I have answered dozens if not hundreds of e-mails asking for advice about how to correct a relationship after a break-up or a break-up attempt. They usually sound something like this:
My boyfriend and I have been together for over three and a half years. About two weeks ago, he told me he was questioning the relationship and thinks he wants to break up. He told me that he dislikes X, Y and Z about the relationship and thinks they are signs that we'd both be better off with someone else.
We talked about it, and eventually he changed his mind, because we were both more open and honest with each other. We ended agreeing to give it another shot, and to do X, Y and Z differently. So we're still together.
I am glad we worked things out, but now I feel like he has all the power. It's like I got "almost-dumped." I'm not completely happy with the situation but I am also unsure about how to proceed. What should I do??In other situations, one person breaks up with the other, and then (by either party's initiative) the couple gets back together, thinking that "this time it will be better." In either case, the important characteristic is that the relationship reaches or nears its end, only to make what seems to be a thankful recovery.
The main problem in these situations normally isn't that one person can't follow through with the promise to change X, Y or Z (though this too is very frequently true, and a close secondary problem). The main problem, and what most people fail to recognize, is that when a relationship nears or reaches a failure point, its limits are defined.
Prior to such an episode, each party could believe - and usually at least hoped - that the relationship was strong enough to sustain limitless difficulties. Neither party knew how much it would take to break the other's feelings or commitment. But a break-up (or near-break-up) changes that irreversibly. Suddenly one partner knows that the other's commitment has real limits. What was once "a love that knew no bounds" and apparently bottomless, is shown to be of finite dept - maybe even shallow. So the disappointment comes, not because the relationship is broken, but because it is shown to be breakable.
Four years later, she's done the same thing, and this time, he isn't fighting it - because now he recognizes what I am saying here. Those four years, he admitted to me recently, were always spent in doubt of her feelings and fidelity, caused by the simple fact that she voiced her discontent. The relationship was ostensibly maintained, but the reality was that it had already been undermined by her attempt to end it; and my friend proceeded to waste four years trying to salvage what he essentially knew was dead after two.
Granted, there are some instances in which a break-up or fight doesn't reveal a relationship's depth, just as there are situations in which you might be willing to live with the limitations that such an episode often does reveal. The point here isn't to imply that all break-ups or fights are premonitions of ultimate failure, but to point out that if you find yourself disappointed in spite of having "saved" your relationship from a bad episode, it is almost certainly because that episode showed you that your relationship is more fragile than you'd hoped. So before you spend all kinds of emotional energy trying to get your boyfriend back or resisting a break-up, ask yourself whether just having him (or just having him back) is actually enough to satisfy you.
If you liked this post, you'll definitely like my book, Beyond the Breakup. In fact, this post has been included as one of the chapters, along with others that explain how to react when your ex tries to contact you, how to understand his motives for doing so, and much more.
1. Why Do You Want Him Back?
2. Why Rejection Is a Good Thing
3. Get Used to Rejection