Overcoming The Breakup Blindside

The pain of rejection in a romantic relationship is never as painful as when it comes as a surprise. One minute you believe everything is fine, in the next you are blindsided.

As Mari put it: "I was excited to go out to dinner with my boyfriend, I chose a nice outfit and looked forward to a romantic evening. Over dessert he told me the relationship is not working and he is breaking up with me. I was like really? What is this, my last supper before the end? I felt physically ill."

If you have been blindsided by your partner, you know the feelings all too well. Heart leaps from your chest, brain freezes, skin sweats; you have no idea how to respond or how to take in this new reality. And the worse part is ahead--when you beat yourself up, wondering how it is you could not have known that your partner was so unhappy. How could you miss that the one you loved most was spending time calculating how to break it off?

But keep in mind, the blindsider sets the stage for you to think everything is fine and then, pushes you off a cliff. As Mike put it: "I was working on fixing my girlfriend's front porch. I had just placed the last piece of wood and painted it and then she told me that we were through. Like could you have told me before the porch?"

The partner who is blindsided is left feeling used, confused and betrayed. Most breakups come after a series of conversations. With the blindside, one stunned person is left suddenly alone in trying to figure out what happened. As I discuss in my workbook Breaking Up and Divorce 5 Steps, making your own sort of closure after a divorce or breakup accelerates the letting go and getting better process. Consider these four points as you come to terms with your breakup blindside:

1. Did your partner ever talk about the negative aspects of your relationship? Healthy relationships have ups and downs. It's important every now and again to be able to openly discuss the pitfalls in your relationship. It's equally important to recognize there will always be some frustration and disillusionment. Working through these conflicts builds up intimacy in the relationship and also helps you to know exactly where you stand with your partner. Blindsiders tend to avoid negative emotion. If they feel you getting upset, they work to remove the upset immediately with little to no verbal problem solving or communication. In addition, maybe you get a hint every now again if they are displeased with you, but rarely do they ever directly communicate such displeasure. As a result you may carry a lingering sense of insecurity in the relationship and sometimes wonder if everything is okay. You don't bring this topic up with your partner because you know it won't go anywhere.

2. Is your blindsider a people pleaser in general? Blindsiders typically are compulsive people pleasers. They don't want anyone to be upset with them or critical of them. If they are upset, they internalize their feelings and avoid you. They never bring conflict to the table and work hard to get along and be pleasant. The negative side of this is blindsiders never know how they really feel about stuff and suppress their true emotions. Eventually, like a pressure cooker, their upset piles up and becomes overwhelming. By the time they realize they are unhappy, they leave. They don't give you a chance to work on things or to respond to their upset, because they have no experience of successfully working through conflict. Take an objective look at how your partner deals with conflict in his/her life. Do they ever argue with their mother, father, brother, sister, friend(s)? Can they directly disagree with people or say "no" when they don't want to do something? Or, do they tend to avoid conflict at all costs?

3. Do you avoid your emotions? Were you taking your own feelings seriously and letting yourself say whatever needed to be said or did you also repress and push away upset? The one who is left blindsided often has difficulty cueing into the important data in a relationship. Start working on becoming more in touch with your emotions--how do you feel in the presence of certain people, what types of personalities light you up and what types bring you down? Start making a special effort to directly communicate your emotions to people. Feelings are data; they measure the temperature of life and our relationships. If you consistently turn down the heat on your feelings, then you won't really know what is going on in your relationships. The more self-aware you are, the easier it will be to understand the motives of others.

4. Were there problems that you blinked away? Once and for all take a cold look at the facts of the relationship. There is no way it was all peaches and cream if you are being left in this moment of blindsided surprise. Take your partner off of the pedestal and also take yourself off. Write down what was happening between the two of you that no one dared to speak of. Were you upset more times than you care to remember, was your partner demonstrating upset non-verbally? Were there conflicts that you both ignored or ruts of behavior and routine that you just couldn't escape? Every break up and divorce has a story and as you force yourself to look at a more complete version of yours, the ground is laid for a better experience the next time you grow close to someone.