She Said, He Said: Boundaries key to avoiding break-up ‘backslide’ in small towns
Dear Lori and Jeff,
My boyfriend broke up with me a few months ago after a two-year relationship. We seem to run into each other fairly often as we share the same core group of friends. The problem is that on several occasions, we've ended up going home together, only to regret the decision in the morning. We've both promised not to let it happen again, but it does. How do we stop this cycle and move on?
Lori and Jeff: In an episode of the sitcom "Seinfeld," Elaine talks about her running into her ex-boyfriend, David Puddy, with whom she had recently broken up. Jerry predicts that they will get back together, continuing their on-again, off-again relationship.
Jerry: "The bump-into always leads to the backslide."
Elaine: "David and I will not be getting back together."
Jerry: "Elaine, breaking up is like knocking over a Coke machine. You can't do it in one push. You gotta rock it back and forth a few times and then it goes over."
While it's often true that break-ups take a bit of rocking to finally take hold, they certainly can be facilitated more quickly and cleanly by setting stronger boundaries. We often don't want to hurt the other person, so we're not clear about our intentions. Finality can be difficult. Words like "divorce," "break-up," "done," "finished" and "over" have a painful sting to them, and we may have mixed feelings about shutting the door for good.
Jeff: In order for the break-up to stick (if that's what you both have agreed to wanting), it will be important to understand the reason why you are getting back together, even if it's just for sex. As the one who was broken up with, are you trying to use sex as a way to win him back? Or are you not willing to accept that you might not have been the "one" for him? As for your ex — the one who initiated the split — the backslide may be more about convenience, comfort and familiarity. Does he still have unresolved feelings for you? Does he have doubts about the break-up? Is he suffering from FOMO where he doesn't necessarily still want to be in a relationship with you but doesn't want someone else to have you either?
Lori: Being newly single can create a flurry of feelings and fears. Instead of facing our emotions head on, we can cover, avoid and numb the pain. Backsliding can be a form of numbing that offers temporary relief to a deeper yearning. It's important for you to get in touch with any emotions that might be driving the choice to jump into an old bed. Are you lonely? Do you want to feel attractive and wanted? Is there something you're trying to prove to yourself about being able to still have him? Take the time to identify the real discomfort, fear or vulnerability, then find healthy ways to address it — spend more time with friends, pamper yourself, and connect to your confidence.
Lori and Jeff: We know that ending relationships in small towns can be complicated. Shared friends and limited options for socializing are a recipe for run-ins with the ex. But backsliding only delays the grieving and healing process. Try changing things up a bit. Create opportunities for new connections that can better fulfill your needs and desires. Most importantly, ask your friends to be wing-women who help you move forward and let the past lie.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.