By Heather Dugan, Connection Coach, for the SouthFloridaReporter, June 10, 2015 – Her response to “how are you?” was a wincing shrug. Sara dabbed at stray tears and quietly admitted that, once again, she’d been sucked back into the harmful relationship she’d resolved to end. Ten years younger but in perpetual midlife crisis, Tim looked better as a headline than on a full page. And he yanked Sara along like an impatient kid with his first rod and reel. His halfhearted surges of attention were short-lived, but Sara couldn’t… quite… let go.
Diana pined after a man she had dated during her divorce: Why had his interest waned now that she was officially single? While readily admitting he was “bad news,” she remained alert for “breaking bulletins” on his availability. Adam held a lingering attachment to a woman whose emotional baggage was far over the limit, but every “goodbye” had a “P.S. I need to pickup my toothbrush” epilogue that led to an overnight and, inevitably, a “let’s try again.”
Actively choosing “nobody” over a harmful “somebody” requires more focus than we can readily access sometimes. For Sara, Diana and Adam, that first pang of “it’s really over” panic always led to an instinctual chase. While a desire for habitual comforts and “the familiar” can easily overpower our best intentions, thoughtful preparation will get the determined over that first hump and increase the likelihood of establishing a new and healthier “normal.” Here are the first four (of seven) helpful steps to punctuate “goodbye” and begin to build forward.
- ESTABLISH REALITY. If isolated or lonely, we’re highly susceptible to falling in love with our own ideal rather than an actual person. We camouflage incompatibilities and fill in spaces with our own hope, allowing forgiveness to overpower self-respect. Adam saw a beautiful victim, treated unfairly by a jealous ex-husband. On closer examination, however, he recognized the woman’s tendency to fuel her own drama. Diana saw “Bad News” as she wanted him to be, but she was in love with her mental picture, not the real life man.
- Planning your life around somebody else’s potential metamorphosis is like trying to program the GPS in a stalled vehicle! Are you “in love” with a hypothetical man or woman? Identify the discrepancies between what you hear or hope and what you actually see.
- IDENTIFY IMPACT. Sara was miserable! Years earlier, a devastating family tragedy had irrevocably altered her life, but her reactive “space-filler” choices—chosen for proximity rather than value—had compounded the trauma. Tim—with enough dysfunctions to sail through the audition for any halfway competitive reality TV show—was one of those choices. She had essentially made him her one-stop shop for happiness—“Hey, would you mind holding my hopes and dreams?” —an oversized load for even a healthy, fully engaged partner! In pursuit of his drifting affection and in growing romantic despair, she had segregated herself from the family and friends who might have helped. Seven years later, Tim was still filling space in Sara’s life, but he was filling it with a poison that was tainting her blessings and perpetuating what she most feared: Loneliness.
- What’s the net result of your encounters? Does he/she make you feel better—or worse about yourself? Quantify the real cost of maintaining the relationship.
- VISUALIZE “BETTER” Diana had been down so long, she couldn’t remember where “up” was located. Drama is a drain. And like a clunker with a continual oil leak, “Bad News” absorbed focus and energy, preventing her from really getting anywhere in her new single life. Saddled with the weight of her unwieldy relationship with Tim, Sara couldn’t keep her footing and began managing crises to simply avoid pain. She quit making proactive choices on her finances and career, essentially putting her life on “pause.”
- How might you live your life if a relationship was in your future rather than in your present or past? Envision what a time of stability could allow you to do—and be.
- ELIMINATE EXCUSES. One by one, Sara and I itemized the “ugly.” We got real about Tim’s words versus his actions—that little continuity-creator called Integrity. Like drops of rain on a cactus plant, there was a clear pattern of “just enough” hope-preserving attention from Tim. He gave with purpose, and his intentions had little to do with Sara herself. Compassionate Adam had been distracted by his heroine’s drama—and beauty. Diana was captivated by vague promises. All three had grown accustomed to floating the relationship on a growing tide of flimsy excuses.
- How would you describe or explain the relationship to a close friend? Recognize hypothetical “someday” hopes for what they really are: a procrastination of your reality check.
There’s more… But these first four steps can enable the pivotal “What was I thinking?!” moment that’s critical for a perspective reset on a damaging relationship.
I’m reminded of my sister who, at age four, ran screaming across our front yard with a fistful of picked flowers. When Mom pried open her fingers, a limp dandelion—and stinging bee—fell to the lawn. Sometimes, we need to stop and examine more closely what we’re holding onto.