Forget me not

Forget me not

Hearts and minds can often disagree when it comes to breaking up

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 08/07/2013

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Dear Patti,
My girlfriend, Naomi, and I broke up three months ago after being together for three years. I’ve been in love twice before, and although this relationship has been the most significant so far, I knew it wasn’t quite right from the beginning. Naomi is very passive and would usually take my lead, then resent me for being too controlling. I’m used to strong, forthcoming women like my last two relationships, no doubt a reflection of having a mother and sister who are also confident, independent thinkers. To be honest, I couldn’t imagine Naomi’s parents becoming family. Both are overweight and heavy drinkers and felt I was too opinionated, especially about health issues. I was always raised to speak up when passionate about an issue.

When Naomi broke up with me, I initially felt relieved, but started to deeply miss her. She was my best friend and we did everything together. She’s extremely intelligent and very sweet, but I know if we ever got back together the same core issues — non-responsiveness in bed, lack of assertiveness skills and a failure to understand me — would surface once more.

I know it wasn’t a relationship I wanted for the long term, but why do I still miss her so much?  
— Jon 

Dear Patti,
The man I had been dating for a year and a half broke up with me a month ago. Since he has broken up with me several times before, but then wanted to get back together, I thought he’d come back by now. From the beginning, Gene made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. He wanted me to have breast augmentation (which I did), change my hair color, lose weight and become more spiritual. I lost myself trying to fulfill his expectations, only to be told he was leaving the relationship because I wasn’t intellectual enough for him. I just couldn’t win. I am in therapy and trying to discover why I put up with such behavior. 

I don’t believe Gene ever loved me, certainly not the way I loved him, and I know I’m much better off without him. I would’ve spent my life knocking myself out, being rejected for more “flaws,” and knocking myself out all over again. I’m embarrassed about the way I let him treat me and I don’t want to be in a relationship like that ever again. So why do I still hurt so much and feel lonely for what we had? I should be thrilled that I’m free.   
— Hillary 

Dear Jon and Hillary,
While sympathy and respect will generally abound when someone is grieving over the loss of a husband or wife, a lot of people will tend to minimize the loss of a boyfriend or girlfriend’s love if it wasn’t durable or had a history of making the abandoned person’s life unhappy. Love — and the pain over losing a relationship — isn’t always logical. Specifically, it doesn’t necessarily matter if you signed a marriage certificate, were together for a long time or even if the relationship wasn’t healthy; you may still find yourself deeply mourning when it ends. 

While there may have been a lot wrong, there was also something meaningful that you’re grieving for. In each of your cases, it sounds like your heart and mind are in disagreement about the breakup.

When one loves deeply and then loses their object of affection, it’s natural to temporarily view that person as irreplaceable. No matter how wonderful and right for you the next person might be, it may seem at first like a stranger in comparison. An abused child, for instance, will probably grieve for a long, long time over his or her mother and, thus, it may take a long time to attach to a new guardian, regardless of how kind and loving he or she is. 

In romantic bonds such as the ones you’ve experienced, it often takes time to get past the pain, even if deep down you know it’s a relationship you don’t want anymore. If you can’t stop crying, let the tears flow. The more tears you get out now, the fewer you’ll cry later. The feelings you’re having are probably normal and natural. Likewise, the pain you’re experiencing is real and recovery can be agonizingly slow. If you’re concerned, consult a psychotherapist who will guide you through the transition.  

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.com. 

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