Stephen wrote: ↑Sat Nov 17, 2018 2:55 pm
How do you let go of someone you love so much?
Not that I have an answer, but I had to ask myself and seek an answer to that question myself more times than I wish I had. Although so far never for such a long term relationship as your marriage.
What I did was to try to figure out what the question really is to begin with. That is, what is love? And what else is there? This is an ancient question and it only takes a quick view at wikipedia to see that we're still far from finding a sufficiently complete answer. In particular, if you read enough, you'll quickly find that even the terminology is a disaster, and words such as "love", or "intimacy" mean different things depending on the context. However, despite the inherent complexity of the topic, coming up with a sort of working model of interpersonal relationships has helped me attempt to answer questions like yours and figure out what to do when these don't go the way we wanted.
So, bear with me... the next part is rather long, but I promise it has a point and will try to approach an answer to your question. Keep in mind these are my personal views, even if I put them here somewhat formally.
In my view, Love is Universal
such that there are not different forms of love
, but instead different forms of relationships in which love (THE love) expresses or manifests differently.
The three most significant forms of intimate interpersonal relationships
are romantic, filial and friendship. There are several possible decompositions of these intimate interpersonal relationships, but the one that follows is the one I like the most:
Intimate interpersonal relationships are a process (an ongoing dynamic system) which, fundamentally, seek, establishes and maintains a bond
or connection between (two or more) people. Such a connection is fueled by a composition of Love, Intimacy and Reciprocity. And in the special case of romantic relationships, Sexual Desire.
Sexual desire here does not just mean the desire to have intercourse or other forms of actual sex, like sensual kissing, but the desire (i.e. need
) to connect/bind with that other person that results from sexual attraction
, which itself can manifest in any way, from physical to emotional to intelectual. Going head over heals from watching someone recite the alphabet can be an example of sexual desire, even though there is no "sex" involved. At the root of sexual desire is our brain singling out that particular person as a fitting mating partner.
If the fundamental outcome of the "process" that is a relationship is connection, then it clearly requires reciprocity. However, what
is reciprocated by each partner determines the form, or type, of the relationship. For example, if both partners reciprocate sexual desire there is a romantic relationship, but if only one does, then this could be an asymmetric friendship.
In this view, without any form of reciprocation, the relationship either doesn't start or ends.
Intimacy here refers to opening up and sharing parts of our inner world. There is intimacy (as defined) in all three major types of relationships, even though the term usually (miss) refers to sexual intimacy, which itself is sharing our sexual emotions through sensual physical contact or other form of sensual interchange.
In this decomposition, Love here refers to the often called ideal, platonic, or universal love. The fundamental key in my view is that we express or manifest this single
true, universal love in all forms of relationships, from the 3 major ones I just described to the relationship with, say, an object or the environment. I prefer to think of Love as being in itself of one kind, but expressed differently in the different types of relationships, as opposed to think of different types or forms of love.
The reason I prefer to think of love that way is that it allows me to characterize it, regardless of which type of relationship it manifests into, as the Esencial Virtue by which the one who loves actively thrives to maximize the welfare of the one who is loved
. Here love is a verb, not a feeling. And, in and of itself, is unconditional and one-sided. What might be called "feeling of love" is the awareness of the desire to, or commitment to, and execution of the thing which is to love.
To Love, and to be be loved are different, complementary views on the direction of the action of love. And as any other action, we condition the act of loving however we choose. For example, based on whether we are loved back or not.
Conditions to love are orthogonal to the virtue of love, and by definition are constrains we set upon the act of loving. Whether any set of conditions are justified or not is separate. What happens is that from our (perhaps inevitable) self-centered point of view, the act of loving is an act of trade, and we decide to love in terms of its return, such as being loved back. The interplay between "to love" and "to be loved" spans an spectrum that goes from complete selfishness (want to be loved without loving) to complete altruism (love with any need to be loved). As usual, the key lies in the balance: to love AND to be loved back. However, that equilibrium does not need to be reached as a simplistic real-time trade and can be, for example, the result of a long term investment. That is, I can love, which means, I can actively seek the welfare of the one I love, such that in time
, the one I love becomes capable and willing to love me back. Additionally, we usually seek to be loved back
, that is, from the target of our love, but is conceivable and sometimes even practiced to trade outgoing love for incoming love regardless of who we receive it from as the means to maintain the equilibrium.
This equilibrium between "to love" and "being loved back" is present in all three major types of relationships. But, romantic relationships have a critical
additional component: sexual intimacy and desire. It is this component which gives romantic relationships its special depth and unique characteristics. One of them being exclusivity
: while monogamy as a relational strategy can be considered to be a social, cultural and/or regional construct, the exclusivity in mating parters has its root in biology: there is period of time in which the offspring needs both their parents fully committed to each other instead of seeking out a new partner. This is the reason why in the early stages of infatuation we idealice the object of our affection so extremely; that's our brain making sure we don't have eyes for, and run away with, anyone else
to secure the survival of the offspring.
Because of the special characteristics of the biologically-driven sexual component, a romantic relationship is a very complex dynamic system, whose equilibrium is much more difficult to maintain than in any other type of relationship. That is, is much much easier to stay in a faulty filial relationship, or in a friendship, which is why is so, so much common for romantic couples to break up than it is for friends or family to go apart.
We maintain multiple relationships, specially one with our very selves.Thus, there is a dynamic equilibrium within
any given relationship but there is also a separate, but highly related, dynamic equilibrium among
all our relationships (with our very own relationship with ourselves in the center). In this sort of "global" equilibrium among all our relationships, a romantic one carries a special weight due to the biologically-driven exclusivity trait (which in turn translates into monogamy in most cultures).
In any normal intimate relationship, of any type, we Love our partner, meaning we actively thrive to maximize their welfare. And we also expect and seek to be loved back (hence the dynamic equilibrium between loving and being loved). However, in a romantic relationship, its sexual component, rooted on attraction, adds the force of desire
. Because of that, within a romantic relationship, we don't just Love our partner, we want
them as well, often even more so. We have to have them, to align with them, even to sort of merge with them. And this wanting and needing
at all the same as the expectation and even demand for being loved back that is present in all intimate relationships (including a romantic one, but separate from the sexual desire). Have in mind that this sexual desire out of which we "want" our romantic partner, does not mean wanting to have sex, it means the more subtle, involuntary, possibly painful need
of them (which, again, is essentially different from the universal need to love and be loved).
So, now to your question...
Allow me to rephrase it like this: "How do you let go of someone you love and WANT so much"?
If you consider Love to be as I characterized it above: as manifested in the continued action of maximizing welfare, is easy to see that there is actually no conflict between loving and letting go someone. In fact, parents do that all the time as kids grow up and eventually leave the nest.
So, what really gets in the way of letting your (ex) wife go is not loving her but wanting her, which itself is rooted on the biologically-driven sexual desire that is the defining factor in your (romantic) relationship with her.
But then, how do you let go of something you want so badly? I'd have a Nobel price if I knew the answer to this one
What I do is identify instances of the exact same problem everytime it shows up. From letting go of a piece of chocolate to keep my diet, to letting go of the disappointment when something didn't go the way I wanted. Then, exercise letting those easier ones go, so that I can eventually develop the skill
to let go of something really big, like LO for instance, which deep down I still can't, but not because I love her, as in fact I do, which in itself motivates me to stay the hell out of her life so she can be happy with a working and healthy relationship with someone else, but because I want her for me, which is something else entirely.
Stephen wrote: ↑Sat Nov 17, 2018 2:55 pm
I try to stay busy, I try to occupy myself with things to distract my thoughts, but it's not working very well. Everything brings up a memory and it seems to dominate my thinking. I know it's not right and I know it needs to stop, but how? I feel so sad all the time. So alone even when I go out with people. Nothing is making me happy and I feel so stuck.
In my rather long and perhaps complicated first part of the post, I tried to make it as clear and complete as possible the fundamental difference between loving and wanting someone.
Based on what you wrote since your first post, which I followed closely, it seems to me that you WANT her, perhaps even more than how you love her. I know this is harsh, and probably not what you want to hear, but you are stuck, and I believe this is the reason.
How do we give up on what we want?
Unfortunately, we had very specifically evolved to fight, almost obsessively, for what we want. Whatever that is and whatever the reason for wanting it. And though it might look like simple selfishness, we are built up to do whatever it takes to get what we need/want (which is sort of the same), because long ago our very survival depended on it. Consider for example that now your are here suffering for how your (ex)wife run to another men out of her own will, but in the prehistory, you would have to fight almost all other males to keep her. So a part of this a imprinted in your brain.
For whatever reason, I spend my life wanting the girl I can't have. Now I'm married for 20 years, and regardless of the fact that we love each other very very much, I seem to have little to no desire for DW, which means I don't "want" her in the way I always wanted women, and now I find myself wanting someone else instead of DW, and having to let go of that, as I always had to.
While I'm very well aware that in your case, what you want is not just your (ex) wife but the life you built together, and for so many years, I believe that in essence, it's the same problem.
In order to develop the skill of letting go of the things I want but cannot have, while wanting the things I don't seem to want but do have, I've been speeding a lot of time reflecting on the value
What's the value of everything you and your wife built together? is it the "thing" that was built, or is it the experience of having built it? And if it is the experience, aren't experiences always in the past? And can (past) experiences be lost? or they persist forever as the imprint they left?
I'm trying more and more to see life as a process in which we accumulate experiences as opposed to things or relationships
If you could do that, then all "those memories that everything brings up", would not be seen anymore as something you now lost, but as something you once did and made you who you are now.
Finally, and I know this is also something you don't want to hear, but:
Not signing the divorce papers, which reflects that you still won't accept what is happening, because you still WANT her as your romantic
partner and you are not yet willing to let her go, which is totally separate from you still loving her, which you could still do even if she moved on to another romantic relationship, by starting a different relationship with her from now on, is itself a weight that is holding you back and down. The resistance to sign the paper is itself
part of the reason you are sad all the time, nothing makes you happy and staying busy doesn't work.
I'm 100% positive, absolutely sure that the moment you sign those papers a HUGE load is going to instantly come off your back and you will finally start to move on and you won't be completely stuck the way you are now.
Hope that helps Stephen.