The pain of rejection in a romantic relationship is strongest when it comes as a surprise. One minute you believe everything is fine, and in the next you are blindsided by a breakup news.
“I was excited to go out to dinner with my boyfriend. I chose a nice outfit and looked forward to a romantic evening. Over dessert he told me the relationship was not working and he was breaking up with me. I was like, Really? What is this, my last supper before the end? I felt physically ill.”
If you have been blindsided by a partner, you know the feelings all too well: Your heart leaps from your chest, your brain freezes, and your skin sweats. You have no idea how to respond or how to take in this new reality. And the worst part is ahead—when you beat yourself up, wondering how you didn't know that your partner was unhappy. How could you not see that the one you loved most was spending time calculating how to end your relationship?
Keep in mind that someone who's going to blindside you sets the stage for you to think everything is fine—and then pushes you off a cliff. Mike said:
“I was working on fixing my girlfriend’s front porch. I had just placed the last piece of wood and painted it, and then she told me that we were through. Like, could you have told me before I fixed the porch?”
The partner who is blindsided feels used, confused, and betrayed. Most breakups come after a series of conversations. When you're blindsided, you're left stunned and alone, trying to figure out what happened. As I discuss in Breaking Up and Divorce: 5 Steps, making your own sort of closure after a divorce or breakup accelerates the letting-go and getting-better processes.
Consider these four questions as you come to terms with being blindsided:
1. Did your partner ever talk about the negative aspects of your relationship?
Healthy relationships have ups and downs. It’s important to be able to openly discuss the pitfalls in your relationship. It’s equally important to recognize that there will always be some frustration and disillusionment. Working through these conflicts builds intimacy in the relationship and helps you to know exactly where you stand with your partner. Blindsiders tend to avoid negative emotion. If they feel you getting upset, they work to remove the upset immediately with little to no verbal problem-solving or communication. You get a hint every now again when they are displeased with you, but rarely do they ever directly communicate their displeasure. As a result, you may carry a lingering sense of insecurity in the relationship and sometimes wonder if everything is OK. You don’t bring this topic up with your partner because you know it won’t be a productive conversation.
2. Is your blindsider a people pleaser in general?
Blindsiders are usually compulsive people pleasers. They don’t want anyone to be upset with or critical of them. And if they are upset, they internalize their feelings and avoid you. They never bring conflict to the table and instead work hard to get along and be pleasant. The negative side of this is that such individuals never know how they really feel about an issue, and suppress their true emotions. Eventually, like a pressure cooker, their emotions pile up and become overwhelming. By the time they realize they are unhappy, they have to leave. They don’t give you a chance to work on things or respond to their upset because they have no experience with successfully working through conflict. Take an objective look at how your partner deals with conflict in his or her life. Does the person ever argue with their mother, father, brother, sister, or friends? Can he or she directly disagree with people, or just say “no” when they don’t want to do something? Do they tend to avoid conflict at all costs?
3. Do you avoid your emotions?
Were you taking your own feelings seriously and letting yourself say whatever needed to be said, or did you also repress and push away upset? The person who is blindsided often has difficulty cueing in to the important data in a relationship. Start working on becoming more in touch with your emotions—how you feel in the presence of certain people, what types of personalities light you up, and what types bring you down. Start making a special effort to directly communicate your emotions to people. Feelings are data: They measure the temperature of life and our relationships. If you consistently turn down the heat on your feelings, then you won’t really know what is going on in your relationships. The more self-aware you are, the easier it will be to understand the motives of others.
4. Were there problems that you ignored?
Take a cold, hard look at the relationship. There is no way it was all positive if you've just been blindsided. Take your partner off of the pedestal—and yourself as well. Write down what was happening between the two of you that neither of you dared to talk about. Were you upset more often than you care to remember, or was your partner demonstrating upset non-verbally? Were there conflicts that you both ignored or ruts of behavior and routine that you couldn’t escape? Every breakup has a story: As you force yourself to look at a more complete version of yours, you lay the groundwork for a better experience the next time you grow close to someone.
Jill Weber, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in Washington, D.C. and the author of Building Self-Esteem 5 Steps: How to Feel "Good Enough" and Breaking Up and Divorce 5 Steps: How to Heal and be Comfortable Alone. For more, follow her on Twitter @DrJillWeber and on Facebook, or check out drjillweber.com.