We can’t be together, and we can’t be apart

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“This is a story about my emotionally dependent relationship. We have known each other for 20 years. We started dating when we were 15. This was our first relationship, our first sex, our first tears, and our continuous cycle of breaking up, regretting, and getting back together. We would go from one extreme to the other. Good and happy moments were few and far between; mostly we felt hurt and torn apart. It was like being on drugs. It had been going on for 8 years. Then I was lucky enough to meet another man – it was like day and night. I got married, happily, and we had a child. Then we started having problems in our marriage and got divorced. My ex-husband and I still have a good friendly relationship. After the divorce, I met my first guy again. It has been 12 years since the last time we saw each other. And the passion reignited. Now, I am older, smarter, more mature, and more confident. He is also very different: mature, successful in his career. But just like in our youth, we cannot build a relationship. We often have disagreements: we don’t yell, don’t throw tantrums, but there is a big emotional pain inside. Usually, it is not even a fight – we just say goodbye right away. But after a week or so, one of us calls or texts, and the cycle starts all over again. This takes so much energy. We talk, we discuss, we try to heal our wounds, but it doesn’t work. I feel like I am trapped in codependency with this man. I understand that this is not even remotely love, but I miss him, and I feel drawn to him. As if I am having drug withdrawal symptoms that I need to live through. He told me that he feels the same way. We can’t be together, and we can’t be apart.”


Thank you for this clear example of dependent behavior.

What you are describing looks a lot like emotional dependency. But if we don’t want to use this term, we can look at the situation from a different angle. There is something that powerfully attracts you two to each other, and then something else strongly pushes you apart.

This process will not allow you to relax and will suck away your energy.

Of course, right now I am looking at your story without knowing all the details, but you are absolutely right in your assumption that your feelings cannot be love.

What can you do?

1. In any conflict, one side will eventually win. Then the conflict ends, and the situation is temporarily resolved.

In your situation, you can make the following choices. First choice: once you break up, you don’t get back together. Do not allow yourself to be consumed by “I can’t live without him”. Try to stay apart for longer than usual and try, as much as you can, to rearrange your life in such a way as to distract youself from your desire to get back together.

Second choice: when you have a conflict, don’t follow your usual pattern of breaking up. Try to stay together and find a way to solve your conflict differently. This will help you to move your relationship forward.

2. Try to remember at the same time why you are attracted to this man and what pushes you away from him.

A dependent person only sees one side. Let me illustrate this with an example of a woman who is married to an alcoholic. While her husband drinks, the wife remembers all the ugly things that happen in their relationship (he called her by someone else’s name, he spent all his paycheck, he kicked their dog). But as soon as the husband stops drinking, she immediately forgets all the bad things and only remembers good ones.

Then, next Friday, or as soon as he gets his paycheck, he gets drunk, and she switches her views back to the negative.

Her mistake is that she sees only one side of her husband. When he drinks, she treats him one way, when he is sober – another. But this man remains the same person. It is the wife who is switching her point of view depending upon whether he is drunk or not.

Often, it happens with rude men. Usually, such a man lives with a woman who can’t stand his rudeness. When he is being offensive, she immediately remembers all the horrible things about him. But then, he lets his steam out, and for a week or two, he is on his best behavior. Seeing him being such a nice honey-bunny, the wife forgives and forgets all about this rudeness. And then she is very surprised when next time he gets all worked up and yells at her and/or their children.

In couples like yours, at some point the partner appears as nice, ideal, such a good person, simply the best. And during difficult moments, you see only the bad, only the negative. Your memory doesn’t bring up good things.

Your task is to erase these boundaries, to get rid of partial perception. Remember about bad when everything is good and remember about good during difficult moments.

How can you do this? You need to note the main pluses and minuses. Imagine that you have a blue cube with a red ball on top. A dependent person only sees either the cube or the ball. They are not able to see the whole construction. But just because you are looking at the construction from a different angle, it doesn’t change. Only your point of view changes.

You need to see different traits of your partner. Write down both his good and bad qualities.

Look at this list and note your feelings. For a dependent person, it will sound like this: “I really love this part of him, and I really hate that one.” But if you look at the good and the bad simultaneously, something new will be born. Some balanced feeling, that will keep you from falling into either of the extremes.

For example, one of my clients told me the following. When her husband was drinking, she hated him, she would start hitting him. But when he was sober, she pretended (to herself) that everything was fine. When she performed the exercise above, she realized that she always believed when he promised to stop drinking. For the first time, she was able to ask herself – what if he never stops? This jolted her into breaking up with him. She left him…

But before that, she tried so many things. She explained to her partner how hurt she felt, she asked him to change. But when she realized that this is all useless, she left. After one year, he stopped drinking on his own, and they got back together. But at the moment when she broke up with him, she stopped jumping from one reality to another. Her two realities got merged into one. And in this reality, she made a decision: “yes, he promises to stop, but it is possible, that he never would, and I am too tired.”

3. In certain moments, you can relax and think about only one side. But overall, you need to keep in mind both sides of the person.

What I described above is about dependent thinking. This is how we perceive our partner. This is what helps us to remain dependent. But if you know that if you were to break up with him because of his negative traits today, then tomorrow you would miss him – you will be able to find another way to deal with the negative – some other way rather than breaking up.

You need to combine your two realities. Then you will be able to find a more balanced, healthier solution. By doing this exercise, you will be able to remove one component of your dependency – your perception of your man. And this is already big progress.

This practice is not easy, it may not work out from the first try.

Take care of yourself!

MindSpa Consulting psychologist