Q. Recently I broke up with someone I love very much—he could not or would not be monogamous. Furthermore, he couldn’t seem to understand the reason I found his behavior upsetting. He says that I’m the one he loves the most and the others are just for letting off steam. Even knowing our break-up was for the best, my heart is fractured and I can’t seem to get back on track. What’s wrong with my brain?
A. I doubt there’s anything wrong with your brain. I regret he doesn’t seem to believe you are important enough to reserve his sexual activity for you alone. I wonder what his other conquests would think if they knew they were just for letting off steam?
Nevertheless, this represents a loss for you on several levels:
- Loss of a relationship in which you invested time and energy (and maybe even money)
- Loss of feeling special enough in his eyes for him to choose to embrace monogamy with you
- Loss, perhaps, in wondering what your brain was thinking when you hooked up with him
Grief and sadness are what happen with loss. The fastest way I know of to get a handle on this is to work through the process using the Grief Recovery Pyramid. It is available on my website, articles section. Originally it was designed for survivors of a loved one who died, but it can also work with the death of a relationship as well as with other losses. I suggest you work through that process and then get outside of your head and so something to help someone in your community. Serve at a soup kitchen, volunteer for an hour or two at a local hospital, read to shut-ins who can no longer do this on their own. Almost anything done with gratitude can help to give you a different perspective.
Along with that, I encourage you to evaluate your level of Emotional Intelligence (EQ). It may be helpful to raise yours. Generally people partner with those who are at a similar level of EQ. The higher your level of EQ, all things being equal, you are more likely to be attracted by and be attractive to individuals whose EQ is comparably high. Starting a relationship with someone whose EQ is relatively high can make a big difference in how much energy the relationship requires to keep it afloat and how much conflict you may need to deal with.
When your grief is prolonged for weeks or months, this may indicate that your brain may have had unrealistic expectations (e.g., he will be faithful to me even though he wasn’t to his last partner) and then feels really beat up when your expectations are not realized. The best predictor of the future is the past... unfortunately. That doesn't mean brains can't change, it's just people aren’t always willing to put in the work that is needed to achieve change. Even positive change.
You decide how long you want to agonize over something you didn't create and can't fix. Forgive yourself for making an unfortunate choice that turned out badly. Learn what you need to learn, and move on. Congratulate yourself for caring enough about your own future to face some loss now and to take some pain now rather than face a great deal more if you had married him. Oh, and forgive him for exhibiting behaviors that don’t work for you.