Continued hope for reconciliation

From “Why we love” by Helen Fisher:

Why do lovers continue to hope, even when the dice of life come up relentlessly against them? Most still hope the relationship will spring back to life—even years after it has ended bitterly. Hope is another predominant trait of romantic love.

I think this tendency to hope became implanted in the human brain eons ago so our ancient forebears would doggedly pursue potential mates until the last flicker of possibility had expired.

The Romeo and Juliet Effect

From Why We Love:

Adversity often feeds the flame. I call this curious phenomenon “frustration-attraction” but it is better known as the “Romeo and Juliet effect.” Social or physical barriers kindle romantic passion. They enable one to discard the facts and focus on the terrific qualities of the other. Even arguments or temporary breakups can be stimulating.

How ironic: as the adored one slips away, the very chemicals that contribute to feelings of romance grow even more potent, intensifying ardent passion, fear, and anxiety, and impelling us to protest and try with all our strength to secure our reward: the departing loved one.

As adversity intensifies, so does romantic passion.

As you know, dopamine is produced in factories in the “basement” of the brain, then pumped up to the caudate nucleus and other brain regions where it generates the motivation to win designated rewards. If an expected reward is delayed in coming, however, these dopamine-producing neurons prolong their activities—increasing brain levels of this natural stimulant. And very high levels of dopamine are associated with intense motivation and goal-directed behaviors, as well as with anxiety and fear.

Psychiatrists Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon maintain that this protest response is a basic mammalian mechanism that activates when any kind of social attachment is ruptured.

And these psychiatrists believe, as I do, that this protest reaction is associated with elevated levels of dopamine, as well as with norepinephrine. Rising levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, they say, serve to increase alertness and stimulate the abandoned individual to search and call for help.

Addicted to your ex-girlfriend

The dictionary definition of being addicted is being physically and mentally dependent on a particular substance.

Typically we associate this condition with drug use, but doesn’t heartbreak display a physical and mental dependency as well?

Author of How to break your addiction to a person, Howard M. Halpern, would agree. He identifies four characteristics to an addiction:

  1. Compulsiveness.
  2. Panic — felt at the possible absence of the substance.
  3. Withdrawal — felt when not indulging in the substance.
  4. Liberation — felt when breaking the addiction.

As you can imagine, all four could apply to a relationship as well.

As Helen Fisher from Why We Love points out, all addictions are associated with elevated levels of dopamine.

Dopamine involvement may even explain why love-stricken men and women become so dependent on their romantic relationship and why they crave emotional union with their beloved. Dependency and craving are symptoms of addiction.

Is romantic love an addiction? Yes; I think it is–a blissful dependency when one’s love is returned, a painful, sorrowful, and often destructive craving when one’s love is

Are you an addict?

Here are some questions to help you explore whether or not you are, or were, addicted to your relationship.

  1. Despite ample evidence telling you that the relationship was bad for you and that you could not expect improvement, you did not take steps to break it off.
  2. You convinced yourself to stay in the relationship using arguments that don’t hold water.
  3. The thought of ending the relationship caused you to feel anxious.
  4. When you took steps to end the relationship, you suffered withdrawal symptoms that could only be relieved by re-establishing contact.
  5. When the relationship is really over, you feel lost and empty, often followed or even accompanied by a feeling of liberation.

The fundamental attribution error

The fundamental attribution error says that when we react to another person’s behavior we tend to overestimate that person’s character and we underestimate the situation.Continue Reading

The despair phase

Academic psychologists and neuroscientists frequently use the distinction between the “Protest” phase of romantic rejection and the “Despair” phase.

During the protest phase, deserted lovers obsessively try harder to win back their beloveds. As resignation sets in, they give up entirely and slip into despair.

Once you transition from the protest phase to the despair phase, life can feel meaningless. Your ex-girlfriend gave meaning to your life and without her it can seem dull, or even emptyContinue Reading

The protest phase

Academic psychologists and neuroscientists frequently use the distinction between the “Protest” phase of romantic rejection and the “Despair” phase.

During the protest phase, deserted lovers obsessively try harder to win back their beloveds. As resignation sets in, they give up entirely and slip into despair.Continue Reading

Why it hurts a lot

In the Why it hurts we learned that, essentially, a breakup is supposed to hurt. The pain we feel is Nature’s way of telling us that there is something here we need to avoid to improve our odds of survival.

That being said, the pain can also be utterly debilitating. It can completely paralyze us, disrupt our eating and sleeping patterns and remove all the joy from our lives.

Surely there can’t be any added benefit there for our survival, can there?

And what about those who suffer heartbreak over and over again? Are they not picking up on Nature’s lesson? Or is something else going on?

I seems that while most will suffer some degree of pain following a breakup, especially one they didn’t initiate, some suffer more than others.

What do those that suffer more have in common with one another?

I believe what they have in common is one or more older, unhealed wounds.

Those of us that are the most lost, the most hopeless and the most crushed after breaking up, have also been carrying the most pain with us from the past. Perhaps a difficult childhood, unavailable parents or an traumatic event.

Invariably it is the older wound, that we are unaware of, that gets re-opened when we are hurt again. This opens the floodgates to pain, past and present.

The severity of pain that we feel after the breakup is not the only indication that there may be underlying pain. How we relate to those we love is shaped by our experiences growing up. Pain, more than anything else, colors these experiences.

Loosely interpreting Professor Gabor Maté’s work on understanding drug addicts — addicts seek out drugs to self-medicate the pain they are feeling. It is often only through drugs that they are able to briefly escape the constant pressure of sadness that pushes down on them day after day.

I believe those that suffer the most after a breakup are also the ones that relied on the relationship, and their ex-girlfriend’s, the most to help them escape past pain.

Much in the same way as the addiction assumes control of the addict’s life, the relationship assumes control over the dumpee’s.

Why it hurts

An excerpt from my book:

In order to alleviate some of the pain you’re feeling, it’s worth understanding why those emotions are there in first place. By understanding their purpose, it will become easier to deal with them.

Our emotional circuitry evolved over the course of millions of years. Like any other biological system we carry around with us, it evolved because it helped our ancestors survive and reproduce.Continue Reading

Hurt people hurt people

If I go through the emails I get from readers it is always painfully apparent how much hurting goes on. Infidelity, abuse, insensitivity — you name it. Often times guys will describe their relationship to me and it just sounds like a terrible cycle of pain.

During or after the relationship, we seem to always find ways to hurt one another.

Why do we do this? There are two realizations that have helped me make sense out of all of this.

Continue Reading

My ex-girlfriend needs time and space, but she still loves me

My Ex-Girlfriend Needs SpaceFrom a reader:

Hi, my girlfriends been left the house now for 6 weeks saying she wants time and space so that is what I have given her. It’s been tough really tough. Anyway I found out the other week she needs to be on her own and be single, even though she still loves me. Obviously traumatised by this which was apparent to her, I have tryed (sic) to accept this. We haven’t had contact for 3 weeks then boom, she text me two nights ago saying she is coming back to the house on Friday to pick all her things up. ( she only left with a plastic bag full of clothes)which gave me hope, but not anymore! Deeply saddened and know now that this is going to happen! Please help if there’s any advice you could share. Many thanks

Women will tell you they still love you, but they’re not in love with you. What the hell does that mean?

In order to understand what is going on we need to better understand what we mean when we use the word “love”. Renowned anthropologist Helen Fisher asserts there three primordial brain networks that evolved to direct mating and reproduction:

  1. Lust, which is characterized by a craving for sexual gratification and emerged to to motivate our ancestors to seek sexual union with almost any partner.
  2. Attraction, is characterized by increased energy and focused attention on a preferred mating partner. Also referred to as romantic love or being in love evolved to focus our courtship attentions on a single individual at a time, thereby conserving precious mating time and energy.
  3. Attachment, also called compassionate love, is characterized by feelings of calm, security, social comfort and emotional union and evolved to motivate our ancestors to love this partner long enough to rear their young together.

Important to realize is that these three systems can operate independent of one another, as Helen Fisher notes:

Men and women can copulate with individuals with whom they are not “in love”; they can be “in love” with someone with whom they have had no sexual contact; and they can feel deeply attached to a mate for whom they feel no sexual desire or romantic passion.

In the beginning of a relationship there is a lot of romantic love. Feelings of lust quickly enter the mix as you get intimate with each other.

In the traditional Western course of events, you meet a man or woman. You talk and laugh and begin to “date.” Rapidly or gradually you fall in love. As the camaraderie escalates to bliss, your sex drive surges into higher action. Then after months or years of joyous times together, your raging romantic passion and raw sexual hunger begin to wane, replaced by what Theodor Reik called that warm “afterglow,” attachment. In this scenario, romantic love has triggered lust; then with time, these raw feelings of passion and desire have settled into a sinew of emotional union and commitment—attachment.

But over the course of a relationship, it’s not unusual that feelings of lust subside, and even the initial feelings of eophoria attributed to romantic love are known to wane. As you’ve gotten to know one another on a deeply emotional level, these initial feelings are partly replaced by feelings of affection for your partner. Non-romantic affection that is. Or as Helen Fisher puts it:

Romantic love did not evolve to help us maintain a stable, enduring partnership. It evolved for different purposes: to drive ancestral men and women to prefer, choose, and pursue specific mating partners, then start the mating process and remain sexually faithful to “him” or “her” long enough to conceive a child. After the child is born, however, parents need a new set of chemicals and brain networks to rear their infant as a team—the chemistry of attachment. As a result, feelings of attachment often dampen the ecstasy of romance, replacing it with a deep sense of union with a mate.

When a woman tells you she loves you, but she is no longer in love with you, she is saying that she feels affection towards you, but she is no longer feel romantic love for you, or for that matter lust.

It seems to be the destiny of humankind that we are neurologically able to love more than one person at a time. You can feel profound attachment for a long-term spouse, while you feel romantic passion for someone in the office or your social circle, while you feel the sex drive as you read a book, watch a movie, or do something else unrelated to either partner.

How did that happen? We can only begin to understand the complexity of love, but I believe what it comes to down to is that she lost attraction for you. Dating guru Eben Pagan coined the phrase: “attraction isn’t a choice”, elegantly summarizing the insight that love befalls us, we do not chose it. I believe it applies to falling out of love as well. Falling out of love is not a choice.

Falling out of love is not a choice

We can, however, hypothesize what might have contributed to this change of heart.

Often women are attracted to a single guy in part due to his independence, his energy and his outlook on life. It’s these characteristics that draw her into the relationship and induce feelings of romantic love and lust.

Women, however, will continue to test you throughout your relationship. It’s their innate mechanism to make sure you’re still the man they fell in love with. They will test to see if you’re the rock in their stormy waters, if you stay true to your values and if you uphold your identity throughout the relationship.

Guys, especially in a first relationship, tend to lose themselves in their relationships. They start appeasing their girlfriends and start putting her needs and her happiness above their own. We do this, ironically, to appease our girlfriends, to make her happy. Unfortunately, it has the opposite effect. We become whipped.

This complacent behavior communicates that we do not have a strong identity, that we don’t adhere to our values and that our needs can be superseded by those of others. This is what women test you for. And if you start failing these tests, she loses attraction to you.

Paradoxically, the more you’re willing to sacrifice yourself for her, the more you end up pushing her away.

Fast forward a couple of months and she finds herself in a relationship with someone she has come to know intimately well, but somehow it doesn’t feel right. The initial, overwhelming feelings of romantic love have all but disappeared. She cares about you, she feels she loves you, but she is not in love with you.

I need time and space translated to guy talk is: I feel affection towards you, but I am no longer romantically interested.

Even though she’s not being dishonest, it’s confusing as hell.

Other symptoms are a deteriorating or non-existent sex life, a lack of energy in the relationship and a lack of purpose in your own life. Am I close?

I hate to break it to you, but it sounds like it’s over. What’s more, your refusal to accept that very fact is what is fueling your pain. You need to turn off the stove that is heating up your emotions. Your recovery can only start when you accept that the relationship is over and that the girlfriend you once had no longer exists.