I would rather be the leaver than the leavee

05/11/2020 Elisabeth Rengel


“I would rather be the leaver than the leavee" says Woody Allen in one of his films. In other words, the one who leaves the relationship has an advantage over the one who is left behind.

The one who is abandoned is left with only a loss: she has lost a partner, lost a dream of a common future, of growing old together, lost trust, often also a lost sense of self-worth. Especially women, after they have been abandoned, ask the question:" If he, who I have shared everything with, who I have children with, leaves me, am I good enough at all? ”

When a long-term relationship, a family breaks up, a deep existential crisis is triggered. In addition, there are often financial and practical challenges: where shall I live now? Can I continue to live in my home? I have to find a better paid job, etc ...

The setup I am thinking of is a couple in their 40s / 50s, with teenage children. One of them strongly desires this relationship, shares life with the dream partner, sees the future within the framework of this family setup.

The other partner has not been happy for a long time, wants another life, is often unable to admit or express how he / she feels, tries to rationalize the situation with thoughts such as: this is life / for the sake of the children I have to continue / we are all better off financially if we do not touch the situation as it is… Then something groundbreaking may happen, usually a love affair, and she / he breaks out of the relationship.

The one who leaves the relationship also loses: a home, the daily contact with their loved ones, a life that he / she knew from before, not least a reputation: Leaving your partner, your family, is a selfish act. Then you think first and foremost about what is best for yourself. The abandoned person or persons are left with despair and confusion. Let me say here that most of us see selfishness as something negative - but it also has a positive function.

In the event that a partner does not thrive in the setting he /she is in, egoism is the driving force out of a situation that is perceived as destructive.

Selfishness can simply be self-preserving.

The conflict between the selfish and self-preserving part and the altruistic part that wants to take care of the family group, often leads to strong guilt feelings.

Especially women who decide to leave the relationship are struggling with guilt. They usually care about how the person who they have shared their life with for many years is doing. The same applies to an even greater extent to the children's well-being. No matter what perspective you look at it from: a breakup is always a serious and painful process marked by loss and grief, anger and guilt, confusion, despair and - for the leaver - possibly accompanied by a sense of relief over having found the way out of an oppressive sadness. How do I see the therapist's role in it?

Let us assume that one of the partners shows up in my practice and asks for support in this crisis, then as a therapist I can be helpful in mapping the emotional process: Where is he / she right now on the emotion map? How does he / she experience his / her reality now?

The emotional orientation is necessary for being able to move on. The only way out is through!






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