Most people will eventually heal after a relationship ends, especially if both partners mutually agreed to separate. With helpful guidance, they learn from their mistakes, find comfort from friends, and ultimately commit to a new relationship. Sadly, it is a very different story if one partner walks out when the other is still deeply attached. The anguish of being the rejected partner can be devastating. Some people experience unending grief, ruthless pessimism, and a deepening fear that love might never happen for them again. I have spent many hours with deeply saddened, abandoned partners who cannot get past their losses. I have listened to their stories and to their confusion over why they cannot seem to make love last.
If people are repeatedly abandoned in sequential relationships, others often judge them harshly. These consistently rejected lovers too often find themselves on the other end of well-meaning friends who push them to “just get over it,” or imply that they are somehow responsible for their relationships not working out. That is rarely true. Most who suffer prolonged grief have usually tried everything they could to make their relationships work. When they are once again left behind, they are in understandable confusion and sorrow, wondering if the pain will ever go away.
In the years I’ve worked with such individuals, I’ve been able to help them see how the way in which they approach relationships may have something to do with why they end. Armed with that knowledge, they are better able to understand what they might have done differently.
Following are some of the most common personality characteristics and behaviors that many of these patients have shared with me, shared with the hope that they will be able to help those who still live in prolonged suffering after being rejected by someone they still love.
1. Innate insecurity. It is natural for people to feel insecure when threatened by the loss of something that matters deeply to them. If their comfort is disrupted by an unpredictable threat, most people have mastered defense mechanisms that help them overcome their legitimate feelings of sadness and fear. Over time, they are able to move on.
Sadly, there are people who suffer deeper levels of anxiety and may also have had multiple losses from the past. As relationship partners, they may have more difficulty rebalancing when abandoned by a once-trusted partner. They feel significantly more helpless and hopeless, as though they will never be able to trust love again. Sometimes, almost unable to function, their pain overcomes any hope that they will ever get better.
2. Topping out. If people feel that they have finally found the “perfect relationship,” and their partners then walk away, they may despair that they will never find a love this wonderful again. Relationship partners who have experienced these kinds of one-way abandonments may have always dreamed of having a special, reliable, and loving partner. Yet, upon finding someone who seems to fit the bill, they may become too fearful to inquire as to whether or not their partners have had the same desires or expectations.
When they believe they have found that perfect partner, they put everything they have into the relationship, hoping against hope that it will never end. Any warning signs from the other partner are often ignored until it is too late.
3. Childhood abandonment trauma. Children are too often helpless pinballs in a life game that tosses them from relationship to relationship, usually unable to affect the outcome. These early experiences make them more likely to either distrust relationship partners or try too hard to over-trust them. Their insecure attachments to their caretakers in early life too often cause them to become overly-fearful adults, unable to let love in for fear that inevitable loss will occur.