She Said, He Said: Drifting back together after a break-up could signal feelings aren’t gone
She Said, He Said
Dear Jeff and Lori,
I recently went through a really tough and painful breakup. We had a huge blow-up fight about a month ago in which we erupted with every resentment, frustration and painful memory we had with one another. We both said that it was over, and even though I didn’t want the relationship to end, I was willing to accept it. However, over the past two weeks, we’ve been spending time together and last night, after a few drinks, we slept together. It doesn’t feel like we’re back together, but we’re also not broken up. How do I figure out whether to try to make it work or to walk away?
Jeff and Lori: The “backslide” is not uncommon for couples who end their relationships on such a tumultuous note. Things aren’t resolved and there is no sense of closure or a real “why” for the break-up. Partners are often drawn back in to try to get questions answered or to have the last word.
Jeff: Making a relationship “work” isn’t trying the same thing over and over again, hoping that one day everything will fall into place (Einstein’s definition of insanity). It’s possible that you ended up back together again after such a brutal split because you both truly care about each other and are wanting to learn how to express your feelings without creating too much vulnerability. The best place to start here is for both of you to take a big step back, figure out what you want from a relationship, explore your values and big picture plans and co-create a shared vision of what you want together. Make no mistake — this is a considerable task, especially if you’re starting from such a wounded and defensive place. If you want it to work, do the work.
Another more likely explanation of why you and your partner ended up back in the same bed is that you have an unhealthy, codependent relationship. Are you just familiar and convenient warm bodies for each other? Be honest with your answer. If you are using your partner to ward off lonely nights, walk away quickly and don’t look back.
Lori: It’s incredibly rare for two individuals to meet and have the capacity to meld seamlessly into harmonious bliss exactly as they are. Besides, such a “perfect match” would ultimately be stifling; placating the intrinsic itch we all have to evolve and sinking you deeper into the stagnation of familiarity. So SOMS, my question is are you ready to grow? We all bring our own stale, odorous baggage into relationships, and just because you’re accustomed to your own stink doesn’t mean it’s not offensive to your partner. If life at this moment isn’t providing the bandwidth to do some internal emotional house cleaning, no judgment here, but being single and casual dating may be a better fit.
If you are ready to take on the emotional responsibility and accountability that comes with being a partner, we can move on to exploring this particular relationship. An “eruption” signifies that there is a significant gap in communication and connection. Somewhere along the line you each decided that it wasn’t safe to share your needs, hurts and frustrations until you were overcome with resentment. If your values, and life trajectories are simpatico, the next step is to identify and express to one another what you would need in order to feel secure in sharing your feelings and emotional experiences. If these needs seem reasonable and relatively achievable (albeit with solid effort on both parts), then there’s enough to warrant leaning in and giving it another shot.
Lori and Jeff: In every relationship there exists a gap between partners. Couples who want to grow and stay together need to root themselves in the common ground that neither partner is independently to blame for the dysfunction — each one is contributing in ways that need to be explored and adjusted. But before you commit to putting in the energy and work, be clear about your why and where the relationship will lead you.
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.
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