“Just because you don’t understand something doesn’t t mean its nonsense” - Lemony Snicket
“To err is human, to blame it on someone else is even more human” - Jacob's Law
If you find navigating through relationships - whether familial, friendships or romantic - as challenging, welcome to the human race. Having deep, connected relationships is a critically important contributor to one’s happiness, so its not surprising they take up so much of our attention. They can also, however, bring the deepest sorrow and distress when they don’t work out. That sorrow results from some fairly dysfunctional tendencies we humans often turn to when relationships don’t work: we dwell on the loss trying to understand what went wrong and trying to assign blame to ourselves or the other person.
THE ELUSIVE SMOKING GUN - A friend who recently went through a breakup seems tragically stuck on finding the “smoking gun” that caused it. Sound familiar? “I have to learn from the loss so I don’t repeat the same mistakes,” you might think. That’s because we instinctually need to avoid uncertainty. For primitive man uncertainty meant death, and our brains have not evolved beyond that. So we strive to UNDERSTAND what happens because it makes us feel in CONTROL of our lives. Rather than control however, it often leads to unproductive behaviors when relationships don’t work out: dwelling/obsessing, shaming ourselves, or blaming the other person - all of which damage our happiness - far more than the breakup itself.
WHEN GOING THROUGH HELL, GO! - Going over and over……and over again every detail of the relationship is a common but debilitating response to its end. Sometimes the reasons a relationship ends are clear - abuse, deceit, unfaithfulness. Often however, there is simply not a single event, trait, situation etc. that was THE “reason.” Even if you ask what caused the breakup the other person may not be able to articulate it. Very often the couple simply don’t (or no longer) “fit.”
People are different, they want different things, and thats OK. If you’re asked to name your favorite color, how easy is it to answer? If you’re asked why its your favorite, can you explain it? The same goes for your favorite scent or flavor or any other sensory experience. If someone has a different favorite color, would you think they were wrong or bad for preferring it? What someone seeks in a relationship is similarly sensory, hard to define and an extremely difficult “smoking gun” to find. Continually reassessing and searching for that non-existent "why" means you are also continuously reliving the end of the relationship - and reliving the pain of it. Accepting it is over, feeling and grieving the loss, and then letting it go lets you stop the cycle of reliving the pain.
THE SHAMING AND BLAMING GAME - Doggedly seeking the smoking gun also leads to two other happiness killers: shaming yourself or blaming the other person for doing something WRONG that caused the breakup. If it was just lack of fit, shaming yourself is a dangerous reaction. Lack of fit does not mean you are less than perfect just the way you are - just not perfect for THAT person. Ascribing it to you doing something wrong may lead you to try to change things that are not necessary to change. I used to teach companies that no product can be “all things to everybody” without ending up as not really being the best at anything that matters to anyone. We can look at people similarly- nobody is perfect or right for EVERYBODY else. Most of us are works in progress, and trying to improve parts of ourselves that WE would like to change is applauded. If we are doing it to improve “fit” with another person though, we may be changing who we really are which can result in being less than our genuine selves and is rarely sustainable without resentment anyway.
Finally, trying to find something wrong with the other person (blaming) is no more justified if simple lack of fit is the cause of the breakup. It may just be that what they are seeking is different than who we are, AND THATS OK. Again, people want different things and if someone likes hot spicy foods and you like milder versions, that doesn’t make them bad or wrong. Blaming gives rise to negative feelings, dislike and maybe even hatred - all of which contribute to your own feelings of UNHAPPINESS.
Sometimes relationships end. You might just not fit with that person and there does not need to be blame and/or shame about some non-existent smoking gun that "caused" the breakup. Accepting that will bring relief from the unnecessary pain associated with dwelling on and reliving the loss. Remember that if we fit with everyone, we wouldn’t really stand for anything. Be your best genuine self, find others with whom you truly fit and build relationships on that truth. Such relationships are far more likely to be sustainable and bring HAPPINESS rather than sorrow.
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