You Just Started Dating Him. So, Why Is The Break-Up So Devastating?
Listen, I'll be the first to stand up and say that when it comes to getting over an ex, I might just hold one of the longest "titles" ever. I mean, getting fully over my first took a couple of decades (no joke. Check out "Why Every Woman Should Go On A 'Get Your Heart Pieces Back' Tour" and "Why Running Into Your Ex Can Be The Best Thing Ever"). But if there's something that I've noticed, is becoming a pandemic of the heart these days, it's women who struggle with getting over someone they've only been seeing for a short amount of time. Since I know that "short" is relative, let me just say that I'm referring to folks who've only been on a few dates with someone or it's only been a couple of months since they've been hanging out with them on a more intentional level. More and more, women are contacting me about how a potential relationship has ended and they are 1000 percent torn up about it. That concerns me because hearts are precious and no man, who you've only known for a hot-skip-and-jump amount of time, should earn your pain and grief. He really shouldn't.
If you know all of this in theory, but you still find yourself being damn near close to devastated whenever something new comes to a close, here are some questions that just might help you get down to the root of why that very well might be the case.
Can You Honestly Say That You Healed from Your Previous Relationship?
Lord. If there's one word that I've seen, perhaps more than any other this year, it's "normalize". That said, when I think about the top 10 things I would like to see normalized, "denial transference" would most certainly top the list. What is that? It's my way of describing what happens when someone, who doesn't do well at being alone, goes from one relationship to another, thinking that the new situation will fill their voids and/or heal them. Instead, what typically happens, is they take their pain, drama, and baggage from the old person into their new dynamic. And because they didn't properly heal from the first relationship, they end up being way too intense, way too pressuring—way too everything which ends up costing them their new relationship too (because healthy people like to be with other healthy people).
And since healing wasn't a priority before the new thing that they got into, sometimes that person ends up grieving it way more than they logically should. It's not because the new relationship was so impacting that they can't let it go—it's because they now have to deal with the pain of the former relationship, compounded with the rejection of the new one. It's not a case of the new relationship being "such a big deal"; it's more like they've never realized that they have a tendency to partake in "denial transference"—they deny that they are transferring the unresolved emotions of one relationship into another, all because they move too damn fast.
So yeah, if you've only been seeing someone for a few weeks or months, it's over (or heading towards being that way), and you feel like it's about as heart-wrenching as the break-up you had with an ex of a couple of years, ask yourself if you're someone who tends to be a denial transference person or a rebounder. Everyone needs time and space to process the end of one relationship before hopping into another. Otherwise, it's hard to tell if you are properly seeing each situation clearly without merging them together. And emotional mergers can oftentimes turn into big ass accidents with a good amount of wreckage as a direct result.
Did You Have Sex Way Too Soon?
This is perhaps the greatest pun that wasn't intended, but when it comes to deciding when it's too soon to have sex, it literally is different strokes for different folks. Based on your religious upbringing, your personal preference, your take on the purpose of sex, etc.—all of these things play a direct role in why some people engage sooner than others. What I will say is everyone, regardless of their value system and perspective on sexuality, needs to factor in that oxytocin is a natural hormone that is literally one hell of a drug. That's why, more times than not, I'm like, "Yeah…OK" when someone who had sex with an individual, within a month of meeting them, is talking about how "in love" they are.
While it can happen (John Legend and Chrissy Teigen say that is a part of their journey), that is a HUGE GAMBLE. The reason why I say that is oftentimes, what people fail to factor in, is the fact that oxytocin is triggered during kissing, cuddling and orgasms and oxytocin is designed to bond you to the person you have sex with. So "duh" and "of course", you're gonna feel like you're into them after doing-the-do.
A wise person once said that insanity is doing the same thing while expecting a different result. If you're quick to engage in casual sex, without processing that you are setting yourself up to give your heart with your parts, try dating without that level of intimacy for a while. The right guy won't mind, plus it could reveal to you if sex too soon is why you have a hard time getting over (or past) men you really don't know all that well.
Have You Ever Taken a Love Addiction Quiz Before?
A couple of years ago, I wrote "6 Signs You're A Love Addict" for the site. If you're skimming through this article and you'd like a quick definition of what a love addict is, it's basically someone who is so desirous for a relationship that they will overlook red flags, numb themselves to emotional pain and neglect, and/or create chick flicks and fantasies in their mind—all in the effort to feel "loved" by someone else.
Mind you, this isn't as simple as falling for someone and getting your heart broken a couple of times. No, a love addict has a pattern of choosing people who they put on pedestals while they typically receive very little affirming, reciprocity, or even respect in return—and they keep repeating this pattern over and over…and over again, usually until they seek therapy for their addiction.
If you really let what I just said sink in, it probably makes perfect sense how a love addict would be absolutely devastated after only seeing someone for a short period of time. It's because they probably said to themselves, after the first or second date mind you, that he was "the one". Then they started treating him as such, only to realize the pressure of moving too fast too soon sabotaged the connection or worse, caused them to realize that they were in their love story all by themselves, all along.
While it's perfectly normal to be disappointed when something that shows real potential doesn't work out, it's not exactly healthy to be so distraught that you feel like you're going through a divorce or something. If what I just said makes absolutely no sense to you, because that is typically how you feel, whether a relationship is new or not, do yourself a favor and check out LoveAddict.org's 40 questions to ask yourself to see if you are truly a love addict or not. If more than half check out, a therapist, counselor or relationship coach may be what you need in order to find balance, where matters of the heart are concerned. It's nothing to be ashamed of. But it is something to take seriously and get help for. Love addiction can be just as traumatizing as any other addiction. Please don't take it lightly.
Have You Never Learned the Art of Non-Exclusive Dating?
Interestingly enough, it was actually around this time last year when I wrote, "Single-Minded: So, What If You Like Dating But DON'T Desire Marriage?". Since less people are getting married (and having less sex; we'll have to deal with the sex part in another article), it's important to also put on record that, just because people may not want "for better or for worse" for the rest of their lives, with the same person, that doesn't mean they don't desire companionship; it also doesn't mean that they aren't deserving of it.
Accepting this reality—especially if you grew up in the Church or have a family that's always pressuring you to start a family—can be difficult. So difficult that you might have programmed yourself into thinking that if you're not exclusively seeing someone, almost right off the bat, it's a colossal waste of time. Personally, I think that is a super false hot take.
While, on one hand, if you are the type of person who "dates to marry" (meaning, the only purpose that you see in dating is to find the person to jump the broom with), I get why you might not want to get into non-exclusive situations. Yet, on the flip side of that, something that can teach you a lot about who you are and what you really want in a relationship, still while having a good time and meeting new people along the way, is non-exclusive dating. No one is saying you've got to sleep with every guy you go out with (please don't). But since you're single…why not live like you are? Interact with a few folks. Enjoy different kinds of experiences with different types of people. Learn how not to "act married" with folks who aren't anywhere close to being your husband.
Learning the art of just dating is something that can help you to learn how to engage others without putting your entire mind, heart and soul into the mix. It's something that can show you how to not take everything so seriously, to live in the moment and simply have a good time. You're single. You should.
Did He End It for the Same Reasons Other Guys Have?
Yeah. If there's one question that only someone with a huge sense of humility (which is a superpower, by the way) is quick to answer, it's this one. In fact, something that I tell my clients, when we have our first session is, anyone who is quick to say what they need to work on as a person as opposed to running down the list of their partner's flaws—that is someone who is self-aware and has a far greater chance at their relationship healing and succeeding than the one who thinks things would automatically get better, so long as their partner improved and not them (SMDH).
When it comes to our exes, whether we like it or not, we've got to accept that the one thing they all have in common is…well, us. And so sometimes, when a relationship ends, what makes it especially painful is we oftentimes hear the guy say something similar that we've already heard from some other dude (or dudes) before. And when that's the case, the "trauma" isn't so much about "losing" the person as it is realizing that if we don't get a handle on our issues or flaws, we will just keep making the same choices and/or selecting the same kind of person and/or wasting our time.
That's why, it can only benefit you to ask yourself, "Am I hurt because this relationship is over or because I'm sick and tired of hearing about myself, just in different forms of human beings?" If the answer is Column B, the good news is you can take some time to do some real soul-searching and, if need be, habit-breaking. That way, when you are ready to date again, you can be confident that you'll be doing it…differently.
Do You Always Tend to Leap Before You Look?
To thine own self be true. The reason why I write articles like, "The Pros & Cons Of Creating A 'What I Want In A Man' Checklist", "Don't Mistake A Great Sex Partner For A Great Life Partner", "14 Lessons I've Learned From 14 Sex Partners", "Are You Dating The Same Guy Over And Over Again? Maybe." and "These Are The Deal-Breakers You Shouldn't Hesitate To Have In The Bedroom" is because, it's really important to know who you are, what you need, and the kind of relationship that you are looking for, before getting involved, on any level, with another individual. If you don't, it can be really easy to become a relational chameleon—you know, someone who is more concerned with being what someone else wants/desires, to the point where you put yourself on the backburner and, quite possibly, end up losing yourself once the relationship ends. Why? Because you were more concerned with being with somebody than being your authentic self and letting the chips fall where they may.
What I mean by that is, if you make being in a relationship more important than getting the kind of relationship that you truly want, the first guy who wants to be with you, you'll accommodate him more than yourself. As a result, should he leave, you'll feel lost because it was more about having someone than being with the right person. Make sense?
The reason why we look down before jumping into a pool is so we can make sure that the water will "catch" us. Being discerning while you are in the beginning stages of a relationship—which includes asking the questions you really want the answers to, taking your time, not revealing everything about you until he's earned that information—is just as wise.
There's nothing wrong with meeting a guy and hoping that it will work out. But if it's only been a short amount of time, it doesn't and that damn near destroys you—I doubt it has much to do with him. Look within to see why those kinds of situationships are able to rattle you so much and so hard. I promise you that the more you focus on you in those moments, the more you'll realize that it was about you—NOT HIM—all along. And the truly wonderful thing about that is you can always fix/heal/change/love on yourself. Amen? Amen.
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (firstname.lastname@example.org) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
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The Unhealthy 'Unconscious Contracts' We Make With Our Parents (And How To Break Them)
I’m a quotes kind of girl. Unapologetically so. I think I like them so much because they’re a way of packing in a lot of wisdom and insight without giving an entire speech (or writing an entire article). And if there’s one quote that I know I use at least three times a week, it’s “Adulthood is surviving childhood.”
It’s not a good thing either because, basically, what the quote is saying is a lot of us experience so much trauma as children that many of our adult years are actually spent trying to figure out how to survive it all. In fact, I recently read a Guardian article entitled, “Survivors of childhood trauma often grow up believing they are unworthy,” which had a line in it that summarizes a lot of why I do what I do for a living: “Jane now understands that she was conditioned as a child to see toxic relationships as almost normal.” I’m here to reprogram a lot of counterproductive stuff that a lot of us don’t realize we are doing…as best as I possibly can.
And yes, believe it or not, a part of the reason why we get into then tolerate then endure the oftentimes pure suffering of unhealthy relationships with other people — personal and professional, romantic, platonic and familial — is due to something known as unconscious contracts. Boy, when I first learned about unconscious contracts and what they entail, it was like I had a new way of helping to free up so many people from their hamster wheels of dysfunction with other individuals.
Okay, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself. If you already feel drawn to or even triggered by the intro of this article alone, please set aside some time tonight or this weekend to dive into what it means to sign an unconscious contract, how it typically ends up working against you, and what you can do to change it ASAP.
What Is an Unconscious Contract?
I like giving credit where credit's due, and when it comes to the entire concept of unconscious contracts, one of my instructors taught it to me. She said she learned it from a neuroscience educator by the name of Sarah Peyton.
The gist of an "unconscious contract" is it's an agreement that you made, oftentimes in order to get through living with your toxic parent (or parents), that ended up being an unhealthy habit or approach to dealing with other people as you grow and develop into adulthood (you can watch an intro video about it here that is pretty damn enlightening if I do say so myself).
According to Sarah and her findings, a lot of our full dependence on our parents (especially our mother since she's usually the primary caregiver), as far as communication goes, happens around four months of age and, without us even noticing it, we find ourselves figuring out what needs to be done in order to get along with them — even if it's ultimately to our detriment.
An article that dives deeper into all of this is "When Relationships Fall Apart: Conscious and Unconscious Agreements in Relationship." The authors speak on the fact that a conscious contract is an agreement where both parties know the commitment that they are getting into, while an unconscious contract is usually unspoken, although what transpires is one person decides to suppress their thoughts, feelings, and needs in order to make another person happy (or it at least makes getting along with them easier to do).
Now I'll already tell you that if you read this and thought, "Isn't that just compromising?" you just revealed that you are someone who definitely needs to continue on with this piece because, no, suppression is not compromise; suppression is you denying a part of who you are in order to keep the peace — or avoid abuse — and there is nothing compromising about that. It is destructive and definitely the kind of "unconscious contract" that you need to break…immediately if you can.
Before I break down how to do that, let's go a bit deeper into all of this.
How an Unconscious Contract Affected Your Childhood Development
Last fall, Newsweek published an article entitled "Why Adult Children Are Cutting Off Their Parents More Than Ever." Now for the record, no parent is perfect, and since some people like to throw around words like "toxic" as if they are confetti, let's look into some signs that you definitely had a toxic parent as a child/teenager — and that you may still have one now:
- They didn't respect your privacy/boundaries
- They pressured you to agree with them even when you didn't
- They were harder on you than they were on other children (especially outside of the home)
- They found a way to make everything about them
- They wouldn't let you ask questions for clarity (and/or they lashed out when you did)
- They were controlling
- They didn't shield you from trauma (and they oftentimes caused it)
- They used religion to justify their toxic behavior
- They used you as a makeshift therapist/counselor (told you too much information)
- They were verbally and/or emotionally and/or physically and/or sexually abusive
- They were emotionally unpredictable
- They weren't supportive (or you felt like they were competing with you)
- They kept you walking on eggshells
- They deflected from taking accountability for their mistakes (or poor choices)
- They either used guilt or withheld love in order to get their way
If any of this resonated with you, yes, on some level, you are a survivor of a toxic parent — again, not an imperfect parent; more like someone who put you in a position where you dealt with some level of trauma on a consistent basis. And because it's a parent's job to help you to become a holistically healthy individual, when the opposite happens, it can stifle you on some level.
For instance, I grew up with parents who didn't know how to respect a boundary or take accountability if it hit them square in the face. I don't even have the time to get into how deep it all went. For now, I'll just give one example of how it played out in my adult years — recent ones. One parent was so toxic that they really should be in prison. Because they're not, they had the nerve to email me acting like they were doing me some favor by leaving me alone…like I had told them to do for almost two decades now, that they still had moments when they would disrespect the boundary. And where did they get my contact information? From the other parent. WILD. Not you out here enabling my abuser.
Boundaries are limits, and limits (when they are not used to weaponize or manipulate) are put into place to keep us safe. People who don't respect your boundaries are unsafe individuals.
When I think about how my boundaries were constantly being dishonored as I was growing up affected me all through those years. One way is I didn't know how to set healthy boundaries with other people. As a result, I had some of the most toxic female friendships known to man (no joke). Another result is I had a tendency to be controlling to certain other people too. Control is what was modeled to me (suffocatingly so), all the while being told that it was love, and so… that's what I thought it was.
I had written an "unconscious contract" with my parents that allowed them to railroad my space, my body, and my feelings. My needs were basically the "rent" that I had to pay to live in their home and have my basic material needs met. And so, I thought that's what relationships looked like — that I had to go above and beyond while overlooking what I deserved in order to keep people around, OR I had to control the narrative in some way as a way of expressing my "love" to them. And I lived just like this for many years.
How an Unconscious Contract Affects Your Relationships Now
Before the end of the year is out, I'll be finishing my third book. One of the things that it's going to touch on is just how emotionally abusive one dynamic with a certain guy was. I'll give you an example. One time, I helped him put on an event. I got him the venue for free. I made the programs. I set up the slideshow. I ran the slideshow. He didn't pay me a dime. Because the venue was about an hour away and we left unbelievably late (in separate cars), I asked him if he would stay on the phone with me because I was sleepy. He yelled at me, told me that I needed to find someone else, and hung up. And the next day, what did I do? I texted him to make sure that he was okay. AMAZING. He never apologized, even when I brought it up. Instead, he deflected and justified his behavior. Also AMAZING.
In hindsight, I know this is the fallout from unconscious contracts that I had "signed" with my parents, several of them. Something in me thought that if I just loved that man enough, eventually, he would stop mistreating me. Yet, I know him well enough to know that he has his own unconscious contracts that need to be broken, so while I was over-giving, he was over-hustling. He also was being ungrateful and narcissistic (and narcissism is also oftentimes the result of a traumatic childhood; it's a cryptic way of protecting oneself). Yeah, because I still had some "live contracts" going on, folks were able to get away with all kinds of stuff.
I'll give you another example. I have a girlfriend who keeps picking materialistic and shallow women as friends (check out "7 Signs Your Friendship...Actually Isn't One"). Her mother was exactly that way. It's wearing her out now because she feels like all she has in common with her circle is shopping and, inconsequentially, debt. Yet, until I introduced the concept of unconscious contracts to her, she didn't realize that all she really had in common with her mom — and the only time her mom ever really spent quality time with her — was when money was involved (including her mom feeling entitled to her money in present time).
Again, adulthood is surviving childhood. So, take a moment and think about the list that I provided as it relates to whether or not you had a toxic parent. Where the points apply, ponder what your adult relationships look like these days. Where are there patterns? Where are there mirror reflections of the relationship that you had with your mother and/or father and/or caregiver? Where do you see the same kind of unhealthiness…even now?
When we're children, we are innocent and a blank slate. We rely on our parents to show us how we are to see ourselves, along with how we are to live out our lives. So yeah, without some serious inner work (and oftentimes therapy), the contracts that we became a part of as children will continue in our adult world — that is, until we break them.
What Can You Do to Break an Unconscious Contact
I already know — this is some pretty heavy stuff (which is why I implied at the beginning that it's not exactly lunchtime reading). Yet you know how the saying goes, knowledge is power, and if you could relate to any of this, how freeing is it to get to some of the roots, to receive confirmation that you're not crazy (sis, you're not) and then be provided with tips on how to get up out of these, what seem like lifelong binding agreements, that are not serving you (and never really were)?
Okay, so now that you know what an unconscious contract is, how you found yourself being a part of one, and how much damage they ended up doing, what can be done to break the contract? Good question.
A PDF that I was given (via Sarah Peyton's site) is what my instructor shared with me. I have edited it a bit so that it can make a bit more sense (if this is your first time hearing about unconscious contracts):
Step 1. Determine what the contract initially was.
“I (your name), ________________ , solemnly swear to you (parent/caregiver),___________________
to (whatever the self-defeating behavior was) ________________________ in order to protect you/honor you/survive, no matter the cost to myself. “
Step 2. Was the vow heard? (In order to feel validated in this exercise, you should get someone you trust to serve as a representative to act as the parent/caregiver you are speaking to.)
“Parent or caregiver, did you hear this vow?”
“Parent or caregiver, do you like this vow?”
Step 3. Can the vow be released? If so, release it.
If yes, the representative says, “I release you from this vow and I revoke this contract.”
(If the vow cannot be released, like your parent lives with you and they are still doing the behavior, you may want to seek therapy to figure out what boundaries need to be set up, especially if your parent tends to go full gaslight or full denial whenever you bring trauma or their past mistakes up.)
Step 4. Create a blessing to break the unconscious contract.
The representative says, “And instead of this vow, I give you my blessing to...(create the blessing)”
In a perfect world, you could talk to your parent about all of this, and no representative would be needed — yet honestly if that were the case and your parent was truly self-aware, apologetic, and willing to make amends, they would probably approach you first about the harm that they caused. That's why a representative can be helpful. They are symbolic, and while you may never get this kind of release from your actual parent, the validation and affirmation that comes from the exercise may be enough for you to fast-track your way to healing and to feel stronger in saying "no," setting limits and requiring that your needs be met from your parents — and to offer up consequences when that is not the case.
This is an exercise that can reduce fear and stagnation so that you can start to get on with how to have healthier relationships with others moving forward.
The Benefits of Ending Unconscious Contracts…and Creating New Ones
A wise man once said, "My word is my bond." That said, to tell you the truth, the only way that breaking an unconscious contract is going to work is if there is integrity behind your words. You need to identify them, vocally acknowledge them, and have your representative acknowledge you/them. You need to receive the blessing, and then, what I recommend is setting up a new contract — this time between you and yourself.
For instance, if your childhood unconscious contract was all about you walking on eggshells, the new contract needs to say something along the lines of, "I will no longer put my own feelings and needs aside whenever I feel bullied or even dismissed. My voice matters, especially when it comes to what directly affects me, so I will speak up when necessary." Whew. Can you see how empowering that is?
It can't be said enough that there is plenty of data out here to support the fact that at the age we are traumatized, oftentimes we remain right there emotionally until we heal — and healing can include breaking our unconscious contracts. Only, in my opinion, it's not enough to break one…you need to then replace it with another; otherwise, you could find yourself slipping back into what's familiar…even if you know it's not what's better/best for you.
This really is something that I could go on for days about because it’s the kind of topic that is so freeing once people are able to apply it in their own world. For now, I’ll just say that contracts are binding agreements. Yet, the good thing about unconscious contracts is you can let yourself off of the hook, knowing that you, as an adult, now have the space to live as you wish. You don’t have to “go along to get along” in the midst of super crazy, super counterproductive, super toxic ways.
You can write new contracts — ones that will strengthen you, validate you, and give you the kind of life that YOU want to live. Not the one that your toxic parent(s) made you think you had to settle for.
So, what unconscious contracts are you going to break today?
What new ones are you going to put into motion?
There’s no time like the present to start fully living YOUR life.
Amen? Hallelujah. For real.
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