The Break-Up Loop
I am an Enneagram Three (“The Achiever”) with a four-wing (“The Professional”). From a psychological perspective, this means that I thrive when people give me specific feedback. I like to follow directions. But this personality trait makes processing a break-up for me quite difficult. I journal about the relationship for months trying to discover where I went wrong. I don’t like to repeat mistakes, so I try to identify them before I can.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve initiated break-ups and I’ve been on the receiving end of them. I’m not sure which feels worse. I pride myself on my successes. I don’t like to disappoint people.
I’m “Just Not That Into You”
The most valuable feedback we can receive from a romantic partner is during the break-up. We need answers to process what happened and to figure out how to move forward. How do we tell someone what went wrong when that will hurt him? What if we make the situation worse?
In her short Ted Talk about how to give valued feedback, LeeAnn Renninger, a cognitive psychologist, explains that good feedback consists of four elements. First ask to open the conversation. Posing a question gives the other person time to make the mental room to hear something unpleasant. Be specific about what is wrong. Then, explain how it relates to the overall picture. Finally, ask for feedback yourself to determine if you are correctly reading the situation.
This formula works in a professional setting, but does it work in a romantic break-up?
The “Break-Up Formula” Is Too Honest For Me
Her strategy sounds great, but do we really want ex-partners to be honest? An ex-boyfriend (if we can call him that) informed me that he didn’t want to date anymore after we had recently defined our relationship. I had been specific about what I expected before we took the next step. I told him when those expectations were not met and why violating those boundaries triggered difficult emotions in me. (Remember, I’m goal-oriented!) I listened to how he saw our relationship and my expectations as “unreasonable.” Finally, I asked “What do you need to make our “relationship” work?”
“I need you to be something you’re not.”
I wondered for months what it was that made him so hard to get over, but it doesn’t have anything to do with him. He said one thing in a moment of frustration that I’ve been repeating in my head for months, which says more about me than it does about him.
A Prior Love Interest Said The Same Thing
Would I still be thinking about him months later if he had said something else? Probably not. He didn’t know this, but I heard the same critique from a prior interest who had also explained that he felt I was “unreasonable.”
I ask myself hard questions when I hear identical feedback from different people. I’m not proud of how I ended my previous relationship. I’m not proud of the feedback I gave during that break-up. My ex kept asking questions. I didn’t know how to give the right answers. I pride myself on showing up for people in my life. How was I supposed to be the one to leave?
Relationships are messy, even when we have the best intentions. I’m a huge fan of The Bachelorette, a show that’s known more for its failures than for its successful relationships. Each season twenty or more eligible single men compete for a relationship with one woman. Throughout the season, the Bachelorette breaks up with nineteen men. She doesn’t have to give anyone a reason. She simply doesn’t give him a rose. Each man accepts that she is trying to find love, regardless if she has to break up with him along the way.
Why can’t life be more like the Bachelorette? Why can’t we accept that we are all just trying to find our person?
Relationships Are Messy
Let’s get real! As much as I hate to admit it, The Bachelorette is just a television show. In real life, people join bank accounts and share living spaces. We sacrifice jobs or allow opportunities to pass us by in order to pursue romance. In real life, break-ups have real consequences.
I withdrew from a class the same semester I ended a romance. At the same time, I missed the deadline for a project in another class which resulted in me losing a letter grade. I’m considering law school, but every point in my GPA determines where I might be accepted or if the school will offer me money.
Do I have to pile on the pressure by repeating the same narrative loop in my relationships?
Write A New Story
The best break-up advice I ever received is to think about who I want to be five years from now. What would the five-years-from-now-me want me to do today?
There are many reasons not to date right now. People on dating apps (myself included) are flakey and unresponsive. People are working longer hours for less pay during the pandemic. Some are struggling to even find work. Some states are still under stay-at-home orders.
However, the best reason for me not to date right now is because I need to create my own life before I can work on one that is joint. And this is perhaps the best advice I’ve heard Joryn give to the spouse who wasn’t prepared for her partner’s declaration “I want a divorce.”
“It’s time to work on your own plan for happiness. How do you envision your life five years from now? What is the best life you can imagine? How do we best set you on the path to make that happen?”
If you’ve decided to end the negative narrative loop and build a new life, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Open Palm Law. We are committed to helping your family heal and reach resolutions, regardless of which process you choose to take you there.
Learn more about collaborative divorce. Follow Open Palm Law.
Madison Sasser joined Open Palm Law during the COVID-19 pandemic as our new undergraduate intern, a senior at the University of South Florida, studying Political Science with her minor in Creative Writing. She was a member of the USF Mock Trial Team and traveled across the state, competing in simulated trials against other top universities. She organized tournaments for her local mock trial team and was part of the founding team for Resilience Inc. a nonprofit focusing on providing children with resources for social-emotional learning. After graduation, she will apply to law school.