Normal relationships

Most adults have suffered through the pain of one or more relationship break-ups. At times you were the one who broke it off, and at other times you were the jilted party. No matter the cause of the break up, these trials and tribulations were seen as a normal part of life. Each relationship we are in helps us decide what we are looking for in a partner. When each relationship ends, we leave willingly, taking with us the lessons we learned. We take the best parts of the good relationships and search for someone with these desired traits. We also learn from the bad relationships we endured, just what we want to avoid in future partners. Most of these relationships, while deeply loving at the time, are fleeting, and we move on to better circumstances.

Unfinished business

However, there might be at least one relationship that is particularly hard to get over, simply because you cannot take anything from it; in other words, the "unfinished relationship." An unfinished relationship is one that ends due to circumstances beyond your control. If your significant other moves away, or gets drunk and makes a huge mistake (like marrying someone else at the spur of the moment), this relationship ended for you without a decent conclusion. This type of ending may lead to you obsessing over your lost love, even if both of you agreed to split up and go your separate ways. Quite a few people who go through an unfinished relationship find it difficult to progress onto another one. The greatest hurdle they face is not knowing where to begin in building a new relationship.

Why it’s hard to move on

The simplest explanation for why people have a hard time moving on after an unfinished relationship is that there was no closure in the relationship. Obsession starts because one feels like there was not an adequate ending, and is often left wondering why it didn't work out as planned. Being left with a lot of unanswered questions about how someone you believed you knew would do this to you is something that cannot be avoided. Closure is not just a word people throw around; one actually needs answers as to what happened to end the relationship as it did. Without honest, truthful answers, our mind will generate different scenarios over and over again.

Humans are, by nature, curious creatures. However, curiosity (pondering repeatedly on what went wrong) is what leads to a true obsession. You are just left wondering "what could have been." At the same time, you still hold out hope that the two of you will get back together again. The more you think about it, the more you obsess over everything you did or didn't do to hold it together.

Harbouring regrets

We obsess over our unfinished relationships because they still seem open-ended, and we aren't left with much hope that they will ever indeed end. It is much easier to look back upon, and use information learned, from those relationships that had a very clear finale. Unfinished relationships leave you questioning just what went wrong, and just what you did to cause this break up. You don't have answers that would close the relationship in your mind. Because you had no say in the way this relationship ended, you cannot take anything away from it. All you can seem to do is regret what was, and what could have been. Your mind races from one thought to another about possible ways you could have changed things. This is the main reason it is so hard to move beyond an unfinished relationship: you cannot stop thinking about what you could have, or should have, done to save the relationship. You are sure that something you did, or did not do, is the reason for this break up.

Accept your feelings

Most relationships end by mutual agreement when at least one party feels that they would be better off without the relationship. At least the jilted party is aware of why the relationship ended. However, those people who are left dealing with an unfinished relationship are not only consumed with tender feelings for the person who left so abruptly, but they are plagued by the continual questioning of what went wrong, and what they could have done to prevent the ending.

If you are the person who was left behind abruptly and without ‘just cause’, the bottom line is that your partner, for whatever reason, made the decision to stop fighting for the relationship. Perhaps they never felt for you the same degree of love that you had for them, or, they no longer loved you as much as they once did. In many instances, when someone does not love their partner enough to stay in the relationship, they may simply exit with inadequate reasoning offered, and they justify the lack of explanation by wanting to prevent inflicting hurt on their partner. You can read my article here which covers the signs on whether or not your partner is truly into you. You may discover that perhaps the love in your relationship from your partner's perspective was either lost, or wasn't adequately there at all. Whilst this article may predominantly be targeted at males who are wondering if the woman in their lives does actually love them, there are many essential factors in that article which are relevant to both women and men who are wondering to themselves this exact same question. These points may provide you with some clarity in your thinking.

At the end of the day, however, irrespective of how tumultuous your feelings might be at present, and however confused you might feel about the “whys” and “what-ifs”, a step towards acceptance of your uncomfortable feelings is that it really was beyond your control to prevent the ending of the relationship. Regardless of what you said or did, or what you didn’t say or do during the time you were together, if two people mutually want to be together, they will find a way to keep fighting. Accept the fact that your partner chose to give up the fight.

Time to move on

No matter how the relationship came to its final conclusion, it is best to face the truth: it really is over. It's perfectly normal to think about those you loved, and lost, in your younger years. However, it is best to keep these people in the past where they belong. Stop worrying about the "what ifs" and "what would've beens" in that relationship, as it's pointless to worry about things you have no hopes of changing. While your daydreams may seem wonderful, and you know you still harbour feelings for your lost love, they are still just daydreams of times long gone - reality will still be waiting for you when the dreaming is over.

Every relationship we have, we take away some lesson from the experience. No matter how they end, we all usually hold tender feelings for that person for a while. So, while daydreaming about your lost love is perfectly normal for a time after a break up, there will come a time when you know you really have to let go. Stop blaming yourself for what you had no control over. Understand that you did all you could, and you were not the one to kiss the relationship goodbye. Once you face these emotions, and see them for what they truly are, then you will know that it is indeed time to move on.

Find someone who you truly deserve; someone who will respect you, love you, and never keep you guessing about what is going on. 

I would love to hear your comments or answer any questions you might have about this post.

Yours sincerely,   

Dr. Carissa Coulston, Clinical Psychologist

BSc(Hons), MPsychol(Clinical), PhD, MAPS