Posted on 31st August 2021 at 16:27
Regardless of which seasonal calendar you follow as to whether August is in Summer or Autumn, it is a time where we very much feel the calendar year is moving on towards its end. At the same time, the school and academic year is just starting. Parents and students negotiate the busy road of preparing for the start of school or college, moving on to the next stage.
Part of moving on is letting go and it is an aspect that many people struggle with. This is particularly true with relationships that are not working out, whether it is a family relationship, a work relationship or a romantic relationship. Perhaps there have been attempts to move on only to fall back into the same stuck pattern of relating with the other and indeed, the self. At the core of this cyclical pattern, is fear. Old patterns are familiar, mistakenly 'normal.' Better the 'devil you know' than the great unknown that freedom represents. The great paradox that freedom can be terrifying, as it is unknown and uncharted.
When a relationship is ended, a period of mourning follows as one by one, we start to detach the strands of connection to that person and bring them back into ourselves, often accompanied by great pain and grief. Each strand brings its own sense of the lost person. Eventually, sufficient strands of connection have been taken back and processed, permitting a lifting of mood. In time, the strands are ready again for redeployment in a new relationship. Such a thought is unthinkable at the beginning of the process. Like the grief that accompanies death, there comes an acceptance of absence, though life may never be quite the same. This allows moving on.
Where moving on is difficult, we leave space for the possibility that a particular coping phantasy cannot be surrendered. If we confer on a relationship, that all the loss and disappointment of childhood will be made up for with 'the right partner', then the loss of that relationship threatens the collapse of a phantasy and the person’s psychic structures. The phantasy will be upheld at all costs, as well as the belief that the script of the phantasy (that we will be happy) will come true if we just hold on a little longer. At some level, deep down, we know the truth but are unable to confront it. We have invested too much time and effort in insisting it aligns with our phantasy.
Returning to a relationship that has not been working, without resolving why the relationship is not working or can never work, is an invitation for the dysfunction to repeat in that same relationship or a subsequent one. Sigmund Freud  called this repetition compulsion, unconsciously repeating the same behaviour in an attempt to achieve a less traumatic outcome. The unconscious resistance to change can be paralleled in therapy until a working through has been achieved. The essence of this is captured in the frequently cited quote “You will not heal by going back to what broke you” but you can effect change by learning how and why you do this. This brings to mind another popular quote “don’t look back, you are not going that way” and while this is true, we often do need to look back in order to figure out a better way forward. Unresolved issues tend to repeat.
Other obstacles to moving on from unhealthy relationships include feeling that we don't deserve any better, we won't find any better, that it's better to be with 'someone' than 'no one' or that we must have someone else in place to move on to as we have not the capacity to be by ourselves. All of these thoughts and behaviours have their roots in our childhood experience of how we were related to or how we experienced relationships in the family setting.
Where a couple are married with children, staying together for 'the sake of the children' is a much cited reason for not moving on when the relationship has broken down. This has emotional, social and financial aspects to it. Sociological studies in countries with higher divorce rates such as the USA, say that it's not the marriage break-up that affects children's later relationships, but the quality of the parent-child bond that is critical to children's success in achieving healthy adult relationships later on. Ongoing conflict in a marriage is damaging to all.  Moving on from conflict, with the support of couple's counselling where necessary, is in everyone's interest.
If you are experiencing difficulties in moving on from an unhealthy relationship and would like some help with that, get in touch here. Together, we can work to move on to a better experience or gracefully let go of situations and people not right for you.
1. Freud, S. (1920) Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Standard Edition 18
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