The Right Way To Make A Clean Break From The Wrong Woman
And how to perform an EX-orcism. – By Jeff Vrabel
Chalk up another thing that women do better than men: break up. At least that’s according to Dr. Craig Eric Morris, an anthropologist who studies heartbreak. Like the incoming asteroid that will wipe out life on Earth, women burn hot and fast. When a relationship is over, they cry, invest in red wine, watch Nicholas Sparks movies, log on to dating sites, turn to Ellen for spiritual strength, and then get on with it—and come out in a better emotional place, where they greet the next guy.
Men, on the other hand, slice their suffering into long, dull, onerous chapters, dragging out our obsessive retelling, recalling one more thing, investigating all the emotional forensics, and Facebook-stalking her for months, if not longer. We do not recover; we simply grind on. And on. Once you saw her, now you don’t, then you see her everywhere. Madness.
What’s more, a breakup can trigger an actual condition. It’s called abandonment rage, a term coined by Dr. Reid Meloy, psychologist in the U.S. This anger is the flip side of the lunacy that happened when you liked her more than she liked you. Now that she’s gone, you’re devastated. Like a tornado survivor, you’re wondering what the hell just happened.
If you’re old enough to drink, chances are you’ve already been through this kind of thing; most men have endured three serious breakups by the time they hit their 30s, according to Morris’s studies.
But are those sad experiences universal? Does one break fit all? Or, just as there are many different kinds of women, are there many different ways of breaking up with them? While no two splits are exactly alike, of course, they do tend to follow patterns. Read on to move on.
1. The first love you thought you were destined to marry
This could be the girl you fell hard for in your teens, and the girl you’ll be googling well into your 80s. It’s a lifelong ache. According to Lauren Howe, a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford who studies responses to rejection (in case you thought your job was depressing), these stand out because we may see them not only as encounters that didn’t work out but as something bitterly damning about who we really, truly are.
Meanwhile, Morris says, the anguish over losing a quality woman may come from the grim realisation that you have to start competing (not to mention bathing) all over again. Plus, if you two were really close, you might’ve thought you let her frighteningly near your true self—a self that you yourself may have never met until you met her. So you might feel a need to shoulder all the blame.
Crush that impulse as soon as you can. “If you’re always thinking, ‘I was too clingy’ or ‘I was too sensitive,’ question the story you’re telling yourself about the relationship,” Howe says. “A lot of factors determine whether a relationship fails. Maybe it was timing, or the person wasn’t ready for something that mature.” If your sad, crushed brain is clinging to a narrative that puts you at fault, you may be trying to control the chaos, so changing that narrative will speed your comeback. For help, ask members of the former potential wedding party for their help and insight: “Others often provide more charitable explanations than we provide for ourselves,” says Howe.
2. The mother of your children
Going cold turkey isn’t exactly practical when you’re attempting to raise secure, stable human beings who’ve been suddenly shoved into an emotional hurricane by the two out-of-control adults in charge of everything. These relationships are to BF/GF relationships what sweaters are to doilies. Unravel carefully. Put your negative reactions in a box and bury it in the yard.
You need emotional distance. Dr. Anne Gilbert, a psychiatrist and behavioural health specialist with Indiana University Health, says your most prudent move is to go as cold turkey as you can while remaining a quality father and person.
“Start treating her as you would a pleasant roommate,” Dr. Gilbert says. “Do your best to set up a boundary, and be emotionally separate. Keep conversations cordial, businesslike, and brief, and don’t react to her reactivity.” In short, treat her as you would the other crucial figures in your children’s lives—teachers, doctors, mother-in-law. (Well, maybe not the mother-in-law.) Later, says Dr. Gilbert, you can explore reviving the friendship part. “I see lots of divorces where people say, ‘One of my best friends is my ex-husband,’ ” Dr. Gilbert says. “But that’s later on. At first you have to set rules, because someone always feels more strongly than the other. As you recover, that’s when you can relax the rules.”
3. The hot-sex yoga instructor
There’s no better partner than the one who introduces you to new perspectives, experiences, skills, and the reverse cowgirl. Psychologist Dr. Gary Lewandowski, says losing a woman like this is tough, because she’s the one who helped you expand your sense of self and your sexual skills. But if mastery of a position like the T-square is the only souvenir you bring home, remind yourself that you can also have those intense experiences, but probably with somebody more stable.
Make these two words your mantra: Clean. Break. “Cyclical relationships—on-again, off-again—increase the stress,” says Lewandowski. So close your eyes and press your nose against this page. When you open your eyes, she will not only still be gone but also have never even existed. Done.
4. The lady-bro in your crew
If introducing sex into a perfectly functional squad is one of the most effective ways to screw everything up, suddenly removing it is even worse. So if you simply can’t bear the sight of your ex, sorry—the team has already been forever changed. If she goes, so does your social network. That’s bad.
If you two are serious about preserving the sanctity of the troop, fall back on the interests you shared before the hooking up happened: work complaints, football games, people you both can’t stand. In the meantime, ask your buddies to give you an honest assessment of what they saw, says Howe. This isn’t to talk trash about her—calling her names solves nothing and only makes you look weak and slightly disgusting. Instead, it helps you understand that the narrative in your broken, love-addled brain might be different from the one your crew witnessed. Love does that, because love is not only stupid but also, ironically, heartless.
5. The soul mate you fell hard for
She’s history—and no amount of sulking, Instagram-stalking, and fixating on the shortcomings you once generously overlooked will change that. So organise your recovery. Try writing (yep, writing) about why-oh-why it all fell apart, what you both did wrong, what you’ll never do again. Do it 30 minutes a day, Lewandowski suggests. Look for the positives—reclaimed freedom, poker nights, bathrobe ’n’ brew weekends, and the knowledge that you’ll go into your next relationship much better armed. Lewandowski found that people who engaged in such positive, cathartic writing felt calmer, more confident, and more empowered than those who wrote about the negatives.
Don’t worry about the grammar—just get it down. For weightless things, words are powerful; writing them down will feel physically relieving. Set aside a specific time and place outside your usual circles to do this: a park bench, new coffee shop, bar, whatever. According to clinical psychologist Dr. Michelle Newman, tying your thoughts to a specific spot will gradually prevent them from elbowing their way into other times, such as just before bed and when you’re trying to sleep at 3 a.m.
6. The cubicle neighbour you never should’ve dated
Think of it like a divorce. “In the same way divorced parents renegotiate their roles from parents to partners, you two need to talk about how you’ll still have a relationship, but that it needs to be a different one. This renegotiation is key,” says Dr. David Sbarra, a professor of psychology. It’ll also be awkward bordering on waking nightmare.
Regain control by becoming a problem solver. Because it’s your problem? Precisely. So head off the changed, charged situation before it turns into a game of passive-aggressive looks, whispers, and backstabbing office politics. Find ways of working together in an impersonal team-type setting. (And yes, you have been reduced to an emoji and everyone is emailing about you.)
7. The crazy-intense hot-and-cold borderline woman
This one is tricky, and it’ll sound more brutal than it is. If you’re separating from someone who’s battling serious demons, your best move is to ask her to back out gracefully while encouraging her to seek solace from friends and/or a therapist, and to dial back the unicorn memes. Otherwise, even though you’re no longer a direct problem, you’ll remain an echo of a previous one. And as ice-cold as this sounds, it’s no longer your concern. “If you are a reasonable and kind person, you are not responsible for your ex’s well-being, as much as you might feel you are,” says Sbarra.
Act with compassion. Allow for a reasonable division of clothes, books, goldfish, and toothbrushes—and then vanish. Completely. “No texting, no talking, no reinforcing her behavior,” Sbarra says. “Eventually your ex will move on, or direct her angst toward someone else.”
Originally published on menshealth.com