The Mindful Relationship
Dr. Janet Hibel
Question: I have usually found myself to be an impulsive person, choosing between what my heart says I want rather than what my mind says I should do, whenever I am in a confusing dating situation. This has oftentimes lead to unhappy consequences where I suffer from not thinking though my decisions. I will most often go with what just feels right, trusting that my emotions indicate my true reality. An example of this for me is last year I was dating a guy who subsequently broke up with me because he said he did not want to be in a committed relationship. After about a year, I ran into him in a restaurant and we I was instantly attracted to him again, despite the fact he broke my heart and I spent the better part of the year grieving his loss. He wanted to go out again, even though he still said he was not ready for a commitment. I couldn’t help myself, and I accepted a date, but when it came time to be romantic, I just couldn’t do it, something in me came forward and I stopped it. I felt I was making a wrong decision and would just get hurt again because nothing had really changed. We ended the relationship again, this time mutually as friends. Could I have somehow developed a capacity now to take care of myself and make better decisions in spite of my still wishing I could be with him?
Answer: Yes, absolutely, we can grow and change in wonderful ways, cultivating a self care and protective functioning adult identity. This is certainly an event to rejoice. What you are describing is what many people experience as two separated parts of their identity, the part of the self that knows what is right and the part of the self that seeks immediate gratification of wants and needs.
The trouble begins when these two parts are working against each other and not integrated into a whole. This war within the self arises mostly when we feels we are choosing to do something that is wrong or unhealthy because we are driven to by our emotions. Or, we want to avoid the suffering the pain of not having our needs met in the moment . It is likely that during the year you were grieving his loss, you thought long and hard about what went wrong in the relationship, that part he played as well as the part you played. You came to believe that it was important to rely on the truth of what your head told you and in this case, that this relationship was not right for you. In spite of the fact that your emotions still longed to be with him, you did not let them “put their sticky hands on the steering wheel of your life”. You made the move from being an impulsive child to having the wisdom of an adult and should be very proud of yourself. Sometimes these protective forces arise within us like guardian angels and carry us down the healthy path. Work to cultivate this new part of yourself by making sure you give yourself plenty of time when making important decisions so you can tune in and listen to what that part of you is suggesting. Often friends will help you in problem solving and remind you of the wiser course since they are not being influenced by a storm of emotions. In taking the harder path, you are activating higher levels of your brain, most prominently the pre frontal cortex which is the executive function and helps us in making difficult decisions. All this being said, it is not as if we want to ignore the signals of our emotional self but rather integrate them into the framework of what we know to be ethically and morally right actions for ourselves. If we listen to our head, and our head tells us that a situation is safe and healthy, then we are able to come out and play and let our emotions loose to enjoy the moment.
The work you did on yourself brought you to the point where you did not allow yourself to become swept off into a romantic fairly tale about your ex boyfriend ‘s interest in rekindling a relationship. You make yourself listen to the truth of what he was saying, that he was not ready for a commitment right now in his life. You didn’t tell yourself other fairly tales about how he would see you now and realize you were the one and only and be ready to give up the single life for you. You were able to do this without putting yourself down, feeling inadequate or worthless because you couldn’t magically change him mind. Further, you were able to open the door for a future friendly relationship, even though at times trying to be trying friends with an ex-partner is fraught with difficulty. You don’t have to be apologetic for still feeling hurt, rejected or jealous and sometimes it’s best to avoid the ex partner until these feelings fade, if they ever do.