Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Friday, October 10, 2008

When Divorce Leads To Stranger Status

One of the hardest things about relationships is that they often end. The theory goes that relationships end because the love ends - one or both members of the couple fall out of love. The reasons why they 'fall out of love' vary. While some people’s careers or professional obligations may draw them away from their relationship, others experience betrayal they can’t forget or move past. Some lovers simply change and grow apart, and realize they were not meant to be together.

Most of you have probably had the experience of witnessing the forced encounter of two people who were once married in the past but who seem to have almost no connection with each other. I always wonder ‘are you sure you were ever married?’ A lot of good songwriters have captured the melancholia that comes with love. I’m thinking of Carly Simon who sang the song “Coming Around Again” in which she sings “so good on paper, so romantic, but so bewildering.”

Without a doubt, what is bewildering in love is the anger two people can feel for each other while feeling so much love at the very same time, and the subsequent shut-off of the emotional valve when the love’s gone. What happens to the love? Does it simply die?

It is my belief that people’s love doesn’t actually go away. It seems more likely that the love remains but is repressed to defend against strong, unpleasant feelings underneath. When you see two people who treat each other as strangers but who were once married, you are not seeing the love. However, the love is there but repressed. You see the manifestation of the anger, sadness, or denial, but it covers strong feelings underneath. You can’t simply love someone day after day and ever truly stop loving that person. You surrender to denial if you can’t accept that there is a part of you that still loves and misses that person - even if it's just the tiniest part. Music comes to mind again as I think of Whitney Houston singing "and if somebody loves you, won't they always love you?" The answer, in a word, is yes - though some will go to the grave denying it.

It is rare, it seems, that couples are able to hold onto a friendship and remain close while still moving on after the divorce. I am always impressed when I see couples who manage to stay friends – it takes strength in character and worldliness that can rise above hurt and pettiness. While we can’t do much to change the state of affairs in other couples, you can reflect on your own relationship. If you are single, reflect on what you hope for in your next relationship. If you’re looking for a partner who is also your best friend, think in advance about what you can do now to make sure that you never have to see an ex and treat him or her like a stranger.