presence, is a trait that can either be cultivated or starved. When we are aware of the negative effect that envy has on our relationship, we can use that awareness to be inspired to become a bigger person, rather than to attempt to have our partner be less.
Can We Read Others’ Minds?
Have you ever felt like you could feel your mate’s feelings? Read their thoughts? Or do you feel like you have no idea what’s going on in your partner’s head? Researchers examining our ability to accurately detect the thoughts and feelings of our romantic partners explore what they call “empathic accuracy.” Although there do seem to be individual differences in this ability, most of us can correctly perceive the thoughts and feelings of friends and family members, but especially our romantic partners (Thomas and Fletcher, 2003).
Mind-Reading in Romantic Couples
In order to assess couples’ mind-reading abilities, Thomas and Fletcher (2003) videotaped young adult dating pairs discussing problems currently causing conflict in their relationships. They then asked each member of the couple to watch the videotape separately and specifically note the thoughts and feelings they remembered having during the course of the discussion. Then the individuals watched the same videos again and tried to determine the thoughts and feelings their partners were experiencing during the discussion. The researchers found that most couples did display empathic accuracy or the ability to “read the minds” of their counterparts; one partner correctly related the same thoughts and feelings the other partner reported having during the discussion.
We seem to be particularly good at identifying the thoughts and feelings of our own romantic partners. Both friends of the couples described above as well as strangers attempted to perform the same task, but romantic partners were much better at identifying the thoughts and feelings evidenced by their counterparts. Superior empathic accuracy in dating partners may stem from their enhanced familiarity with one another or from their prior discussions of the same topics (Thomas and Fletcher, 2003). Furthermore, dating couples were better at detecting their partner’s feelings when they had been dating longer, and women better understood their partners than men. Interestingly, greater empathic accuracy among couples was related to stronger feelings of closeness as well as increased relationship satisfaction. Other research corroborates that empathic accuracy is positively associated with the relationship satisfaction of both members of the couple (Haugen et al., 2008).
How to Increase Your Empathic Accuracy
Given its positive correlation with relationship satisfaction, researchers have also explored how to increase empathic accuracy. Encouragingly, your very interest in understandingyour partner may enhance the accuracy with which you perceive him or her. Research suggests that we can improve our empathic accuracy if we are highly motivated to accurately understand our partners (see Thomas and Fletcher, 2003). This interpretation is bolstered by the finding that married couples show less empathic accuracy after their first year of marriage (Kilpatrick et al., 2002). Some researchers believe that the marriage commitment decreases the feeling that we need to try to retain our mates through other means (click here for a discussion of sexual motivation and mate retention in marital and non-marital relationships). Given that increased empathic accuracy is associated with better relationship outcomes, we can all try to better understand our partners’ thoughts and feelings. If you have trouble discerning what your mate is going through on your own, ask your partner to describe his or her feelings. A better understanding of one another’s feelings may enhance your relationship.
“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh
Losing a significant relationship in life is never easy, especially after you and your former partner walked a journey together. The loss of a close relationship can feel like emotional amputation. You may feel sad and alone, as if you’re missing an important part of yourself. If you were on the receiving end of a breakup, you may feel angry, rejected or betrayed.
The good news is that the sadness doesn’t last forever, and brighter days lay ahead!
A breakup is often a special opportunity to learn about love. If you consider the possibility that everything happens for a reason, what meaning and greater purpose can be drawn from your breakup?
Emotional pain and hurt can be great teachers. This is especially true when it comes to matters of the heart. Sometimes we suffer a loss and realize not to take love for granted. Other times we feel hurt and discover that we have the strength to heal and carry on. If you were on the receiving end of a difficult breakup, or left an unhealthy relationship, one of the crucial lessons could simply be that you deserve better. You have what it takes to create a happy and fulfilling life independent of your ex. When you affirm, care for, and love yourself in a healthy way, all else may fall into place.
“Many times what we perceive as an error or failure is actually a gift.”
― Richelle Goodrich
Research (Clark and Georgellis) reveals that people in general, and women in particular, feel significantly happier many years after their divorce. This includes those who divorced in the middle to later stages of life.
What is true for divorcees can be true for never married singles as well. There’s no doubt that a breakup can hurt and sting. It may feel like there’s a temporary “dark cloud” over your head. During these times, it’s extremely empowering to ask yourself:
“What is the best thing I can do now so that, six months or one year from now, my future self will thank my present self for the decisions I’m making today?”
Treat your life as if you’re in a heroine’s tale or on a hero’s journey, one that, without trials and tribulations, you would not ultimately discover your True Worth.
Specifically, seek out new and interesting experiences that arouse your passion: meet new people, engage in fun activities, take classes, travel abroad, exercise, help the needy, help animals, plant a garden, learn gourmet cooking, create a business, hike a mountain, ballroom dance, take language lessons, etc., etc., etc.
Think outside the box – what’s something you’ve always wanted to, but have held back?
What you will gain from these exciting new chapters of your life are enlarged perspectives, both cognitively and emotionally. As your experience widens, the “box” that was your past experience becomes smaller, more distant, and less significant. One day, you’ll suddenly realize that you haven’t been thinking about your heartache for some time. Your future self will recall this moment, and thank you for the positive decisions you’re making today!
“When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”
Most of us have experienced a romantic breakup at some point in our lives and it’s no surprise that breakups hurt. You may feel hurt, angry, betrayed or scared of being alone. You may obsess about your ex-partner and feel jealous of the people he is dating now. Or you may feel inadequate, unattractive, and not worthy of love. Research shows that breakups lead us to view ourselves and others more negatively. Although breakups are painful, some people are better able to pick themselves up and move on, while others ruminate for months and years in ways that hurt their chances of successfully finding new relationships. What makes the difference?
Researchers Lauren Howe and Carol Dweck of Stanford University looked at the effects that our personal stories about the breakup have on psychological distress and our ability to adjust. After a breakup, most people try to make sense of the event by asking: “Why did this happen?” “Was it my fault?” and “What does this mean about me and my chances for future love?” The way we answer these questions can either help us cope or exacerbate and extend the psychological damage.
According to the researchers, we look to other people as sources of information about ourselves. Therefore, rejection by somebody who we think knows us well can be particularly devastating. However, people have different views about how much we can grow and change versus being stuck with fixed traits and personalities. Those of us who see our personalities and attributes as fixed and unchangeable (known as fixed mindset) are more likely to attribute the breakup to fixed, negative aspects of ourselves. The stories we tell ourselves about the breakup highlight our own deficits, such as being too needy, not sexy and attractive enough, not smart enough, too boring, and so on. On the other hand, people who see their traits and personalities as changeable (known as growth mindset) tend to create less damaging stories about the breakup. They may be more able to see it as an opportunity for growth and expect to have better relationships the next time around. They may think, “I can be less controlling next time” or “I can take things slower to make sure she is ready for commitment.” This gives them more hope for future relationships and they may be more likely to get back out there and try to find one.
In several studies, Howe and Dweck found that those participants with fixed mindsets were more likely to attribute the breakup to their toxic personalities – to negative attributes that would still be a problem in future relationships. This led the effects of romantic rejection to linger. For example, one participant reported not being over a breakup that happened more than 5 years ago. Another reported being guarded and not letting possible future partners get to know her: “I feel like I constantly withhold myself in possible future relationships in fear of being rejected again.” When we isolate ourselves following a breakup, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to learn that our negative assumptions are not true.
One of the great concerns in manyromantic relationships involves secrecy vs. privacy. One partner thinks that he or she deserves a bit of privacy; the other views this desire as secrecy. Which is which? How can we know the difference between the two? And how should we navigate between these two extremes?
- Privacy is best defined as the state or condition of being free from observation and disturbance by other people. For instance, when you leave a public event and return to the privacy of your own home, the person who sat next to you at the public event can no longer stare at, talk to, or otherwise annoy you. In general, keeping certain things private involves setting and maintaining boundaries that align with your individual needs, values, and beliefs. When your privacy is violated you might feel angry, and rightfully so, with a desire to pull away from whoever spoiled your privacy.
- Secrecy is the active state of intentionally keeping information hidden from one or more people. In general, beyond professional requirements for confidentiality, if you keep something secret it’s because you fear the impact (on yourself or others) that the information might have if it were openly known. What often underlies secrecy is a fear of judgment and/or reprisal. When your secrecy is violated, you may feel as if you’ve lost control over the information and how others respond to it. Thus, you might feel afraid, anxious, concerned, and angry, and want to pull away.
Using the above definitions, the difference between privacy and secrecy seems relatively clear, but this isn’t always the case: Consider, for instance, a husband who finds his wife’s sister very attractive, though he has no intention of ever acting on that attraction because he loves and respects his wife. This man might consider his attraction to his sister-in-law private. His wife, however, might consider it a secret. As an outside observer, it’s hard to say that one belief is more accurate than the other.
Why is this distinction is so important? We’re just playing with semantics, right? Except we’re not. There is a huge difference between privacy and secrecy in terms of the degree to which hidden information can impact an intimate relationship if or when that information is made known. If a husband surreptitiously reads his wife’s Cosmopolitan when he’s sitting on the toilet and feels a little embarrassed because he enjoys a magazine aimed at women, he might keep this fact hidden. And if his wife finds out about it, their relationship will probably not be impacted in any sort of lasting way—other than her teasing or his new openness to weigh in on her fashion choices. This is an example of privacy. However, if that same man were to masturbate while looking at his wife’s Cosmopolitan, he might seek to keep that fact hidden, too. If his wife were to find out, she might well get angry about it or feel less attractive. But she might also laugh about it, if she finds his behavior amusing. Either way, the fact that he’s not telling her because she might feel angry or hurt makes this an example of secrecy.