How many times have you ended a relationship and continued to be at least somewhat involved with your ex? At first, there is the pain, or the relief, the anger, sadness, etc. But as time goes by, people often end up drifting back together — they start talking, having sex, spending time together, and soon they’re a couple again, even if unofficially.
This is a highly common thread in relationship breakups. People want to believe that when they break up from a relationship that they’ve ended the relationship. But this is generally not so simple. What people refer to as the breakup is really more of an announcement to their partner that they’re going to attempt a commitment to separation from the relationship. An actual breakup that lasts takes much more of an active commitment than people tend to realize.
Just as there is a commitment to being together, breakups don’t actually happen unless one or both partners is committed to remaining apart. It often takes tremendous will to not call, text, email, or visit, or to not respond to messages from a recent ex. The emotions, doubts, guilt, positive recall, fears, sadness, etc., tend to take over at some point in the breakup process, which often send two people back towards each other, often fearing they made a mistake by breaking up. Those who are committed to pushing through this stage — often quite emotional and painful for both — may see the breakup through. But many breakups are unable to last through this stage.
Also, the limbo between commitment to the relationship and the commitment to the breakup can be very stressful and cause significant emotional struggle. People get caught in this limbo carrying around relationships that prevent them from moving forward, even if they are “officially” not together. This is hard for people because they often stress about not having a positive relationship, however they also aren’t emotionally open for a positive relationship while they’re still attached and involved with a previous relationship. So the limbo ends up being a more passive, confusing, painful, and stressful place, that can go on for years if an active commitment isn’t made one way or another.
The breakups that really last tend to face irreconcilable differences in values and life. This usually means that one or both are unwilling or unable to compromise in areas that are meaningful to them and their life plan, which provides the drive to see the breakup through. However, when there isn’t a solid foundation for being apart, the breakup usually dissolves back into a relationship once the frustration goes away.
All relationships involve projections and attachments (among other psychological mechanisms). It’s incredible how often relationships are broken based on the projections, and then restored based on the attachments. At times, people are only able to move past a breakup by quickly attaching to another person (rebound relationship).
With projections, people place elements of themselves that they aren’t able to look at onto their partners. For example, a person becomes angry that their partner is so lazy, while being unwilling to look at their own laziness. Of course, it’s possible that both are lazy, but it could still be a projection if one is refusing to look at themselves while placing blame on the other. It doesn’t mean that everything a partner does that annoys us is a projection, but projections are usually involved in the areas that irritate us the most.
Projections of this kind are rampant in relationships, both ways, and are often the cause of breakups. This isn’t something done on a conscious level, however when we place things in our partners that we don’t want to face in ourselves, it makes us look at our partners as the source of frustration in the relationship. Our inability to look into ourselves causes us to rid ourselves of these qualities by placing them onto our partners, and then ridding ourselves of our partners when it becomes too much to handle.
Attachments are a different story. It’s possible, and common, to be attached to our partners in psychologically dependent ways (some healthy, some less healthy), but also desire to be apart from them. However, the subconscious dependencies make it very difficult to fully detach from the relationship. The conscious desire may be to be apart, but after some time apart, the emotional attachment needs that the parter was fulfilling resurface. This explains the concept of the old quote, “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.”
So if you’re uncertain about the future of your relationship, consider the question, what are you more committed to — working to make your relationship function, or working to stay apart?
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Last reviewed: 20 Jan 2014