Today we respond to a question from a reader.

She had an on-again/off-again relationship with a particular man over the course of many years. When they were together, the situation was often stormy and she was never really able to fully invest in the relationship and its potential. But now that he is seriously dating someone else again, she is really suffering realizing what she may have lost.

She writes:

I’ve been struggling with the loss of an ex lover/best friend for months now after he met someone else.

We had a complicated 12 year history. We met at work when we were both in other relationships. We got out of those but had trouble being in a real relationship with one another. He always wanted more than I did. I felt a lot of guilt about how we met.

When we finally started dating, I could feel his resentment toward me. We both met other people with whom we dated for a couple of years. We remained friends and at some point he expressed that he was still interested. Again, we broke up with others to try to be together and it was rocky. We had an amazing connection physically and psychologically. Very deep connection. But that made it more tumultuous when things weren’t going well.

He was always trying to get me to go to therapy to work on our issues and I would start looking for someone “better.” I always thought that something new, not filled with the history, would feel better.

In the last couple of years, he lost both of his parents. I didn’t know how to help him. He was so depressed and I selfishly didn’t want to be depressed as well as it just underscored the fact that our relationship was always so heavy. Rightfully so, he developed resentment toward me for that.

We grew apart last summer and in December he started dating someone we both met through mutual friends. I found out early February and have not handled it well. I tried getting him back but of course he said that seemed reactionary and he didn’t trust it. He told me that this new thing is light and fun and refreshing after everything we had. He told me he loves me very much and will always feel connected to me but he is so angry with me for everything. He said he wants to see where his new relationship goes.

He has been with her now for over 6 months and they seem serious. He doesn’t reach out to me anymore and we don’t talk. This is a man that I never lived with, but he lives a  block away and we talked or texted almost everyday. We were close on many levels and now it’s just gone. I cannot seem to get past the pain of losing him in my life and I realize now that I let something wonderful wilt before my eyes and now I can’t revive it. I want to let him go but I’m finding it impossible to do so. I’ve tried everything from reading books, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, acupuncture, etc. Nothing takes away the pain. How can this be? We never even had a normal relationship.

And our response:

It sounds to me like the two of you kept being drawn to each other because you had unfinished business to resolve together, but then, each time the opportunity to do this was there – perhaps by going to couples therapy or by actually doing a method like Imago together – you instead got triggered and upset and backed away again. This sounds like an example of the repetition compulsion playing out for both of you. I recommend you read this article to learn more about this. It seems like you yourself were often playing the “minimizer” role in this relationship which you can learn about there.

Now that he has strongly moved away from the relationship, the part of you that realizes you really do need someone like him to work through your issues with is hurt and scared. What if you never get another chance to work through your issues?

The “bad news” is that there is no guarantee of what this particular person will do. If you become very clear about how you’d want to proceed with him given another chance – for example, if you learn about Imago and commit that you’d want to work the program, perhaps along with seeing an Imago therapist together – it’s possible you could propose this to him and he might give things another chance now or in the future. But of course there is the possibility that he won’t. And that is something painful to accept.

The “good news,” though, is that, as much as the feelings may seem to be about him personally, they aren’t completely about him. He is a symbol, a representative of a type of person that your unconscious needs to work with to heal – the type of person you can project your unconscious onto for the purpose of growth and healing. He isn’t the only person that can serve this role. There are others out there.

So a possible way to approach it is this:

  1. Learn more about Imago and the way the repetition compulsion works in relationships. The article I mentioned above can help with this.
  2. Decide how you would want to proceed with this man differently given another chance so that the same cycle wouldn’t play out again and again, but you’d actually work to experience some real healing and resolution together.
  3. Decide if you want to propose this to him. If you do, I would recommend doing it in a way that communicates and accepts that this is his choice, that you can’t force him or pressure him into it and that, if he does choose to return, he would have to do it on his time when he feels comfortable. You could also suggest that he read about Imago too, but that also would be his choice whether he does that.
  4. If he returns, carry out this new plan with him. If he does not, instead spend that time, aided by a deeper understanding of Imago relationships, looking to get clearer on what it is about him that makes him such an attractive mate for you and seeking others that can play a similar role.

Having gone through this process, whether this partner returns or you eventually find another partner with whom you have the possibility of psychological resolution, you will be much more conscious and equipped this time to do what is necessary to achieve that resolution than you were in the past.

Finally, realize that underneath these strong attractions there are often wounds and traumas and neglects from your past and, while it can be difficult to fully resolve these by yourself, you will be healthier to the extent that you can work on them even on your own.

I hope this helps. And if you – or anyone reading – would like more direct and personal help, I do offer coaching so feel free to contact us and we can discuss working together. In coaching I would help you as much as possible myself, as well as be better able to determine what other resources I can recommend that might be helpful to you.

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2 Responses

  1. Maggie Says:

    Thank you for that thoughtful response. It does resonate with me and makes me sad that I didn’t know about this concept before I lost him. I have an estranged parent of nearly 20 years so I do think this has triggered something from that perspective. Sadly, I doubt now would be a great time to confront him given he is in a new relationship. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. But I will continue to educate myself on this topic as to practice how to heal and deal with it in future relationships. Many thanks.

  2. admin Says:

    You’re welcome and thanks for your question. Having an estranged parent could certainly link into all sorts of ambivalent feelings surrounding attachment that may have then played out in this relationship with this man over time (as well as playing a part in how much you’re suffering his loss at the moment). I think grieving the fact that you weren’t conscious enough at the time the relationship was occurring is all part of the development process. It is sad that sometimes we don’t understand the dynamics of certain situations until it’s too late to use that understanding in that particular situation. But becoming conscious still has benefits. As you say it will help you do what you need to heal and also serve you well as you seek and engage in future relationships.

    I think it’s honorable that you would prefer not to interfere in this man’s current relationship. Now that you have this new understanding, if another opportunity with him does arise in the future, at least you will have a more effective approach to it. If it doesn’t, hopefully you can look back on that relationship as important because it helped you surface the feelings that are now driving you to this deeper understanding.

    Thanks again and get in touch anytime if you’d like to explore how we can help you further.

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