Why is it so hard to let go of a bad relationship? Why, when we know the person we care so much about is not good for us is it so hard to move on?
Intimate emotional relationships bring with them joy, purpose, love, comfort, support, feeling of being valued and special and a host of other things. But they also bring us anger, frustration, self doubt, confrontation and heart ache. It can be an emotional rollercoaster even in the best of circumstances.
As a Clinical Psychologist I have observed that over the years of treating people with depression that the termination of a bad relationship produces the most confusing of circumstances for people. The confusion is essentially, why, when they can make a huge list as to why they are better off without the person that they were in a relationship with, that they suffer significant depression (not wanting to leave the house, not wanting to be with friends, changes in activities that they use to enjoy, weight gain or lose through changed eating habits) when the relationship ends. Why is it that they cant get that person out of their mind? They wonder what they are doing and with who, and sometimes go to extremes of beahviours that could be characterised as stalking to get these answers.
It has been my observation that there are 2 common themes that occur in these individauls:
1. These individauls were not the ones who initiated the termination of the relationship.
2. They all knew that the individual that they were involved with was not a good choice for a partner for a host of reasons.
These points are important and I will explain.
The first point is that as the individual has been usually blindsided (or have some suspicion that something is wrong in the relationship but not sure what) by the change in the relationship, they are not emotionally prepared for the adjustment. They have been emotionally ambushed. Therefore making the experience very powerful and painful. The individual making the decision to terminate the relationship has most likely been thinking about for a while and over time has started to collect more reasons to justify why the relationship needs to end.
In the second instance, in talking with these individuals, it is very clear from the begining of the discussion that they are convinced that the person they were involved with was not the right one for them. They rarely waver on this point. What they struggle with is their PERCEPTION of the relationship not the individual in the relationship.
Let me be more clear. Perception is how we see and understand the world around us. More specifically perception is the use of our senses to gather information that is then filtered through our past learned experiences, expectations, memory and attention to details that then create our understanding of our world. Once this takes place these perceptions can also have an emotional imprint. For example, we see something move a bush. Our senses (sight and hearing) come to the conclusion that based on the type of movement, location, sound, that the reason for the movement is a snake. We then have a sense of fear. Through the gathering of small pieces of information we experince fear where there was none a few minutes ago. Its a survival thing.
In a broken relationship, perception is the cause of the depression. The individual recalls fragments of the relationship that satisfied a number of needs. To be cared for, not to be alone, to feel special and common goals (etc) and these fragments build the perception of something important that has been lost. Something that the individual doesn't want to loose. We all have a need to feel wanted and special and loved. So in letting go of the individual in the relationship the individual fears the letting go of these needs. Its the separation of the needs from the individual that used to provide them that is at the root of the therapy.
The treatment approach most efficient in this situation is called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT. CBT address the faulty cognitions that the distorted perception produces which is cusing the Depression. Through this technique the pieces of the thoughts and memories are examined and the individual comes to understand the separation of needs for the individual and the depression lifts.