Issue of the Week: Can’t Let Go
I had a romantic relationship with this man for over 10 years. He suddenly decided to end the relationship about 2 years ago, saying that he doesn’t see a future for us as a couple. After the breakup he would, and still does, call me whenever he comes into New York, and wants to get together. I know it’s not good for me to see him, but I usually give in.
Sometimes I think there’s a possibility that we might go back to what we originally had, but he shows no interest in us as a couple.
We went to therapy together for about a year. There wasn’t any progress to indicate that we would resume our original relationship. I went by myself a number of times and he eventually dropped out. I kept going, but it just made things worse. I opened up, gave all my thoughts and feelings and ended up feeling betrayed.
I know I should stop seeing him when he comes to town, but I just can’t get myself to say no.
I guess he wants to keep me as a friend, but that’s not what I want.
What can you suggest to get me out of this dilemma?
Dear Ms. Stuck,
Having a 10-year relationship end would be a difficult experience for most of us. So much of our lives become enmeshed in one another, that cutting the strings often feels like cutting off a piece of ourselves. Those strings may feel like a life line to your survival, without them, you feel you may drown, or no longer exist. This is not an uncommon experience when a long relationship is ending, or ended.
Holding on to hope, especially for an extended amount of time, and when there’s too much evidence against a successful outcome, is often an indication of not having a strong enough sense of self. Validation for our existence depends too much on the opinions of others and how others see us, treat us and relate to us.
Although we spoke in person, time didn’t allow the for the opportunity to discuss your situation and personal life in depth. Without knowing more about your life growing up, experiences that had significant influence on you and your other relationships, not only romantically, but socially, makes it difficult to help you accept this loss.
This is a loss, that’s not dissimilar to the loss of a loved one through death. And like loss due to death, the most common first stage of grief, is denial.
Your continued giving in to your ex-lover’s request to spend some time together re-affirms that denial. So the first step, which I’m sure you already know, is for you is to find a way to keep your self scarce when your one-time boyfriend offers his company.
One method is to call your close friend when you get that call and either get together with her as soon as possible, and go off and to some form of entertainment, a movie, a show, a lecture or a dinner. Change your phone number and have it unlisted. Find some new activity, perhaps something you always wanted to do, take a painting or a dance class, join a group that volunteers for charity work. In other words start making some changes in your life style.
There are only so many practical methods available to you. Basically they are only distractions, though they can help, but only if they at least get you past the denial stage.
The main issue comes down to your will power; will you be able to get yourself to follow through with them? Will you begin to sense that there are potentially new experiences out there for you to enjoy without your ex-boyfriend, who likes to keep you hanging on for his own selfish reasons?
Explore what keeps you clinging to a situation that continually disappoints. The road to a stronger self begins there.
I wish you luck.
Tip of the Week: “The walls we build around us to keep out the sadness also keep out the joy.” - Jim Rohn
If you have a question, issue, or a suggestion for the “Tip of the Week,” email it to Richard at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave it in comment box at the bottom. Always confidential. Names do not appear in the column. For information on Richard's approach to psychotherapy and counseling, click on: Richard Z. Ross, MA, CGP, LMHC, LP