The beginning of summer is always ripe with barbecues, graduations and weddings. Although these get-togethers often happily reunite us with family and friends, they also tend to unhappily reunite us with our exes of yesteryear. Indeed, even with all we have learned from painful breakups, some of us simply cannot resist the temptation of reconnecting with an old flame. And when that old flame is front row and center at a mutual friend’s wedding, the temptation becomes even more irresistible.
If this pattern of “making up and breaking up” sounds familiar to you, you might be part of a revolving-door relationship. Much like a revolving door, your relationship with your ex is never stagnant — he is always on the way into your heart or on the way out.
Your family and friends have heard the many dramas of your relationship with your ex more times than they would like to count, and although you know you sound like a broken record, something always pulls you back into the relationship. The revolving door whooshes again, and you are back in the middle of the broken (and breaking) relationship.
How can you stop this pattern once and for all, especially in the middle of summer social activities?
Change your pattern. When relationships get stuck in a revolving rut, it is generally because our lives are stuck in a revolving rut. By changing your routine, you can change your point of view and end a make-up and break-up cycle. How can you do this? Explore different activities, go to new restaurants, spend time with old friends, or even go on a much-needed vacation. Figure out what is keeping your life in stalemate (chances are that it isn’t just your relationship) and then make a change.
Figure out why you are relying on a broken relationship. You know that your ex isn’t good for you, and you know that you aren’t good for your ex. So why do you keep returning to each other? Don’t fool yourself into thinking that love alone is driving your revolving door, as there are generally a myriad of different emotions driving your decision process. Figuring out these emotions and deciphering what is truly driving you to be in a broken relationship will help you stop the destructive pattern.
Sit down and write down the emotions that come to your mind when you think about breaking up with your ex for good. Whether you are jealous at the thought of seeing your ex with someone new, nostalgic at the thought of losing a close friend, or terrified at the thought of being alone and dating again, you might be surprised to discover that your list isn’t built upon love alone. Of course, all of the above emotions are valid and sincere emotions — but that doesn’t mean that you can build a loving, lasting relationship upon them.
Talk about it with a professional. Breakups are often seen as something most people can make it through on their own. However, most people tend to assuage their broken hearts through self-medicating with destructive behaviors like drinking, one-night stands, angry late-night phone calls to their ex, etc. Losing someone you love through a breakup or a divorce is heartbreaking, and trying to go it alone can be overwhelming. This is why so many people get stuck in a revolving-door cycle, as being alone can be so painful that people would rather be in a bad relationship. A counselor can help you make smarter choices, and give you what you need the most: an unbiased listener.
Finally, it might be helpful to keep two lists on hand with you at all times — one list to remind you why the relationship can’t work (he doesn’t want kids, you don’t share similar life goals, etc.), and one list to remind you why you are content and complete as you are (you love the freedom to meet new people, you have a wonderful network of friends and family, etc.).
Rely on this network as you go through this difficult time, and allow yourself the freedom to be sad, mad, lonely and so on. As the emotions move through you, they will slowly lose their potency, and you will be ready to say goodbye to your ex and move on to a happy, healthy new relationship.
Dr. Laura Berman is the director of the Berman Center in Chicago, a specialized health care facility dedicated to helping women and couples find fulfilling sex lives and enriched relationships. She is also an assistant clinical professor of OB-GYN and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. She has been working as a sex educator, researcher and therapist for 18 years.