In times of trouble and despair, we often look for something comfortable to comfort us. Methods and coping strategies that have proven effective in the past are all employed, some positive, some not so. However, many people decide that the way to deal with a break-up is to process feelings with the person who might be at the centre of that.
Let’s be honest. Break-ups are a nasty business. Despite what Hollywood likes to tell us, the majority of break-ups are traumatic and nasty and can get nastier depending on the reasons. ‘Conscious uncoupling’ is the stuff of dreams and only a few can manage it. Mostly, it awash with mixed emotions, extreme emotions which can drive behaviour to a large extent. Much of this behaviour is irrational and driven by the need to regulate and control chaos. Chaos that might have been brought about by an abusive or self-centered ex partner and that chaos was probably present long before any break-up took place.
I often work with new clients who have just experienced this kind of break-up. They are desperate, often feel blindsided and directionless. They look to many sources to feel better including new relationships, instant gratification, counter-dependency and depression. However, some make the mistake of feeling that there is only one person who can put them back together…their ex. Even if the ex was abusive or extremely self-centred, there is often a driving force to focus only on that person. Codependents are especially prone to this.
Sometimes, it is hard to fathom that people hold on such relationships, let alone wanting to go back to them and see such people as ’saviors’. A clue could be found in the way the brain reacts to meeting someone new and ’falling in love’. An article in the Scientific American said the following:
Ah, the honeymoon stage—that magical time when your partner is still perfect and you are very much in love. This period features high levels of passionate love, characterized by intense feelings of attraction and ecstasy, as well as an idealization of one’s partner. The strong emotions associated with passionate love have physical manifestations, such as butterflies in the stomach or heart palpitations. Recent research has begun to explore how these feelings manifest in the brain and in one’s physiology. Using functional MRI, investigators have identified several brain regions associated with feeling love. Individuals who experience passionate love (typically brought on by pictures or thoughts of the beloved) show greater activation in the caudate nucleus, important in learning and memory, and the ventral tegmental area, central to emotional processing. Both brain areas tend to be rich in dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with reward and motivation.Scientific American
This mirrors a BBC programme that reported on attraction some years ago. They showed how the brain adapts behaviour to be in tune with and mirror others who are seen as potential partners, even mirroring body language and opinions (often agreeing on matters that they had disagreed about before).
This would also explain how powerful the honeymoon period can be for some and why some would want to recreate it in times of trouble with the ’near perfect’ person who was there with them at the time. It would also explain why codependents especially, often look to new relationships quickly in order to recreate it.
So we really are fighting against our own brain when we are trying to process a break-up and with the very need to make ourselves feel better, we convince ourselves that only hope is to return to the dopamine filled time where we felt so good, without realising that this time was temporary and the person that shared it with us is likely responsible (at least jointly) for the current state of affairs in our life.
However, it’s not always roses and butterflies in the early stages of a relationship. The area of the brain responsible for inhibition and social evaluation also almost completely shuts down under the influence of this entrancing love potion… It is the component that allows us to form objective evaluations of other people. This is why we often get ourselves romantically involved with people we later realize are terrible for us. We try desperately to recreate this in times of trouble when in reality, it is the last place we should be going.
Here are some methods for taking a romance beyond the honeymoon phase. Remember that this isn’t a process of regressing, but rather of building upon the successes of the initial stage. The honeymoon is over, and you need to move on. You might use some of the things that proved useful during that stage in making this happen.
Keep in mind the adage that desire and infatuation doesn’t mean love.
Don’t confuse the waning of an infatuation with the end of love. All that fluttering around in your heart is not love. It’s a chemical roller coaster of confusion, stress and wild abandon. Love is something you do. It’s something you do on purpose, develop, tend, and grow. You have very little control over infatuation.
Thais Gibson, a specialist in self-improvement, likens infatuation to a pursuit of pleasure and love to the pursuit of happiness. When we partake in pleasure-seeking activities like going out with friends, eating , or staying up late to watch a new episode of our favorite show on Netflix, we do things that provide a momentary rush (Gibson, 2019). When we put more effort into developing ourselves and achieving our goals, we experience a taste of true contentment and pleasure fades from prominence. And so it is in intimate partnerships: Infatuation is unnecessary once we have experienced the long-term love and fulfillment that comes from moving past the honeymoon stage successfully (Gibson, 2019).
In the honeymoon phase, people are more likely to share deeply and openly than they normally would be. Some people’s willingness to share disappears after this period wears off. One partner may worry that they are losing sight of what originally drew the other to them. One of the habits formed in the honeymoon period that is extremely valuable to maintain is sharing. It is essential to maintain this.
How to increase oxytocin production through affectionate touch
Keep in mind that oxytocin is the happy hormone that helps us feel safe and content. The release of oxytocin can be triggered by a full-on hug for 20 seconds or a passionate kiss for 6 seconds. Building relationships typically requires a lot of time and effort, but this is one of the quickest and easiest ways to do so (Metcalf, 2020).
It’s dangerous to assume you know everything there is to know about your partner.
You might think you know a person pretty well after you’ve been with them for a while, after you’ve seen them in a variety of life situations, after you’ve listened to them complain about their ex or family ten thousand times, and after you’ve been through some rough times together. However, you don’t probably know them well enough top make major life decisions with them.
Open communication of needs.
After the honeymoon period, a relationship will enter the contemplation phase where both decide either to go on or not and under what circumstances. We often fear this stage as we fear the end of the carefree time that preceded it. Constantly communicating your feelings and needs to your partner is essential if you want them to be met and understood. The two of you should inquire about each other’s emotions and requirements. Couples often make the mistake of assuming that their partner intuitively understands their emotions and demands. emotions and requirements are more like the weather in that they are constantly evolving.
Over time, the high subsides and all those enticing brain chemicals return to their regular levels. The end of the honeymoon phase can be abrupt or gradual, but for many couples it is followed by a sense of loss or disappointment. Keeping your head will ensure that the relationship will stand a chance. However, if it doesn’t make it, revisiting it later will often make things worse.
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Dr. Nicholas Jenner, a therapist, coach, and speaker, has over 20 years of experience in the field of therapy and coaching. His specialty lies in treating codependency, a condition that is often characterized by a compulsive dependence on a partner, friend, or family member for emotional or psychological sustenance. Dr. Jenner’s approach to treating codependency involves using Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, a treatment method that has gained widespread popularity in recent years. He identifies the underlying causes of codependent behavior by exploring his patients’ internal “parts,” or their different emotional states, to develop strategies to break free from it. Dr. Jenner has authored numerous works on the topic and offers online therapy services to assist individuals in developing healthy relationships and achieving emotional independence.