Dating and Mate Selection — 23 October 2003
Getting back together after ending a relationship

Can “recycled” relationships succeed? Can couples who used to date or
have been married and divorced re-create a new, successful, permanent bond?

This question arises in counseling by couples who desire to be together
again, though their previous attempt at happiness with each other was
unsuccessful. They ponder whether therapy may assist them in uncovering
the “real reasons” for their parting, and help them gain new tools to maximize their chances for a happy life together. They say:
“We know we love each other, we should be able to make it work/” “We
have both changed while being apart and now feel more mature, could we
successfully resume our relationship?”

Some couples can, but most commonly they are unrealistically hopeful
about altering what was not possible the first time around.

Human beings are programmed to mate. They are physiologically,
culturally and emotionally expected to form a life bond with a partner. Most people desire a permanent loving companionship and attempt to
achieve it to the best of their abilities. They attempt to maintain
their marriage, or long-tern relationship with great efforts and even
major personal sacrifices.

Family members, financial troubles, illness, or other serious life
circumstances sometimes fuel the decision to part. When these factors
impact one’s emotions and happiness, the choice to part is even more
complex. The pressured partner may feel ambivalence, doubt and confusion
about the validity of her decision.

All relationships have many positive aspects, which are lost at a
termination of the partnership. This anticipated loss and the remaining
warm and appreciative feelings for a long-term mate keep partners
struggling with the decision to end their bond. Children, pets,
possessions and extended family connections are some of the unifying
forces against separation.

Breaking up is the avenue of last resort. When couples break up it is
often after one or both partners experience irreconcilable differences.
The decision to part follows great emotional pain, many discussions,
pleas, compromises, periods of soul-searching and personal
introspection. Only when the hope for a happy union is lost, do couples
resort to a relationship break up.

The separation process is extremely painful. If the decision was mutual,
both partners may feel a deep sense of failure, loss, sadness, anger,
hurt, and confusion. When the decision to end the relationship was made
by one partner, the left mate may have additional feelings of
victimization, abandonment, self-doubt and rage. The leaving partner may
feel guilt about hurting his or her lover, and may also be plagued with
doubts as to the costs of his or her choice.

With time, the former partners begin to heal. They complete their
grieving process for the loss of the marriage or the long-term
relationship; they restore their personal confidence and self-worth and
proceed with their lives.

As life progresses, the memory of the dysfunctional parts of the former
union may fade. The mind recalls mostly the good aspects of the
connection and the loving feelings the mates used to share. If they are
unsuccessful in finding a new permanent partner, they may begin to
fanaticize about a resumption of the old one. However, without a major
intervention, (such as therapy, substance recovery, etc.), the original
irreconcilable differences are still there. Should they resume their
connection, the short period of ecstasy and happiness will often be
replaced by a similar period to the one prior to the original break up.

The hopes and desires for a happy loving union may be quickly shattered.
Except that this time the psychological damage to each partner is much
more profound and devastating.

There are some exceptions to the more common occurrence. I have seen
some men who while going through their mid-life crisis left their wives.
Some even divorced, only to remarry when the man overcame his crisis and
resumed his sensibilities. Other break-ups that were impulsive responses
to less serious differences were also amenable to rehabilitation.

If you are considering a resumption of a previously ended relationship,
please

  • Assess very carefully your reasons for wanting to do so.
  • Realize that love is not enough for a satisfying relationship. It is a
    minimum necessary factor- but is not sufficient.
  • Recall carefully what led to the initial break-up and what might have
    realistically changed.
  • Be aware of the gravity of this choice, a repeated unsuccessful
    attempt may be very traumatic.
  • Consult a relationship expert to explore and affirm the wisdom of this
    choice.

Offra Gerstein
July 6, 2003

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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