Saints and Scoundrels: Moving on From Broken Relationships
Today we talk about the duality in people and learning to accept that in honor of ourselves. Lately, I have published a few posts that speak about the duality of people and how we sanitize people to be who we expect them to be. It’s a part of cognitive dissonance, when ideas, beliefs, and behaviors contradict each other. If you want to read more about how I see saint and scoundrel, you can read about it in some of the other posts including this one about Kelis & Nas. But, for this post, we are talking about how that black and white thinking can feel like it helps with moving on. BUT really how it can get in the way of moving forward in our journey when a relationship ends.
Being fair to the past. Scoundrel
We have to ensure that we see the whole picture if we want to move on AND not repeat the same mistakes of the past. Generally, when people want to move on from a relationship that doesn’t work, we turn that person into the bad guy. We talk about all the crap we endured in an attempt to convince ourselves that we are better off. Chances are, we actually are better off without this person in our lives, but were they really as bad as we make them seem? That’s the real question. The thing is people lie. Yes, I am including both you and me in this one. People lie. Maybe we aren’t blatant, but we sure exaggerate when the feeling suits us. The problem is, when you’ve just broken up with someone, or they just broke up with you, and you’re feeling some type of way, the feeling to lie/exaggerate will almost always suit you. It’s part of the healing process for some people. We will talk about every horrible thing they have ever done to us, but hype it up. Instead of them standing you up for dinner once, you will say “ [they] were constantly standing me up!" or "I couldn’t rely on them!” Instead of saying they didn’t help consistently with the dishes/chores. You’re more likely to say, “I am doing all the cleaning by myself!" or " I feel like the maid!” And one of my personal favorites “They were never thinking about me and what I needed." or "They don’t care about me.” Which we both know that isn’t true since you are probably simultaneously thinking about the times they brought your favorite food home, rubbed your feet or back; got you random gifts...sounds like they did something (even if you don’t deem it as significant). The problem with making them the bad guy though, is that there will always be the thought in your mind that YOU CHOSE THEM. You thought they were worthy of your time. What I see, as a sex and relationship therapist, more often than not, is that there is an internalization of your choosing of this person. And cognitive dissonance says that something has to give in order for you to feel more comfortable. Because, if they weren’t shit, that means you chose wrong or you ain't shit. If you chose wrong about this, then what other bad choices have you made? That can lead to: what’s wrong with you? If something is wrong with you, how can you ever choose right. And if you can’t trust yourself...where do you think that goes? If we see our ex’s as a result of our bad decision making, we bring the baggage of anxiety into our next relationships. Hyper focusing on everything they did wrong in the relationship can lead to us seeing everything as a sign that this new person we are vetting for the role of Life Partner as a scoundrel. And when you look for dirt, you can find it.
Now what about the other side? Saint
When we see someone as the light of our lives, we will compare every relationship that comes after to this person. We will be stuck in that relationship, even though the other person may have moved on already! This is something I have been guilty of in the past. Let me tell you a story. I had a dude who broke my heart thoroughly. But as far as I was concerned he was THE shit (and I was lonely)! I was not healed when I went into my next relationship, instead I basically used this one to get over the last one, all the while telling myself I was healed. My actions showed a different perspective of the story though. In the time that I was with New Guy, I created in him a certain level of insecurities. I didn’t want him to meet my family. He begged and I acquiesced to get him to shut up about his level of importance. Then I proceeded to punish him for being so insecure. I would call him out for not trusting, when I gave him no reason to trust. I would say he wasn’t treating me well, when part of the issue was that I was longing for someone else. There was almost no limit to how great he could have been that would not have been met with comparisons. On the other hand, if he messed up, I blew that waaaaaayyyy up and let it become the main focus. I am not vain enough to think I am the ONLY one who has ever done this. So, a question for you: Does any of that sounds familiar?
Now, that is not to say he was a Saint, either, because he wasn’t. There were definitely issues on both sides at play in this relationship. That is to say that over time, with healing and truly moving forward I was able to see my mistakes and take action to rectify them for myself and for the next relationship I entertained.
The problem with breaking up, is that sometimes it isn't a clean break and it can be hard! Then we sanitize people to the point where we feel it is most beneficial to us, so that the break up feels easier. Saying and trying to convince ourselves that they didn’t do anything or never properly cared for us, is a way to being able to believe we don’t need them and should move on to bigger and better things. When sanitation is more to Saint than Scoundrel--which can happen more when you’re feeling lonely and unworthy of love--.this person we are no longer with becomes the stick by which we measure all others, who will always fall short in our eyes, no matter their merit. Sanitizing someone to saint or scoundrel may feel like it helps with moving on, but in the end, we mostly end up punishing the next person in line and ultimately ourselves. We either spend our time looking for signs that it won’t work, or we spend our time comparing them to the relationship(s) we lost. Over time, when things keep heading in the direction of not working quite right (same relationships over and over), we may recognize ourselves as the common denominator. And if you were already feeling some type of way about how these relationships have been going, it won’t make it any easier when you reach this realization that YOU were in all of them. Being the consistent factor will have you looking at yourself all kinds of different...and not necessarily in any positive way.
The Doc Recommendation
Though it can be hard, see and reflect on the full picture. It is hard to fully mourn what you have lost if you are trying to convince yourself it wasn’t that great or that it wasn't that bad. Acknowledge for what it was, the good times, the bad times, and all that was in-between. This will help you to not only heal and move forward, but to make sure that those steamer trunks of relationship baggage, get left behind.