Is there such a thing as a healthy breakup when it comes to relationships? Too often we hear about people becoming nasty, turning what were once loving feelings into aggression and vindictiveness? Then there are the stories about those men and women who stay permanently wounded, so hurt that they never again trust themselves to get into another relationship. Fortunately most of us avoid these extreme reactions.
Even so, breaking up from a partner almost never happens without both parties feeling some emotional pain. It’s just that some of us get over this better and quicker than others. Why is this? How is it that some people seem to get through the hurt, rejection, disappointment, rage, guilt, depression, loneliness and so on that often comes with a breakup, while others get stuck in their misery?
I have often see men or women who have spent the last two or three (or even more) years thinking about their ex. They spend a lot of time going over and over why it didn’t work, either blaming themselves (now that’s a good recipe for low self-esteem) or blaming their ex-partner (and that’s a good recipe for a stomach ulcer). Guess what they are not doing? They’re not enjoying life now! How can they, when all their attention is on the past? And if there’s a new partner on the scene, what chance has that relationship of being successful? Not much chance at all.
So, what are the secrets to getting over a relationship soon rather than later/never? Unfortunately there are many well-meaning souls who will tell you to “just let go the past and enjoy life now”, “stay in the now”, “say positive affirmations regularly”, “feeling bitter isn’t good for you” and so on. There is always someone ready to offer you their bit of pop psychology gleaned from the current guru or celebrity who has supposedly ‘seen the light’. Well, sure, enjoying life now blah blah blah is a great idea, but how on earth do you get to that point? After all, feeling miserable and angry after a breakup is a fact of life for many.
Here are some suggestions that have helped my clients:
(1) Permanently separate yourself from your ex at a physical level. By that I mean, cut ALL ties. Don’t hang on by phoning, emailing or visiting. Unfortunately many people do this. And some ex’s also do the phoning, emailing etc – just to keep you dangling. And that’s exactly what all this contact does – keeps you hoping for something positive to happen between the two of you. Except that it rarely does.
Forget about trying to get an apology or some sign that the ex understands your feelings. Forget trying to get revenge. And definitely forget hoping he or she will fall in love with you again. It rarely happens. Once the “in love” turns to feelings of companionship or dislike that seems to be it, I’m afraid.
So, break the ties as soon as possible after the break-up. Of course, if you have kids this isn’t easy to do but you can still reduce all contact to brief exchanges about the school concert, holidays schedules and so on. Don’t be surprised, however, if breaking the connection throws you into more grief for a short while. There’s always some of this stuff hidden away behind our hopes and dreams. It doesn’t mean you should go back – just that you are sad it didn’t work out.
(2) Separate at an emotional level. Easier said than done, I know, but nevertheless, it’s an important step. Don’t mistake caring feelings you might have for your ex as the potential to regain that ‘in love’ feeling. Try this exercise: say: “my relationship with ………. is finished” out loud several times a day for two weeks. It doesn’t matter if you can’t (or don’t want to ) believe what you’re saying. Hearing what we’re most afraid of – the truth – helps us to face the reality and also our grief.
You might even consider writing a good-bye letter to the ex that you never send (hint: keep a box of tissues handy). This allows you to write exactly what you’re feeling without worrying about how it will be taken. Just remember that it’s a goodbye letter, not a “please-take-me-back-I’ll-do-anything-you-ask” letter.
(3) It helps to have a good support network while you’re making the break from your ex-partner. Friends are great to have around, but so too are work colleagues, neighbours and family. Don’t be too fussy – anyone who’ll listen when you feel the urge to phone your ex will do. In other words, call someone else instead and stay on the line until the urge to phone has passed. Later you’ll feel pleased with yourself for resisting the urge.
After you’ve written your goodbye letter read it out loud to someone else who cares about you. Hopefully you’ll get a hug for having the strength to do it.
(4) When you do the things I’ve just suggested you are, in effect, taking care of the part of you that is hurting. You are nurturing yourself. Unfortunately, some people aren’t good at doing this. They want someone else (their ex, perhaps?) to make them feel better and don’t know how to do this for themselves. This will only make you more miserable so get some help from a counsellor who can show you how to take better care of the yourself. Dr V
If a woman waits until she’s turned on before she initiates sex, she’ll wait forever! Seriously! Unless a woman is in a new relationship or is a high-sexed woman, she is more likely to be focussed on her shopping list, getting through the workload on her desk, stopping the kids from fighting or paying the bills than having sex. Some men get peeved with this because they can get turned on even with a list of chores to do. They don’t understand that women operate differently. So, how do you sort this out? The key is something called WILLINGNESS, an idea put forward by JoAnn Loulan, a sexual therapist writing in the 1980’s. Here’s how it works: there’s no fun in starting sex if you’re not in the mood. But if a woman is WILLING to put herself into a situation where she can switch off from her ‘to-do list’ and slowly shift her focus from being a career woman, wife, mother etc, then often her sexual arousal will slowly follow (provided there’s no pressure).
For example, she could take 15 mins during a quiet part of the day to cuddle with her partner while they stroked each other NON-SEXUALLY and chatted light-heartedly together. This would allow her to begin to relax and unwind from the day. In time she may find herself feeling more open to romantic and sexual contact. She’s beginning to get in the mood. After fifteen minutes (or longer if she needs it) of this nice gentle ‘together’ time, she may then want to begin some sexual touching, which in turn can lead to feelings of sexual arousal. Now she’s really getting in the mood.
The point is that it was only because she was willing to put herself into this situation that her sexual feelings came to the surface. So, willingness to take the time to get in a sexual mood is an important key to women’s sexual arousal and satisfaction.
Of course, this can also be just as important for men who also find that work stress, family commitments or financial strain stops them from getting turned on and enjoying sex or romance.
This is Part 2 in presenting my paper on Breast Cancer and Women’s Sexuality that I gave recently to the Breast Care Nurses Conference in Melbourne, Australia.
I have suggested that in order to understand how breast cancer affects women’s sexual and romantic lives, we must first understand women’s sexuality in general. When women are diagnosed with breast cancer they have already developed sexual preferences, beliefs and needs, so it’s important to understand about women’s sexuality first and then to look at how breast cancer might change this.
I often describe women’s sexuality as being like a jigsaw puzzle. If you think you can pick up a couple of puzzle pieces and then understand everything there is to know about a particular woman’s sexuality, then you will be in for a rude shock.
Let me give you an example: One of my women clients, who came to me complaining of a lack of interest in sex, said,”I’ll feel like sex if my husband has made the children’s breakfast that morning, the kids aren’t fighting and all the bills have been paid”. Her husband, looking quite puzzled asked, “What has this got to do with sex?” Actually a lot!
Women’s sexuality is complex and in many significant areas different to men’s sexuality. To understand women’s sexuality, we have to know about her social, cultural, and spiritual life, her psychology, biology and even her ethics and her economic circumstance.
For example, if a heterosexual woman can’t afford contraception and wants to avoid becoming pregnant, then she is unlikely to be relaxed and enjoy sex and will probably avoid it if she can. So, suggesting this woman take some medication or hormones to try and ‘fix’ her lack of interest in sex is clearly pointless.
So, what IS women’s sexuality? Here are 8 characteristics that I think help to answer this question.
1. Willingness to get in a sexual mood is very important to sexual arousal and engagement in women.
2. The tug of war between triggers for sexual turn-on (eg, direct touch) and sexual turn-off (eg, negative thoughts) makes getting aroused and having an orgasm hard work for women.
3. Romance, affection and sensuality are necessary for women’s sexual interest and involvement.
4. Women often have difficulty communicating their sexual needs to a partner.
5. Everyday roles and tasks in women’s lives have priority over sex.
6. Women tend towards being sexually conservative.
7. Conflict between being a sexy partner and a devoted mother/homemaker/career woman etc creates guilt about sex (known as the madonna-whore conflict).
8. Sexual attractiveness and body image are closely linked.
While all of these characteristics may not exist for all women, many do, and can contribute to a number of different sexual problems that women experience. Add to this the effects of being diagnosed with breast cancer and it’s not surprising to find that many many women with breast cancer find that their sexual and romantic experiences are affected. I will talk about how the experience of breast cancer creates sexual and romantic difficulties in my next post. Dr V
I have just presented a paper to the National Breast Care Nurses Conference held in Melbourne (my last for 2013 as I am taking time to do some writing) titled Effective Sexual Counselling of Women with Breast Cancer: More than Commonsense. Sexual issues related to breast cancer do not receive enough recognition so I thought I would mention some of my key points over several posts. Here’s the first:
* Most women diagnosed with breast cancer (BC) are not asked about the effects of the BC experience on their sex lives or body image, whether this be at the time of diagnosis, during or after treatment, or 5 years later. Shocking for any sexual therapist to hear this.
* BC is obviously a significant disruption to most aspects of a woman’s life including her sexuality and romantic relationships. Therefore, most women with BC will find themselves experiencing sexual issues or difficulties or simply changes in the way they express their sexuality, both within their relationships and as individuals. Although some researchers and clinicians begin to attach labels of ‘dysfunction’ and ‘condition’ to these, I prefer to see such issues as a NORMAL and understandable reaction to a life-threatening situation. Sure, some sexual problems will be more severe than others and some will last longer than others, but it’s still important to get across the message that there is nothing wrong with a woman with BC who struggles to feel sexual or romantic.
* Added to this, a woman’s breast holds special meaning in many cultures. In Western cultures it is seen to be an important part of a woman’s sexual and romantic image. It can also be seen as related to being a good mother, a successful woman, attractive person and so on.
* From this we can conclude that sexual and romantic issues MUST be discussed with all women with BC. Not only can this reduce stress around this topic, but it can also help a woman with BC to feel more positive about herself and her relationships. Wellness includes feeling good about ourselves sexually and romantically, even if at times we are unable to actually express our needs because of illness. Good quality sexual counselling and therapy should be available to all women with BC at all times during their journey.
Next post I will talk about what ‘good quality’ sexual counselling/therapy would involve when applied to women with BC.
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