Being in a long-term relationship has its pluses (when it’s working) and minuses (when it isn’t). If you’ve been in one or are currently in one, you know that keeping a long-term relationship intact is hard work sometimes. In addition to compromise and surrender, keeping the love alive and well is not always easy. It is very common for relationships to be “one-sided”, where one partner seems to have to give in a lot more than the other. Over time, if you have been the partner working harder to keep things going, it takes its toll on you. For one thing, giving in most of the time means you have to let go of some of your needs and perhaps many of your desires. That can open the door to unhappiness and frustration. It can happen so often over time that you soon have lost your personal identity and have morphed into “Joe’s girlfriend/wife” or “Mary’s boyfriend/husband”. This is what we call a codependent relationship – a relationship that is unfulfilling and fraught with stress, disrespect and unrequited love yet persists because one partner is willing to stay in spite of not having their needs met just to be connected to someone.
In the case of lost identity, a deep-rooted fear of ending the relationship starts to expand inside of you and you find yourself “putting up” with things and forgiving things over and over rather than be single and have to deal with the “Who am I” syndrome or worse yet, dealing with the feeling that no one else would be interested in being in a relationship with you.
This kind of dynamic, this struggling relationship, will rob you of your self-esteem and cause a sense of desperation and despair. All too often, relationships like this eventually end. More often than not, it’s not the partner who works the hardest that ends it, but the partner less involved in compromise and fairness. When it ends for the harder-working partner, the pain can be enormous. Many of us have had our hearts broken. Possibly because we believe we love our partner and are sad that the relationship failed but mostly due to the devastating feeling that nothing we did mattered and our undying commitment to the relationship was ignored and then thrown away. If the pain is borne out of codependency, not true love, the pain of rejection can be more unbearable.
Coming out of a relationship that has robbed you of your identity and ended leaving you feeling rejected and deeply hurt is extremely challenging. It is easy to fall into a depression and let life lose its color and texture. The thought of socializing or worse yet, dating again puts you into a state of panic. You feel so out of sorts that the thought of going out with friends leaves you feeling paralyzed. You really don’t want to bring all your pain with you into a social situation, but you know you will, so you avoid socializing. Even more frightening is dating again. The avoidance of another hurtful rejection is paramount at this time so avoiding new relationships protects you from hurt and rejection.
So how does someone move past this really difficult and challenging experience? It’s important to feel your feelings, but dwelling on them or pushing them away will both not serve you in the long run. So, is it simply that time heals all wounds and you just have to wait until you are “ready” to get back out there? Or is there a way, a more proactive way, to heal and not hide inside of yourself for too long a period of time so that it feels like life starts to pass you by?
I believe the latter can be accomplished. It was what I did when my 37 year, very dysfunctional, marriage ended and I found myself not knowing who the hell I was. There was so much pain at the time. My life as I knew it was upended and after not being on the dating scene for 42 years (we were exclusive for 5 years before we married), I was confronted with either wallowing in my pain or putting myself out there.
I chose to move past the upheaval when I realized I had already suffered for years. I was the one who had to constantly put my needs and desires aside. I was the one who in spite of all of my efforts to “make her happy”, never felt appreciated, loved and respected. And she certainly was never happy. I asked myself, why am I mourning the loss of something that never really fulfilled me in the first place? It really comes down to knowing yourself and feeling confident that you can find the love of your life. That takes a bit of soul searching and a lot of courage to confront the things that hold you back or keep you locked in a state of fear. It’s all about ‘getting back on the horse” once you have fallen off. To get there, I am recommending these three steps that not only empowered me, but opened me up to meeting the love of my life. I cannot imagine being happier or more fulfilled in a relationship. She is everything I ached for, for so many years.
First, you need to get to know who you are alone, outside the dysfunctional, co-dependent relationship. It starts with focusing on, discovering, or re-discovering your passions or your purpose. When my marriage ended, I got back into music. I was a musician from age 10 and played drums in bands when I was growing up as well as in college. I listened to music incessantly and went to live concerts often. All of that disappeared for me. So, once I was single, I began writing songs and getting them professionally produced. I started playing in bands again. And I went to a lot of live music (of course up until our current pandemic moratorium on live music). This enlivened a part of me that was lying dormant for 37 years. I was so happy and excited to be back with my music, my passion and it elevated my spirits and softened my pain. If you have a passion, dive in. If you don’t, think about those things that you love. Maybe you love to draw or paint, to write poems or stories, to work in the garden, to play a sport or run, etc. Whatever it is, even if you never pursued it, now is a good time to do it. There are so many ways you can start to bring fun back into your life this way. And there’s so much help on-line to learn and pursue things that you won’t have to feel stuck.
If you cannot connect to any passions, think about what you want your purpose in life to be. Do you want to help people improve their lives? Do you want to create something or invent something that will change lives for the better? Do you want to be part of an organization that has a positive impact on the world? Think about what you consider would be a noble purpose in life and start investigating it to bring it to fruition.
Second, you need to feel good physically. Looking ahead at your future dating life, you will want to look and feel good. If you are not happy with your body or your health, now is the time to make that change. Begin an exercise program and start eating healthy foods. The benefits are enormous, not only for your self-esteem but for your vitality and ability to enjoy life with better health. Exercise also eases stress and anxiety. This is a process. It won’t happen overnight. Just stay the course and you will see those enormous benefits PLUS; you will feel more confident to meet people and get back into the world of dating so you can find the right mate for you.
Third, you’ll need to push past your own fear and get out there. This is the hardest part. Mustering up the courage to become vulnerable again is definitely not easy. However, one thing is guaranteed. If you don’t, you will certainly be alone. When you start dating again and you see “red lights” appearing, do not invest more time. Move on. You do not have to compromise yourself again just to be in a relationship. More importantly, when you do start dating, don’t talk about your ex and all of the stress and trauma that relationship caused. Dragging that with you will be a “red light” to the person you’re dating. It happened. It’s over. Deal with it privately until your relationship blossoms into something worthwhile.
Failed relationships are definitely awful to deal with and hard to rise above. But you can do it, and you must. Dig deep, breathe, and get going. Your soulmate might be just around the corner. And you deserve to be happy!
Dr. Robert Kornfeld is a life coach and holistic podiatrist based in NYC and Long Island. He is the Founder of Change Your Story Coaching (www.changeyourstorycoaching.com) and assists people on their journey to making their dream life happen. Sign up for his email list and get all of his timely and informative articles in your inbox. Are you ready to change your story? Change your life? Contact him today. For coaching, he can be contacted at [email protected]. He also practices functional medicine for chronic foot and ankle pain at The Chronic Foot Pain Center in NYC and Port Washington, L.I. (www.drrobertkornfeld.com). For foot and ankle medical problems, he can be contacted at [email protected].