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Breakups and Returns, or About Distance in Love

(il. Katarzyna Kubrak)

As the whole world holds its breath, watching Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck’s love revive, we reflect on the meaning of such returns. Can it be successful and on what terms? When is it constructive? What is the purpose of distancing yourself in relationships and where is the safe line of individualism? We are looking for answers to these questions together with Dr. Olga Kamińska, a neuropsychologist and author of the book “#Love. How to love in the 21st century ”.

“I love you, my darling / These are partings and returns / and suddenly the bells ring / And my body is on fire / I love you” – sang Kora. Is such a distance and rapprochement in relationship good and is it good for love?

In a secure attachment style there may be a tendency to get closer and closer as a need for more autonomy. For many it is natural, because it means, for example, the possibility of fulfilling oneself in the professional sphere or in a hobby. Except that in a well-functioning relationship, it will not involve sacrificing the relationship. First, the partner will still maintain the bond as he moves away and will be ready to respond to the need for contact if the other person misses too much. And secondly, the other person, despite their distance, will still feel secure and stable in the relationship. Therefore, he will be able to be guided by empathy – he will understand the partner’s needs and support him in the broadly understood self-realization.

In her memoirs, Michelle Obama emphasizes that she felt important to him in the relationship with the busy Barack. He made gestures that allowed them to bond and stay close despite what was happening around them. For example, after a hard day, he found time to call and talk. She knew he thought about her, that she was present in his life, and he was in hers.

Time spent apart can be developmental for a relationship. According to the famous couples therapist Esther Perel, moving away allows you to change your perspective, look at your partner anew, miss you and build greater erotic tension.

I do not agree with many of Perel’s theses, but in this case I do agree with her.

Many therapists notice that in a partnership relationship of two people who fulfill themselves in their fields, the space around them increases their attractiveness. For example, it is stimulating to observe your partner through the eyes of others – the audience, colleagues. Then we rediscover the features that attract us in it. We remember why we want to be with someone, we appreciate their value in our lives.

Because habituation is a great challenge in a relationship. A habit, a situation in which everything, even a beloved person, becomes commonplace and becomes an ordinary element of everyday life.

It’s like sitting in a soft armchair – it’s delicious at first, but over time we forget that we are sitting, our brain is busy with something new. Only when it turns out that we have to get up will we begin to feel what is happening in our environment. This is what happens when a loved one goes away after a long time together or begins to devote himself to his passion. This change may even make us feel uncomfortable and a little anxious, but within certain limits, it can be stimulating.

And the border is thin and individual.

If the relationship appears to be insecure, the withdrawal syndrome – a reaction to the absence of the other person – is stronger in the abandoned partner, but both parties experience it. It’s like a chemical mechanism that keeps us in solid relationships. However, I would assume that the situation becomes disturbing when one of the parties begins to suffer, communicates this to the person with whom they are in a relationship, and is met with indifference, downplaying the problem or an empty promise. This leaves her with a sense of alienation and maladjustment.

In safe relationships, partners will modify their behavior towards each other. This rip-off is about – of course – two sides.

What if our partner does not hear us, is insensitive to the problem, and we love more and more?

When there is more stress and suffering than nursing love, we can say that the relationship is dysfunctional. How we react to this symptom largely depends on our previous experiences. Because people who observed disturbed relationships, e.g. with their parents, in their adult life will tend to remain in similar relationships.

The feeling of abandonment will have an addictive effect on them – instead of loosening the attachment, it will only increase the need to live together. Partners with a secure attachment model will communicate dissonance and threat, perhaps several times, until eventually – if nothing changes – they take care of their boundaries and walk away.

They will not give love unconditionally, but only in exchange – keeping in balance.

And so we come to the topic of parting. In contemporary culture, it is a mass phenomenon. Isn’t it worth stopping, coming back and repairing in pursuit of a new and better one? Maybe coming back after some time is a real test of maturity?

It is often said never to step into the same river twice. In my opinion, this is a false maxim, especially in the context of relationships.

The feelings of shame, the judgments that arise as two people try to rebuild a relationship, are simply a misunderstanding. At some stage in our life, we may have certain blockages, life obstacles, or needs that are impossible to fulfill in the relationship. And in such a situation, it is worth saying directly to yourself: “We cannot form a good relationship, so let’s part. Let us give ourselves freedom by becoming important people ”. It can even bring you closer, be an expression of respect and mature love and mutual friendship.

Maybe with time, even after years, the situation will change – because we will develop emotionally, our priorities will change, new circumstances will arise, we will mature or work through something – and then the relationship will be possible again.

This is what – according to media speculation – it was with Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck. When they fell in love in 2002, neither of them was able to curb their galloping careers, and instead of getting married came bitterness and parting. But in 2021, they discovered each other again – as mature and professionally accomplished. After the paparazzi photos, it can be assumed that the passion exploded as much as it did years ago.

This is an example that is worth trying. Of course, there are dangers, such as a similar cycle of love that they will go through and in which they once died. After the falling in love phase, will they survive as a couple dividing everyday life? Will the myth of romantic love – the one and only one that will change life for the better – disappoint? Did they come back to each other, or did they come back to their ideas about themselves from the past? Are they mature enough to deal with jealousy over what happened in the meantime?

In his book “#Love. How to love in the 21st century ”you write about the paradox: longing after a dysfunctional relationship is stronger than after a balanced one. It follows that we cannot fully trust each other in love. The picture of “what really happened” will only become clear over time, when the emotions subside.

Yes, knowing that the overwhelming longing after the breakup is not proof that we have lost the love of life and the best life scenario, but rather a symptom of an addictive relationship model changes a lot. Thanks to it, it is easier to persevere, for example, in the decision to wait out a difficult time, be silent and not strive for a meeting. If we understand that we feel the hormonal craving for oxytocin – as after discontinuation – we know that abstinence will help us recover faster, we will open up to new scenarios.

Golden advice: do not dwell forever. At the beginning, it is worth being in sadness, dealing with often extremely difficult emotions that may arise then. But after the first phase of the shock, you should consciously support yourself in the process of becoming independent from the other person – take up something new and pleasant that will adequately stimulate your brain, surround yourself with friends, go to the cinema, devote yourself to a new hobby. But – of course – it’s all theory, practice is much more difficult.

You can also use paracetamol.

Many studies show that physical pain is similar to mental pain – and acetaminophen works to relieve both. In times of severe suffering, it can be helpful, although you should ask yourself how much we want to support ourselves with pharmacology in difficult conditions, whether we can be cautious and whether we know the side effects of the substances we take.

And when we get sick of love, we will move forward. Maybe we will manage to regain the ex-partner as a friend, for example? While the phrase “let’s be friends” sounds false when you break up, years later it can have real value.

Indeed, these are not easy relationships, especially since we operate in a very strong cultural dogma of having another person for some kind of property. It manifests itself in the lack of readiness to start new relationships with exs, and at the same time in the possessiveness of the new partner in relation to the relations with the ex-partners.

On the other hand, more and more couples having children are breaking up, and maintaining a warm relationship between former partners in this case seems to be extremely important for the homeostasis of the entire patchwork family system.

I think that in the coming years it will be one of the most explored topics. And I am counting on changes – so that when we end relationships, we don’t have to end the friendship that also united us in these relationships.


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