Saturday, September 26, 2009

Whats Love About Anyway?

These are excerpts from an excellent piece in Psychology Today entitiled: Why breaking up is often harsh to do, by Jeremy Sherman, PhD. After reading over the material I had the distinct feeling that he had hit on something that rang true. I post it here to get your input.

Why Breaking Up is Often Harsh To Do

I once broke up with the same person twice. The first time she left disgusted with me and boy, did I miss her. The second time she left honoring me and I hardly missed her. This informal somewhat-controlled experiment exposed how much my love was about how I felt about myself by means of relationship. If she pockets my self-esteem on her way out the door, I join the lonely people. If she leaves blessing me, I'm OK.

How my relationships have ended often had carry-over effects that drove me to get into the next. If it ends with me feeling like a failure, I'm eager for a shot at redemption and get into the next too soon. And getting in too soon means the angst from the last relationship persisted well into the next. I suspect many of us experience this revolving door effect. It's a reason to either stay with one partner for better or for worse, to put yourself in enforced "quarantine" while you heal between relationships, or to cultivate the art of breaking up generously so the toxic reside doesn't last long.

Breaking up generously: Most people would sign on to that in principle. In practice though an enormous amount of us dis our partners as we exit. That's a problem with all platitudes like "be generous." We hold them as absolute principles but can make exceptions pretty much any time it's time to apply them. So rather than just pledging to be generous on the way out, it's better to try to understand why so often we are at least tempted not to be.

Friendship is a kind of mutual endorsement by means of cooperation. In any friendship, a habit of throwing down peace signs is established. But as the friendship starts to break down, the temptation to compete and the risks of cooperating increase for both parties. Knowing this makes the temptation even greater. After all, if the other party is about to defect on you, you'd better beat him or her to it. It becomes like two-person hot potato. Neither party wants to be left cooperating at close range with someone competitive. That's why you start backing out. You don't want to be at close range. It's also why you start dissing. If someone has to be stuck with the hot potato, you want it to be your soon-to-be ex-friend, not you.

As high stakes as the game is in friendships, in romantic partnerships the stakes get much higher. If friends offer endorsement, romantic partners offer uber-endorsement. At its aspired-to ideal it's not just "You're a good person among good people," it's "You're magic. You have exclusive powers to move me."

In the high-stakes game of romance, the temptation to cooperate at the beginning is very strong. That's what makes new lovers surge toward each other. Every inch toward greater intimacy is an inch toward greater endorsement. Trouble is, once you've surged all the way in there's no place to go but out, and every inch backing out can feels like an uber-disendorsement. Once the backing out begins, it's eat or be eaten. That's a key to why couples breaking up are often so critical.

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