Like the wildly popular book suggests, it truly is a break up because it’s broken. Generally, breakups happen when there have been many attempts to better the relationship and nothing works. I am obviously in favour of trying to restore relationships and don’t take the ending of a relationship lightly, but that being said, there are times when ending and moving on from a relationship is necessary.
Breakups are a familiar thing to all of us. If asked, you could probably recount all of the devastating heartbreaks you have endured. But why is it that some people seem to move on from breakups so easily while others repeatedly get snapped back into the situation?
I want to stress that breakups are hard on everyone. Severing an attachment with another human being is never easy stuff. However, if we look at a breakup in terms of attachment dynamics, there is one style that is prone to struggle more with breakups then others. People who tend to be anxious or preoccupied in relationships have a much harder time separating from an ex and moving on because their very nature is wired to reestablish connection and intimacy. They begin to make the conscious choice to walk away from the relationship, but with every step that they take, it is as if the tension from the bungee cord that attaches them to their partner is pulling them back in.
Let me give you an example. You may remember my friend named Leigh from Is Love Worth The Risk. Well she used to fall head over heels too quickly in relationships. In her young adult years, she met a tall handsome muscly boy. Within a couple of weeks, he had swept her off her feet and the relationship moved very quickly. The new love she found was intoxicating. Nothing else mattered except for the bubble that they were living in. That was until the relationship became more contaminating then intoxicating. After a few months, Mr. Muscles began to blow her off and have other girls over to his house. He would assure her that nothing was happening, that they were just friends, and that she was being insecure and possessive. He began to put conditions on his love, saying things like “if your physical appearance changes, we are done.” But even still, Leigh continued to make sacrifices and ignore these glaring red flags. Whenever she would talk to him about her doubts, he would pour on the charm. Tell her how much he loved her and needed her in his life. Whenever she would think about breaking up with him, all of the positive memories would flood her brain and she would convince herself to stay. Until one day when the negative experiences in the relationship began to outweigh the positives. She knew she had to make a decision to leave the relationship but did not know how.
Whenever someone with an anxiously geared attachment style decides to leave a relationship or is forced to cope with a break up, there are some serious battles that need to be faced. Psychological research has revealed that we all have an attachment system, a mechanism in our brain responsible for monitoring and tracking the closeness of our loved ones. Anxiously attached individuals have an overly active attachment system that can cause their brain to be hijacked when their bond with their loved one is threatened. Research has shown that this causes a form of distress that is so real it is experienced like physical pain. This is important to note because the distress and discomfort that is felt when severing a relationship with someone we love is real. We have formed an attachment and now are attempting to walk away from that bond we have created which inherently triggers our attachment system.
Leigh felt this pain. Even though she had made the wise decision to walk away from the relationship because it was toxic, it didn’t stop the discomfort she felt. The hard reality was that she was separating herself from the very person she could turn to for soothing and comfort. She new that in the short term she could return to him and all her discomfort would leave—which she did several times. But in the long run, she knew that staying in the relationship would result in years of pain and rollercoaster dynamics. Given that Leigh had made the choice to leave, she knew she had an open door to go back to Mr. Muscles and he would have gladly taken her back. This made it very challenging for her to keep it shut. The more she gave in, opened the door and basked in the temporary comfort, the more painful it was. The relationship wasn’t the same. It was broken. She had to sever the bungee cord and barricade the door to keep herself from being snapped back into the counterfeit security.
The challenge and the reason we constantly return to the scene of the crime is that our attachment system is not easily shut off. Avoidant partners have learned to suppress their attachment system throughout their life experiences, but anxious partners tend to get hijacked by theirs. The result? We employ activating strategies to reestablish connection. Your attachment system doesn’t realize that it is in your best interest to move on from the relationship. Its sole mission is to reestablish contact and connection because that is what is required to fix and deescalate the situation.
Subscribe to the blog and join me next week where we will discuss ways to override and regain control of your attachment system during a breakup. We will discuss some really practical things that you can do to keep yourself in check and not allow your relationshipzilla to take over.
I know it may not feel like it, but you are on your way to finding an intimate and lasting connection. We just need to navigate through the detours and get ourselves back on track!
Wishing you love and connection,