The average relationship

There aren't many people who have escaped the hurt of a failed relationship. Sometimes, you might have been the instigator, and on other occasions, it was your heart that was broken. No matter why your relationships ended, the fact remains that the ups and downs of relationships are a part of life. Every time a relationship comes to an end, we learn from the experience. We can take the positive experiences and look for a partner who embodies the same traits, and we use the negative experiences to teach us what to be wary of in the future. No matter how much in love we thought we were, once the passion fizzles out, we try to move forward to pastures new. However, we sometimes reach a point where we can’t think about anything other than the person we were once in a relationship with. What is this all about?

The unfinished relationship

Sometimes, a relationship comes along, it ends, and then it seems impossible to get over. We call these ‘unfinished relationships’, simply because they never came to a satisfactory conclusion. Often, these romances came to an end because of unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances - perhaps because one of you had to take a job in another country, or your partner married someone else unexpectedly (yes, this does happen!). When a relationship ends as a result of circumstances that forced its finale, and circumstances in which there was no clear-cut intention on your part to end it, then no matter how ‘mutual’ the agreement at the time was to separate, you wind up obsessing excessively over your ex. The biggest problem you face in this situation is being unaware of how to begin another relationship, and so it seems completely impossible to progress onwards.

Why is it so difficult to move on to a new relationship?

Lack of closure in a past relationship leads to an inability to move on to finding a new partner. Without acceptable answers to the questions of how and why the relationship ended, how this could have happened to you, and how you could have been treated like this by someone you loved and trusted, you can end up dwelling on the issues without ever finding satisfactory closure. In a normal relationship, you know why things came to an end. No matter how difficult it might be to accept, you can eventually process it and work through the pain. But when you don't know what actually went wrong, why you couldn’t have worked it out, or if the circumstances that separated you both might have been prevented with some effort, you end up replaying different scenarios in your head without ever knowing the truth. Without closure, you are always left hanging, wondering if there could be a possibility of picking things up where they left off. Because your partner never told you, or satisfactorily convinced you of the reasons why they left, you are constantly thinking of ways in which you could get back together.

Holding on to regrets

Relationships that ended definitively may have been painful at the time, but we find it a lot easier to learn from those experiences, both good and bad. In turn, this knowledge enables us to move on more quickly to finding a new love. When a relationship is left open-ended, there are no answers, only questions about how it failed and what you did wrong. Your relationship came to an abrupt end in such a way that you did not have an opportunity to say your piece or put your opinion forward. This leaves you constantly fretting about whether or not you could have changed the outcome if you had had a chance to speak your mind, or to talk about what was making your partner unhappy. To put it simply, you cannot move on because you cannot accept that there was nothing you could have done to prevent the outcome. You become convinced that the entire situation was your fault, and that you failed to do something vital, or alternatively, you did something terrible, or behaved in an unsatisfactory way that caused your significant other to run out on you. As a result, you can only obsess on actions you could have taken, or words you could have said to keep your partner by your side.

Key steps to healing and moving on

1. Take a closer look at your past relationship and accept the way you feel

In a normal relationship, there is usually a mutual agreement to bring things to a conclusion. The problems get openly discussed and the two of you come to realize that you simply don’t work well together as a pair anymore. Or at least one of you believes that you would be better off apart, and just being told this usually enables the jilted party to accept that the romance is over. But in an unfinished relationship, the person left behind often remains confused or uncertain as to why the relationship really did have to come to an end.

Well, there may have been some actual signs that the relationship was deteriorating, but perhaps you didn’t recognise the gravity of their impact. You can click here to read my article on some key signs to look out for that suggest it is time to walk away from your relationship. Any of these signs could have been operating in your relationship which was enough concern for your partner to decide to exit, but perhaps your partner did not want to invest the time into discussing these with you, nor invest any work into fighting for the two of you.

Another possibility is that your partner did not feel the strength of love for you that you had for them, or they did not love you as much as they used to. In many cases, a person who is not, or is no longer, in love with their partner, may choose to leave the relationship without declaring these feelings, because they may wish to avoid hurting their partner. You can read my article here to discover more about the signs on whether your partner truly loves you, or is simply not that into you. This article is predominantly aimed at men who are questioning if a woman truly loves them or not, but there are many key aspects of the article that relate to both men and women who are asking themselves this very same question.   

In any case, if your partner did indeed decide to terminate the partnership for any unexplained reason, sooner or later you need to come to terms with the fact that they didn’t feel strongly enough about the situation to do much about it. As hard or as painful as this reality might be to digest, it could be enough to help release you from your overwhelming turmoil and anguish of ‘why’ running through your mind. The key here is to move on and accept that your feelings for your ex may still exist, but do not spend too long pondering over them. 

2.    Accept that your relationship is over

For whatever reason your relationship ended, at some point you have to come to the realization that it is indeed finally over. Although most of us think about the lost loves of our past occasionally, we know that these people belong in another time, and not our present. Moving on means that you have to put aside the "what ifs" in your head, and accept that nothing you can do now will change your circumstances. Take a dose of reality and wake up to the fact that, even though you still have feelings for someone, there is no possibility of ever getting back together. Tomorrow is another day, and your ex-partner has no place in it.

It is normal to harbor some feelings for your partner after a relationship comes to an end, but these are generally short-lived. You need to release the past, stop laying all the blame at your own door, and accept that you did all that you could to keep your relationship alive. At the end of the day, the ending of your romance was beyond your control.

3.    Take comfort from the fact that the break up was never your entire fault

The most important realization of all to help you move on, is the old saying, ‘it takes two to tango’. Specifically, your partner played an equal role in letting the relationship go, and had equal opportunities at any point in time to reach back out to you. If this did not happen, then regardless of how much love you feel for that person, and the pain you are going through in coming to terms with the end of the relationship, your partner has evidently been ok to move on without you. So rest with the knowledge that it was never all up to you to keep the relationship going. You are not solely to blame for it being over. If you can let go of assuming full responsibility for the break up, then this will take an enormous weight off your shoulders. It will help you to move on to a more fruitful relationship where the two of you mean enough to each other (and at equal amounts) to never let the relationship die, irrespective of how tough things get, and what you might do to hurt each other along the way.

I would love to hear your comments or answer any questions you might have about this post.

Yours sincerely,   

Dr. Carissa Coulston, Clinical Psychologist

BSc(Hons), MPsychol(Clinical), PhD, MAPS