Hello everybody, welcome to episode 104 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino and we’ve got a good question for you today. We’re going to be talking about that spawn of Satan otherwise known as breakup recovery, and boy if it hasn’t come at an interesting time. Let’s hear today’s question and take a look at what’s required to stop loving someone…
QUESTION: “I used to be in relationship for 15 years and we got divorced one year ago. I just discovered that my ex husband got engaged with his new girlfriend. What I am struggling with is the fact I still love him and he knows that, that's why we can't be in contact anymore even though he would like to stay friends. People say if you love someone, let that person be happy… And I know I should do that. He deserves to be happy and he is great but are there any tools that can help me move on from it? Therapy doesn't help and I tried many other techniques: exercises, new hobbies, blocked all social media when I was following him. Is there any way that can help us stop loving someone?”
Loving Someone…It's Complicated
Ok. I try not to bring my personal life into this show – wouldn’t want it to go completely off the rails. But I want to say today that it is very appropriate that I happen to be reading this question the day before my ex-girlfriend who was thought to be “the one” gets married to one of my ex-best friends. I say this not only for the irony, but because I want you to know that I’m right there with you.
These things are not easy. And I think it’s especially complicated because when you are still so in love with someone, you continue to put them first even if they are no longer putting you first. That makes it very difficult to navigate through feelings that are difficult enough as it is – when even amidst these feelings, we can’t put ourselves first. And I’m seeing a lot of that in your question.
Take this excerpt from your question: “People say if you love someone, let that person be happy… And I know I should do that. He deserves to be happy and he is great but are there any tools that can help me move on from it?”
When You Still Love Someone
Before you get to yourself, you first have to go out of your way to illustrate that you're still loving him and you want to treat him right because he deserves to be happy and is great. You see what I’m saying? You’re in an extremely reactive state right now, and that’s totally normal, but it’s something you have to be aware of. It’s my belief that right now, all the decisions you’re making are purely in response to him rather than being driven by you.
That might sound confusing, and since you’re in so much pain, it’s sort of difficult to differentiate, but let me put it to you this way:
You talk about trying many different techniques, including exercise and new hobbies. In you saying that you’ve “tried these techniques,” you’re telling me that you wouldn’t have done them otherwise. You’re doing them for the purpose of trying to get over him, not because they just fulfill you as they are.
You’re doing them transactionally, and that’s not how they’re most effective.
Tools vs. Doing Things That You Like
When people suggest doing things for yourself after a breakup, it’s with the idea that those things will help you find who you are or give you an opportunity to get back in touch with the things you enjoy just because you enjoy them. And it’s hard to just enjoy them when you’re making a point of using them as tools to get over your ex-husband.
See the difference?
It’s time to start doing things because you like them, not because you think they can help you. Though a tiny bit of transaction is always present, that’s what should drive all the things we do in life, including the things we choose to do after a break up.
I’d bet that retrying some of the things you’ve already tried once you’ve committed to this new mindset would yield different results.
Finding the Right Therapist
One of the things you mentioned was therapy. Obviously therapy is, by nature, something that’s designed to help us with our problems. So going into therapy in a reactive mode is more sensible and I’m glad you’ve tried it. But just like in romance, we need to find therapists that are good fits.
If you do not feel yourself benefiting from this therapist, and you’ve been totally open with them, politely move on to a different one.
One thing your therapist should really be talking with you about (and you can always ask to talk about it) is what your ex husband represented to you. I talked about this briefly in episode 13 as well, which was also a question that came in from a woman struggling with feelings for her ex husband that I encourage you to listen to.
I’ll touch upon this quickly. Basically, a lot of the reason we struggle to get over our exes is not because we miss them (even though we think we do), but we miss what they represented or meant to us. The example I used in that episode was, say your father died at a young age and your ex-husband happened to be a bit older than you.
If you still miss your husband, yet you know the relationship was bad, it’s probably more about missing the idea of a father figure which was likely to be a big part of the attraction from the get go. So now the mental commentary feels like “I miss my ex” but it’s really “I have no father.”
What Did Your Ex Mean To You?
You can do this by yourself or with a therapist, but if you can figure out what your ex husband specifically meant to you, you can look for opportunities to create more diverse relationships with that thing. If it’s a father figure, maybe it’s important to spend more time around the fathers that your friends have, or find a good mentor who happens to be an older man, or volunteer to help out at a nursing home, or whatever. That’s a well-defined step you can start to take.
Look, it’s only been a year apart after 15 years together, plus now he’s already engaged to someone he probably doesn’t fully care about anyway – especially if he’s making a point to stay friends and stay in touch. He’s struggling too and trying to maintain good intentions, but this isn’t good for either of you. The sense of hope it provides both of you with might feel good, but I’d venture to guess it’s much more destructive than anything.
With all that being said, it’s messy right now. It’s going to take time to move on, but the spot you’re in emotionally is totally normal given the circumstances. Trying to force love out is a common step in the road to breakup recovery, but it never ends up being the final step. Whether you want wait until later or start right now (which is advisable), you have to start accepting these feelings. You’re doubling up your pain right now by feeling bad about feeling bad. There’s no sense in that.
Conclusion: Loving Someone AND Yourself
All of the forward movement and doing things just for you and not for your ex husband starts with you being ok with you. The more you resist these difficult feelings, the stronger they’ll get.
So focus not on how to stop loving someone else, and shift your focus into loving yourself. If you lead with that, a lot of what you’ve already tried is likely to look different the second time around.
To the woman who sent this question in, thank you so much. It’s likely a long road ahead, but I hope that you’ll keep this episode in mind when things are tough and that you’re able to find and act on the small moments in which you can choose loving yourself over your ex husband.
For everyone else, I thank you for listening today, I wish the best to those of you going through breakups, and naturally, I encourage you to submit any questions you’d like answered on the show to us via email. Email them to advice AT oldpodcast DOT com
Have a good one, everybody and I’ll look forwarding to being with you next time. Until then.