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What to do when you're dumped

Should you wait, mourn, or move on?

Samantha had been dating Phillip for two years. At one time, they had talked about marriage. Suddenly, he declared one night that he wanted to take a break. He thought he might want to see other people. She was exasperated. She entered the horrible relational phase of what I call "missing in action." Do you work through the loss of the relationship because it's over? Do you wait for the other to come back? Do you deny what is going on?

Often you may be reluctant to date another, because you cling to what you thought was a meaningful relationship. It was close to being what you wanted, but now it's not working out. A lot of your time can be wasted, as you feel confused, unfulfilled, and undecided about moving on.

Most of the time, we really don't know if a relationship has ended. Over time, things become clear, but usually not at first. As the baseball Yankee great, Yogi Berra, once said, "It ain't over till it's over." Some withdraw and say they need to end a relationship or see others, because they can't tolerate the intimacy. They let their partner get too close and can't stand this intimacy. They are erecting love barriers and actually can be driving off the love they may seek. They end a relationship, because they may fear being too vulnerable and losing control of their feelings.

On the opposite side of the continuum, some withdraw because they just don't love their partner enough. They might at a later time feel differently. Sometimes we take a step back in a relationship before moving two steps forward. It's normal to be unsure. Many aren't use to discovering flaws and then looking for solutions or being tolerant, accepting, and understanding. More often, couples have difficulty forgiving and resolving conflicts, which may motivate a withdrawal.

It can be an excruciating, confusing period when your partner becomes "missing in action." When your other is "missing in action," you aren't sure if they're out of your life forever or may re-emerge. When you are at this limbo stage, you may need to start seeing others while maintaining contact with this person. Often, this person may need to gain more dating experience to determine what satisfies them and what they will choose or settle for. You may actually be what is best for them, but they may not be able to appreciate it, because they want even more. Have you ever had someone who has dumped you call you months later and confess that they miss you and want you back? Unfortunately, for them, the relational window may have closed as you moved on.

Some begin dating, don't miss the other, and go along their merry way, surprised that they can substitute a new person so fast. Good for them.

For the relationship's dumper, it can be draining, because they hate to cut off what may be a meaningful relationship. Often they can't see remaining exclusively in this relationship. They frequently may say things such as, "I need to be free"; "I need to see others"; or "I have some things I have to work out alone." They can be torn between missing their partner, being afraid they will drive them completely away, and not wanting to feel trapped. This massive ambivalence can drain and destroy their mental health and the vitality of their previous relationship. This state may drag on for years without resolution as other people enter and exit the picture.

For the dumpee, the choice may be as unclear. Can I share her or just end this? They may be aware of the ambivalence and get mixed messages from the dumper, like "I love you but I feel trapped and need to see others. I don't know where these other relationships will go." This can lead to confusion, jealousy, and distress. A strong desire to predict the unpredictable future can create substantial anxiety.

"Do I wait for her to come to her senses? Do I enjoy her while I can, when I can? Should I just cease contact completely, get on with my life, and not worry about what's going on in her head? Should I just take care of my head?" For most, they are happiest doing the later, to get on with their lives and not wait.

Don't try to be concerned with your partner's dilemma. Do what makes it easier for you to survive. Some are able to start dating others and see their old partner. As Lee remarked:

"When I see Sara, it is warm, comfortable, and we still get along. I can enjoy her for what it is. I don't need to feel there has to be a future or the illusion of a future to enjoy her. As long as it is pleasurable and I have her and I've nothing better to do, I'll see her. I'm not waiting. I'm trying to meet others and to take care of myself. I know she has to find some things out for herself."

There are some whose reaction to loss is to climb back in the saddle as quickly as they can. They don't take the time to process or learn from what happened. They can choose to float from one short-term relationship to another. Some go through a "plunder" stage where they sexually experiment with many partners. These people don't deal with the breakup; instead, they seek instant companionship. They can appear addicted to pursuing and/or having sexual satisfaction. This provides the focus of their behaviors. It's as if a substitute player must immediately come into the game. These people feel desperate, lonely, and perceive themselves as needing a lover in order to be fulfilled. Though they may have difficulties maintaining relationships, they often can't exist comfortably outside of one. Many seem to need the opposite sex to validate themselves. They look for other people's approval and acceptance as proof that they are lovable. If they are unable to obtain this, they regard themselves poorly. Unfortunately, these people tend to discount others who do treat them positively. They are often the ones who can comment, "I don't want to be a member of any organization that will have me." Consequently, they can remain extremely insecure.

Roberta had difficulty being by herself. She would become anxious and frightened, especially when she was alone at night. In an attempt to ward off these feelings, she often would go to the only place open later where people hung out—bars. There, she customarily would be approached by men, because she was an attractive, personable woman. It appeared that most of the men ended up using her. She had a good nursing job, but kept finding men who were unemployed, drank a lot, and needed a place to stay. It was as if their desires complimented hers, because she didn't want to be alone, and they seemed to need her. This made her feel worthwhile and important. Unfortunately, she started feeling disillusioned and used. Much of this was due to her lack of insight and denial. She became cynical and questioned her self-worth. She started doubting whether there were any "good ones" left and developed more anger toward men. She began to realize her self-defeating pattern and was able to change it. She had to work actively on being able to receive instead of just to give. She had to permit herself to savor, enjoy, and trust being nourished. If someone didn't treat her as she liked, she didn't wait for him to change. She even bought a dog for companionship to help her get through the night. She realized she had self-worth regardless of whether a man was around. Importantly for her, she was able to learn to receive support from God's love. After a series of relationships where she felt dumped, she was able to exist alone better.

When your partner becomes missing in action, take care of yourself. Find other support systems. Enjoy your new freedom if you can. Get out of their head—don't be preoccupied with what they may be thinking, doing, or feeling. Remember, most of us several years later will barely recall the relationship. It's corny, but time does help this process. I like to listen to music that makes me aware of the universality of this life event.

What do you do, when you're dumped? Any suggestions you can comment about?