You have had another relationship, unbeknownst to your partner, and he/she/they just found out. You feel your heart beat quicken and that moment of panic sets in. You are in hot water. What do you say? How do you fix this? End this uncomfortable moment? Then it comes out— “that person didn’t mean anything to me!”
Adding fuel to the fire
You look at your partner and instead of those words making he/she/they feel better you quickly notice they seem more upset. I have spoken to many couples about this very sentence. It is upsetting. It is hurtful. No one has ever said, “oh since that person doesn’t mean anything to you, I am ok now.” If anything it makes the whole situation much worse. But why? Why does this single phrase anger people so much?
It is because when you say those words, what your partner is really thinking is: what does that make me? If you can cheat on your supposedly important partner with someone that is meaningless, then this meaningless person trumps your partner. This just makes your partner feel even smaller. Because you made the choice to harm your relationship with your partner by having relations with this other person, you are telling your partner that they do not mean as much as this person. Therefore, making the statement “they didn’t mean anything” is you telling your partner they are meaningless. It is just another way to add insult to injury.
Therefore, making the statement “he/she/they didn’t mean anything” may get you deeper into hot water. Rather than digging through your brain to say something when the tension is high, own up to it instead. Saying “I am sorry” is a good start. Consider seeking the help of a licensed counselor individually, or as a couple, to help you through this.
It happens. Sometimes we DO say or do things that we don’t mean to. Sometimes we unintentionally hurt another in some way. Maybe we aren’t thinking clearly at the time. Maybe there is some deeper reason for our actions. It is natural to immediately want to explain to your partner that you “didn’t mean it.” I hear this phrase a lot when speaking to couples. Unfortunately the reality is, those words are not helpful. Explaining how you didn’t mean it, doesn’t cut it.
Sometimes hearing those words just angers the other partner. But why? In your mind you are thinking you really didn’t mean it, you are sorry, and you wish you could take it back. To your partner the damage is done. You can’t change the past. It is not helpful to argue whether or not you intended to cause pain. That is not what is in question right now.
Your partner is hurt. Whatever you did is not sitting well in their heart. They feel sad and angry at the actions you made. Own up to them. You did what you did. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t mean to do what you did. It matters that you did it. So going back to our earlier post, stop making excuses. Tell your partner you are truly sorry. Tell them you messed up. You made a mistake. Be honest. Show them you may not be perfect but it doesn’t mean you can’t grow and learn from your actions.
Be genuine, be respectful of their feelings. Try to see things from their point of view. How are they feeling right now? How would you be feeling? Then tell them how you wish you could take it back, how you are sorry, how you will learn from your mistakes.
What is the best way to apologize?
Someone asked me the other day — ‘how do I know I won’t find someone better than my partner?’ The person went on to tell me how they wanted to make sure there wasn’t a better choice before becoming exclusive with the person they had been seeing.
The truth is, there is always someone “better” if you choose to think about it that way. You will always come across people that are more fun, funnier, handsomer, smarter, or whatever qualities you are looking for. Committing to another person is a choice. It is not based on all that external stuff. When you decide to go all in with another person, you are making the conscious decision to shut down all the external noise. Stop comparing him/her to that coworker, or the guy that works in the office down the hall. Shut down the date search, and that cute guy that keeps talking about having dinner with you.
Choosing to commit is choosing to be with that one person— who probably isn’t always going to be the best in the room. But they should be the one that feels right for you. By committing you are choosing to accept that person as they are, and to close the door to the other options. If you spend your life always searching for the ‘best’ or the ‘better’ option then you will likely always find something, but will you be happy?
When did you choose to commit?
My friend’s boyfriend enjoys playing tennis, and so does my friend. They have a lot of fun playing together but sometimes he just wants to go to the courts to hit the ball off the wall. It is therapeutic for him and helps him to relieve the stress of the day. The other day my friend told me she was concerned that he didn’t love her because he didn’t always want her to come along to play.
This is a common question I hear so I told her what I frequently tell others — just because he wants to be alone does not mean he doesn’t love or care for you. Sometimes we just need that time to decompress and be in our own heads. We all have different ways of relieving stress. For her boyfriend it was hitting a ball off a wall, for her, it is reading a book and taking a bath. We all need time alone. Some of us need more time than others and it can all depend on how much stress we have in our lives at the time. While I understand how she could worry he doesn’t want to spend time with her, it is just his way of taking care of himself so that he can come home and be more fully present with her.
It is healthy for us to set boundaries when we need that time, and it is not meant to hurt her. Chances are his time alone at the courts has little to do with her at all and it is all because he needs to work through the problems of the day. He needs to have a little room to breathe and process. It is healthy. I urged her to talk to him when he got home, ask him about his day and spend time together in other ways. Just because you are in a relationship with someone does not mean you have to spend every moment together. You each are still individual people who need to care for yourselves before you can care for the relationship.
How do you spend your alone time?
Chances are you have either been in a situation, or know of a friend, who has had sex in order to “get over the pain” of a breakup. This is called rebound sex. It is meant to be casual, no strings attached, but that can be hard when you are talking about such a personal thing as sex. While it might seem like a quick, fun fix, it is not the healthiest route.
Don’t get me wrong, sex is great. It increases feel-good hormones like serotonin and oxytocin. It can give you a nice high. It is a lot like taking morphine for a sprained ankle. It is a temporary, addictive, avoidant fix. It is not something that myself, or any other therapist would recommend to “heal.” If anything it will cause more stress and frustration and it will definitely not “fix” the situation.
Distracting from true feelings
I often hear from my clients, “it is a nice distraction,” “it will help me forget,” “it will help me to move on.” But in reality, it is just another way of distracting yourself from your true feelings. In the end, those true feelings always come back up to bite you. The best way to handle them is to face them. Talk to a friend, a family member, a mental health professional. Work through them and when you are ready to begin a meaningful relationship with another person then put sex back on the table.
As a coping mechanism sex can be messy. It can leave you, or the other person, feeling bad about who you/they are. It can cause you, or them, to feel dirty or used. Those feelings just compound the pain you are already feeling from your break up. My best advice is to seek out support from trusted friends and family to help you through this tough time. Facing your feelings rather than trying to pretend they don’t exist will help you to truly heal. Come to terms with your new reality before delving into another deep, personal endeavor.
You lost someone you love, someone near and dear to your heart. Maybe this was a person you spoke to on the phone a few times a week, or someone who lifted you up and supported you. Maybe it was someone that was part of your day-to-day life. Maybe it was a parent, child, sibling, friend, or even a pet. Regardless of the circumstances, losing someone you love is incredibly difficult. It can be hard to “go on” after such a loss. You suddenly don’t know what to do with your time, what to do without that person or pet by your side.
Honor what once was
The fact is, we are not the same after we lose someone. It is not easy to transition between what once was and what now has to be. Grieving is building a bridge between the old and the new, with each piece being put into place a piece at a time. It is a slow and concentrated deliberate process. You may have heard others say, take it a “day at a time” or even a “moment at a time.” Start slow. Don’t expect to feel better in a day, a week, a month. Yes, you will find that new normal. You will find your place but it is a process.
For example, maybe you have lost a grandparent whom you visited every Wednesday afternoon for coffee and a chat. Although things have changed, you can create a new tradition. Maybe replace it by going to a coffee shop and reading a book your grandmother enjoyed or visiting a special place of hers. Maybe use the time to call a friend or relative and chat. You don’t have to completely change your routine just alter it a bit to ease the transition while honoring what once was. If you have lost a pet that you walked every morning, replace that morning walk with a jog. These small changes, although full of a emotion and feeling much larger, will help you to build that bridge from old to new and rediscover contentment.
Loss is not easy but the pain does subside when we acknowledge it and honor it. You can move forward, you can hold on to the old while going forward in the memory of your loved one. After all, they would want you to find happiness again. We don’t need to gloss over our grief. Grief exists because we love.
What small steps have you taken to build a new normal after loss?
Frequently I have clients ask me how to be in a happy relationship. Usually, after much discussion, we come up with the solution to a happy relationship as not being “obliviously comfortable.” The idea is you need to be your authentic self, comfortable in your skin, having the freedom to truly and deeply be you, but you also need to tune-in to your partner.
A relationship is typically composed of two people, not just one. So you can’t be happy if you are not thinking about the other person. It is just not possible. That means being mindful, not oblivious, to their thoughts, feelings, likes, dislikes, and who they are as an authentic self. You can’t expect them to change to conform to you, although some of being in-tuned to your partner is making sacrifices. There is a difference between sacrificing and making adjustments for your significant other, and changing who you are.
Being in-tune with your partner
You need to be comfortable to be happy, but that does not mean you will never be uncomfortable…if you get my drift. You need to be able to be you, to feel safe to be you, to not have to hide your inner being, but that does not mean never adjusting to please your significant other. It takes work from both sides to be happy. For example, a wife dislikes sports and a husband dislikes going to concerts but the two of them would like to start doing things together more often. They aren’t getting the quality time they need. So, they make a deal. The wife will go to a sports game or watch a game on TV with her spouse so they can have time together, and the husband will agree to attend a concert with the wife. It is a small sacrifice for the good of the relationship.
Another example might be the wife gets up early every day to run while the husband chooses to hit the snooze button a 1000 times before rolling out of bed. Instead of making a lot of racket when getting out of bed, the wife gets out quietly and is respectful of the husband. It is about being in-tune with her husband’s need to get more sleep. There are many many examples, but the bottom line is you can’t be happy in a relationship without effort from both sides. You need to open your eyes, your ears, and your senses. No one is the exact same, we all do things a little differently.