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Can We Overcome the Damage I Caused to Our Relationship?

A reader recently posed a question to us, which has been rephrased and shortened to protect the submitter’s anonymity:

Up until a few weeks ago, I was in a deep, passionate, relationship with a young man. We dated for a little over a year until things began to go bad. We had very similar, difficult childhoods. We struggled through a lot together, even talking each other out of suicide.

Unfortunately, a couple months ago, I started having serious nightmares that lasted for weeks. I have suffered from depression and anxiety and take medication, but have a fear that I will become addicted to them (my mother suffers from addictions). I decided to stop taking my medications cold turkey and try to fix myself without using pills. This was the worst decision I have ever made in my entire life. I began to have anxiety attacks, cut myself, and have intense desires to end my life. I never told my boyfriend I had stopped taking my mediations. He was there for me, but he couldn't bear watching me destroy myself. He blamed himself for not being able to help me.

We broke up, and it was the hardest thing. Afterwards, I was not in my right mind—I was still off my medication. I pursued him even after we weren't dating anymore; I even had a panic attack in public while trying to talk to him. It has now been a month since our breakup, and he has started dating someone new. We still hang out alone together about once a week and we're always laughing and giggling. He has faith that I can change for the better, and I finally feel the same. I got help, went to counseling, and am back on my medication. I feel stronger than ever. I'm not entirely myself, but I feel as though I'm on my way.

I truly believe that we are soulmates. I love him to death. He's my prince, my Jack Dawson, my hero. So, my question for you, is do you think there is any chance of us getting back together?

Thank you for your question. You have obviously been through a lot, and it is great to hear that you are getting help. It would have been difficult for any relationship to weather the kind of problems that arose by going off your medications; there is a strong relationship between mental illness and relationship problems.1 For example, in a large study summarizing data from close to 4,000 people, neuroticism (a personality trait characterized by emotional instability, depression, lack of impulse control, and anxiety) relates to relationship dissatisfaction for both married and unmarried people.2 Mental illnesses can also impact behaviors in relationships that lead to dissatisfaction; for example, depressed women tend to be much less accurate in reading negative than positive feelings expressed by their partners,3 and males experience greater distress on days when their wives have anxiety symptoms compared to days when they do not.4 Taking the step to get back on your mediations and seek counseling benefits not only you, but also enhances your chances of having a healthy relationship in the future.

Break-ups are painful no matter which way you cut it, particularly if you are the one who was dumped.5 Your experience of pursuing your ex even after your breakup is very common; in one college student sample 99% of dumpees indicated pursuing their past intimate partner at least once.6 As much as it hurts now, time can help put things into perspective and it does get better. You can take this experience as an opportunity for personal growth. A number of positive outcomes can come out of a break-up, including gaining more communication skills and growing as a person.7

It sounds as if you and your ex have a good friendship now, despite how painful it is that you are not dating anymore. Women’s most satisfying romantic relationships tend to transition well into friendship,8 but maintaining your friendship while he is dating someone else may prove challenging because friendship quality tends to suffer when this happens.9 If you are hoping and expecting that your relationship will return to what it was, you face the risk of being disappointed and experiencing jealousy, which is likely a waste of time. You have made so much progress getting back on track, and if it is too painful to be friends now, take time for yourself to grieve and move on. Becoming a better and stronger person should be the #1 priority, as all else will grow from that. In the grand scheme of things, there is always the chance you and your ex-boyfriend might get back together. If you do happen to get back together, becoming the best person you can be will ensure that you will stay together.

Interested in learning more about relationships? Click here for other topics on Science of Relationships. Like us on Facebook to get our articles delivered directly to your NewsFeed.

1Whisman, M. A. & Baucom, D. H. (2012). Intimate relationships and psychopathology. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 15, 4-13.

2Malouff, J. M., Thorsteinsson, E. B., Schutte, N. S., Bhullar, N., & Rooke, S. E. (2010). The five-factor model of personality and relationship satisfaction of intimate partners: A meta-analysis. Journal of Research in Personality, 44, 124-127.

3Gadassi, R., Mor, N., & Rafaeli, E. (2011). Depression and empathetic accuracy in couples: an interpersonal model of gender differences in depression. Psychological Science, 22, 1033-1041.

4Zaider, T. I., Heimberg, R. G., & Iida, M. (2010). Anxiety disorders and intimate relationships: A study of daily diary processes in couples. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 119, 163-173.

5Field, T., Diego, M., Pelaez, O., & Delgado, J. (2009). Breakup distress in university students. Adolescence, 44,705-727.

6Langhinrichsen-Rohling, J., Palarea, R. E., Cohen, J., Rohlin, M. L. (2002). Breaking up is hard to do: Unwanted pursuit behaviors following the dissolution of a romantic relationship. In K. E. Davis, I. H. Frieze, & R. D. Maiuro (Eds.), Stalking: Perspectives on victims and perpetrators, pp. 212-236. New York, NY, US: Springer Publishing Co.

7Tashiro, T., & Frazier, P. (2003). ‘I’ll never be in a relationship like that again:’ Personal growth following romantic relationship breakups. Personal Relationships, 10, 113-128.

8Bullock, M., Hackathorn, J., Clark, E. M., & Mattingly, B. A. Can we be (and stay) friends? Remaining friends after dissolution of a romantic relationship. Journal of Social Psychology, 151, 662-666.

9Busboom, A. L., Collins, D. M., Givertz, M. D., & Levin,L. A. (2002). Can we still be friends? Resources and barriers to friendship  quality after romantic dissolution. Personal Relationships, 9, 215-233. 

Dr. Jennifer Harman - Adventures in Dating... | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr.  Harman's research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.

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Reader Comments (1)

Superb article. Not only do you have the research and the clarity (which are always there), you handled the sensitive situation with care and included an emotional aspect of your own within your prose. One of the best SoR articles I've read in a while. Thank you, Dr. Harman!

April 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter102alpha
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