Have you ever been in a relationship, or are currently in one, that feels like an emotional rollercoaster?
Did you find yourself so emotionally attached to him or to an outcome in the relationship that it nearly drove you crazy? (Or maybe it’s still driving you crazy?)
It’s hard not to get emotionally enmeshed.
When you’re dating a recently divorced or separated man, there’s often a lot of uncertainty…
When is he going to finalize his divorce?
What is taking so long?
How are his kids going to handle it?
What if his ex wants to reconcile?
What if he wants to stay married?
Even if his divorce is final and everyone’s signed on the dotted line, you might still wonder…
Is he ready for a relationship?
Does he want a relationship?
Is he going to want to experience single life for a while or are we going to stay together?
How do I know I’m not the rebound woman?
Is he over his ex-wife?
Plus our own desires tug at us through all this…
Wanting to see him more often
Wanting him to get a divorce already
Wanting him to better parent his kids…
Being in a relationship with a recently divorced or separated man can feel like an emotional roller coaster: out of control, ups and downs, joyful, thrilling and scary at the same time.
Often we feel like we’re at the mercy of the relationship and sometimes don’t know how to get off the rollercoaster (or if we even want to).
How We Get Stuck on the Emotional Rollercoaster
It’s an easy trap to fall into.
We can feel blindsided, head over heels in love and yet deeply anxious and unhappy at the same time.
Here’s the thing about being on the rollercoaster: the harder we hold on, the more kicked around we get.
If you find yourself really struggling with the highs and lows in your relationship, one of these three things could be happening:
You’re Insisting on Having More than He Is Available (or Willing) to Give
Often when we’re frustrated in our relationship, it means that there’s an emotional/functional need or a requirement that is going unmet.
Maybe you have a need for a sense of predictability and mutual communication.
For example, if he cancels a pre-scheduled date and doesn’t let you know until the last minute, you’re going to be frustrated with that if you have a need for a sense of predictability and mutual communication.
Or if he’s in the process of divorce and he doesn’t want his kids to know that he’s dating, he might insist that he can only see you on certain times of the day or week and not out in public where the two of you might run into his ex or his kids.
But if you want to have a relationship where you get to see each other more frequently and out in the open without having to “hide”, you’re going be really frustrated being with him if that’s something that you insist on having in the relationship and it’s something that he doesn’t want right now.
Insisting on him changing is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, it’s just not going to fit. And if you try to make it fit, it’s like trying to roll a boulder uphill—takes a tremendous amount of energy with little, if any, results.
The thing to think about is…are you willing to be in a relationship with him if those needs of yours are going unmet?
If yes, you’ll have to find a way to let go of those needs or compromise.
If you aren’t willing to let those needs go, you may be happier and less stressed if you leave the relationship.
You’re Deeply Attached to an Outcome
It’s natural to want things to turn out a certain way…to want him to finally get a divorce…to want his kids to like you…to want him to call or text you back.
It’s natural to want these things.
The thing is…what if it doesn’t happen?
What if he drags his feet getting a divorce?
What if his kids don’t like you?
What if he doesn’t call you back?
When we get deeply attached to something turning out a certain way and it doesn’t turn out as we had hoped, it can really throw us for a loop, even crush us emotionally if we don’t keep our heart and our head in check.
You can’t make him get a divorce or make his kids love you or make him call you back.
Ultimately, you can’t fix his situation for him, because it’s not your situation to fix.
So what alternative do you really have?
One option is to really let it preoccupy you and stress you out.
The other option is to practice healthy detachment (more on that later).
You Don’t Know Your Relationship Needs and relationship requirements
As I mentioned above, when we’re frustrated in our relationship, it means that there’s a relationship need or a requirement that is going unmet.
Our relationship relationship requirements are the things that we absolutely require in a relationship (behavioral events) in order for the relationship to work for us.
relationship requirements are nonnegotiable, meaning the relationship would not work if even one requirement were missing.
Needs are the events that must happen for you to be OK or happy in the relationship.
As David Steele says in the second edition of Conscious Dating: Finding the Love of Your Life & the Life That You Love, “Our ability to identify our Needs and get them met determines our level of happiness and success…The difference between Needs and relationship requirements is that you can modify, negotiate, or substitute your Needs.”
Knowing your relationship needs and relationship requirements are important if you want to avoid getting stuck on the emotional roller coaster because if you don’t know what you will and won’t tolerate in a relationship and if you don’t know your functional and emotional needs and relationship requirements, there’s no way you’ll be able to get those needs met.
Getting your needs met begins with becoming aware of your needs. Then, with that awareness, you can make choices about if, how, or with whom you’ll get those needs met.
How to Get Unstuck
We get emotionally enmeshed and preoccupied when our energy is continually directed toward something or someone that we cannot control.
This is why trying to change people can drive us crazy if we let it.
Since we cannot control the outcome, it’s a losing endeavor every time.
But here are some things you can do to help you get unstuck.
Start Focusing on You
The solution to getting out of that emotional vortex is to start focusing on you, and what’s within your control.
Start focusing on your own life vision and your own needs.
How can you meet your own needs? (Versus looking to someone else to meet them)
What do you want your life to look like and feel like…in the next year? In the next 3 years? In the next 5 years?
What would make for a fulfilling life for you?
And what would it take for you to fulfill your vision?
Was there anything that you stopped doing when you got into your relationship?
For example, maybe you stopped going to dance class or stopped seeing friends regularly in order to make yourself more available to him with his very unpredictable schedule.
But if you find yourself getting hurt and resenting his inability to honor appointments or meet with you as often as you’d like to meet, it’s time to take a look at what you can do to minimize getting hurt.
And it begins with focusing on you…what lights you up inside, what makes you feel alive…what makes life worth living for you?
Find that and mine it from the inside out.
Because if you’re looking to him or to anywhere outside of yourself to make you happy or fulfill you in some way, you’ll never truly be fulfilled.
The resources ultimately have to come from you.
Get Clear on Your Choices
When you’re feeling stuck and frustrated in your relationship and don’t know what to do next, the first step is to take a look at what choices you have—all choices.
What could you do next?
What options are available to you?
If the relationship issue that you’re struggling with is conflicting with a requirement that you have, it could be that the relationship problem is not solvable in your situation.
For example, if you dream of being a mom someday but your guy is done having kids, there’s no real way to compromise on this issue; you either decide to have kids or you don’t.
So if the problem is unsolvable, take a look at what options you have for dealing with an unsolvable problem.
A lot of the fear that comes up in our relationship can be attributed to the unknown: not knowing what’s going to happen next, like wondering whether he is going to stay married because getting a divorce is too costly for him or wondering whether he’s going to call you back.
Of course, you can’t predict what will happen next, but when you explore your options and get clear on “what you would do if…,” that forethought can minimize a lot of the fear and anxiety because then you have a plan, and you can step into the situation with a degree of confidence.
Practice Healthy Detachment
Practicing healthy detachment means noticing when you’re spiraling into unproductive worry or desire to control and choosing to shift your focus to a way of being that truly affirms and empowers you.
As Melody Beatty calls it in her bestseller Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself, healthy detachment is an act and an art.
She believes that healthy “detachment can become a habitual response in the same manner that obsessing, worrying, and controlling become habitual responses–with practice.”
“Healthy detachment is about:
- Allowing others to be themselves.
- Reversing the need to rescue, save or fix anyone who is ill, dysfunctional, or irrational.
- reversing the need to be rescued, saved, or fixed yourself
- Giving other people the space to be themselves.
- Disengaging from overly enmeshed or dependent relationships
- Being willing to accept that you cannot control other people or situations.
- Developing and maintaining a safe emotional distance from someone to whom you previously gave away your power.
- Establishing emotional boundaries between you and those who are overly dependent on you.
- Feeling your own feelings when you see someone else falter, being neither responsible nor guilty.
- Facing life with a healthy perspective.
- Recognizing the need to avoid uncontrollable and unchangeable realities.
- Exercising emotional self-protection to avoid emotional devastation.
- Allowing your loved ones to accept responsibility for their actions as you avoid scolding them.
- Avoiding being hurt, abused, or taken advantage of by others, especially those with whom you have been overly enmeshed.”
When we’re attached, we can’t be our most inspired self.
When we feel out of control, angry, resentful or shame, we can’t stand in our power; it sabotages our ability to relate in a healthy way because then we start to make choices out of fear and desperation.
Be the Chooser
No one is making you be in this relationship or making you break up if that’s something you’re considering.
We are always at choice in our life and in our relationships.
When we feel like we’re “at the mercy” of the ups and downs of our relationship, we feel like we’re out of control.
We feel like the relationship is “happening to us.”
The reality is, you’re in this relationship because you choose to be.
You chose him. And he chose you.
And likewise, you’re empowered to choose how you want to relate to him and whether you even want to be in a relationship with him at all.
It’s your choice.
When we fully realize we are at choice, we no longer feel like we’re out of control, we realize we’re always in the driver’s seat–and we can choose which way to go.
How to Know When You Should Detach
Melody Beatty suggests we do it “when we can’t stop thinking, talking about, or worrying about someone or something; when our emotions are churning and boiling; when we feel like we have to do something about someone because we can’t stand it another minute; when we’re hanging on by a thread, and it feels like the single thread is frayed; and when we believe we can no longer live with the problem we’ve been trying to live with.”
A good rule of thumb is:
You should practice healthy detachment when you find yourself getting enmeshed and preoccupied to the point where your emotional well-being is suffering.
For example, if you find yourself very angry, stressed out or stewing for prolonged periods of time or, even worse, when your normal functioning is suffering like you’re losing sleep, sleeping too much, not eating well, etc., it’s time to pause and step back.
Changing What It Means to Love
Detaching isn’t easy because for many of us, the way that we first learned to give and receive love was to “earn” it from other people…perhaps from our parents, our friends, or our first boyfriends.
And the way that we “earned” their love or attention was maybe to please them or help them or rescue them.
Pretty soon we started to feel responsible for their well-being and for their reaction to us.
Pretty soon our sense of worthiness for love, our self-esteem, became tied to whether or not we could please the person we loved or whether we could make them feel better or do better.
It was in that time that we gave our power away, the power to choose how we feel and the power to be OK when we want to be OK.
That’s what love meant to us.
Love meant giving…until we were empty.
Love meant caring…until it hurts.
But if we want to reclaim our power, if we want to practice healthy detachment, we have to change our self-sabotaging beliefs about love.
We have to start loving in a way that supports our well-being, too, not just the well-being of the person we love.
We have to start loving in a way that honors our right to be happy.
We have to start loving in a way that honors our right be loved unconditionally.
We have to start loving in a way that honors our right to live the deeply fulfilling, self-expressed life that we are meant to live.