God bless Facebook for putting me in touch with old friends. One of the best reconnections I’ve made is with a former (gulp) student who’s now a counselor/coach. She’s got a terrific blog and has some great things to say. The following is some of the best advice I’ve read for the recovering once-married:
Is it possible to fall out of love? Millions of happily divorced couples would easily argue “yes.” But for lots of others, it seems a Herculean task. They can’t possibly stop loving someone, and will be connected to them, heart and soul, forever. This happens to the best. Even if the paramour in question is unfaithful, emotionally unavailable, mean, negative, controlling, violent, flaky, rude to your friends and family, or simply just isn’t that into you and has moved on.
But Billy Corgin is right—we are, ultimately, all rats in a cage. Or dogs. A bell rings, we salivate in anticipation. We press a lever, food comes out. If the food stops coming out or there is no yummy meat powder on the horizon, we eventually lose interest. Extinction. If we leave love alone, it will fade and change shape, and we will move on. But every time you engage with The Ex—send a letter, slash a tire, seek out gossip, make or receive phone calls, pour through old photos, you feed that connection instead of extinguishing it. So if you do want to fall out of love, you do want to lift that painful weight, you do want to extinguish that feeling, here are a few suggestions that might help:
Do not seek out or offer any information that is not absolutely necessary. When you’re letting go of love, you’ve got enough on your mind to process without incorporating any new information. So if The Ex is doing this or that, with this person or that person, does it really benefit you to know? Or does it just make you feel worse? So step away from the phone, twitter, myspace, text, or any other new millennium tools we have to torture ourselves by keeping personal lines of communication open, forever if we want. Extinction is about fading that emotional connection to dust, so memorize a line like “we’re not going to discuss that” if you do have to communicate with The Ex, adopt a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy with friends and family, and focus conversations on the many other fabulous aspects of your life. And there are many!
Fill up the space with something—anything. Anything, I mean, that is healthy and productive. So no spontaneous sex, shopping or eating binges, draining the liquor cabinet, or all of the above. Whenever you decide to quit something, there is immediately a lot of time to fill. Time formerly spent drafting letters to The Ex, fighting with The Ex, responding to angry e-mails with The Ex—what do you want to do with that time now? Maybe reconnect with old friends. Go to a community event you’ve heard about. Learn something new. Exercise. Exercise. Did I say that twice? Now that you’re not fixating on someone else, you can fixate on yourself—and do something that will make you feel better, stronger, braver, and more confident.
Vent away—far away—from The Ex. Letting go of a relationship can be an agonizing, excruciating process. Do you want to yell? Do you want to sob? Then do it with gusto—so long as you are not doing it in the presence of The Ex. Cry on a friend’s shoulder. Run away by yourself for the weekend. Fill up a fireplace with angry letters and roast some marshmallows. If you have made the decision to fall out of love, that becomes a very individual process which no longer involves The Ex. This might be a good time to consider some therapy—which does the mind, body, and soul good! When you turn the attention onto yourself and embark on a journey of self-discovery, a neutral collaborator can be there to support you, empower you, and teach you a few handy tricks for the road ahead. No, your head will not be shrunk—but it just might be expanded.
Redefine the words you use. Words like soulmate and even the word love itself. I enjoy the idea of soulmates and you can imagine any number of ways to frame this concept. Me, I’m an X-Phile and got all the insight I needed on soulmates from the X-Files episode “The Field Where I Died.” Basically, souls mate—in clumps. Friends, lovers, family, coworkers, enemies, those eternal spirits kind of float through time with each other, appearing in different bodies as they travel on. Your child in this life was your teacher in a past one, for example. Perhaps it’s ridiculous, but for me it’s better than believing there is only one person out there who is a spiritual match. Why not experience having a few great loves, if necessary, by expanding your definitions to accommodate where life is taking you?
There is nothing easy about letting go of love—it’s probably the most painful thing anyone has to do in this life. There is grieving, there is the desire for closure, there is confusion, fear, and great existential anxiety. But there is also beauty, energy, and illumination waiting on the other side. So extinguish some behaviors, embrace your capacity to feel love, and let the rest of your life begin. Onward!
Nancy Goodman, LPC is a counselor/coach living in Pocatello, Idaho, where she writes a weekly wellness/spirituality/career column called “Fumbling Toward Serenity” for the Idaho State Journal. You can read her columns at http://vocatusidaho.blogspot.com. Nancy is available to meet in-person or via telephone; the first 50-minute appointment is always free, and all services are confidential. You can contact Nancy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 208-478-1414.