Why Breaking Up is Hard to Do

I am working with a young woman, 33, beautiful, industrious, business-owner, intelligent….but struggling to break up with a boyfriend.

If allowed, she would spend A LOT of time talking about how thoughtful he can be, how giving he is, etc. Only when pushed however will she talk about how unstable she feels when around him, how unpredictable he is, how he can turn on her and yell at her for 30 minutes straight AND THEN apologize, telling her most of what he just said about her was “not fair”.

They have been together 3 years. They became intimate shortly after they began dating and he moved in within a few months thereafter given his lease ran out (He thought it was foolish for them to both pay rent especially if they were always going to be together as they had been up to that point.  She thought that made sense.). Their relationship was characterized, almost immediately, with fights and arguments followed by intense love making and intimacy. Gradually, he began to leave her and live with friends for weeks/gradually months. They broke up many times….only to start talking after a few weeks and his eventual move back in.

She wants to break up with him…knows she needs to.

She reports a history of dating men similar to her current relationship – frequent fights followed by passionate sex.

I picked her to discuss because her struggle with breaking up demonstrates how important one’s thinking plays in the process of making important decisions.

Based on the way the brain is structured, we are capable of thinking cognitively or emotionally. Cognitive (logical or rational) thinking is located in the Cerebral Cortex, the outer shell of the brain. Emotional thinking originates from the Limbic System, especially the Amygdala, located deep inside the brain.

Typically, we will use a mix of both types of thinking and the type of thinking used is selected automatically based on how we interpret our environment, but we do have the ability to switch from one type of thinking to the other.

Now, let’s look at the situation this young woman is facing and her thinking. She is trying to think through her situation with her emotional brain:

  1. She likes to focus on being “in love” with him…how wonderful it is to make love with him, how he is when he is thoughtful, caring, giving, etc. She is ignoring a larger picture…that he is also unpredictable, hurtful, mean, etc.; realizations that come from thinking logically through the situation.


  1. “If I break up with him, will another man like him (passionate, kind, thoughtful) ever come along.” emotional thinking. And she thinks this despite her long history of picking out guys exactly like him.


  1. “It feels so right”. This is emotional thinking again and FYI, the logic of affairs; “…it feels so right (when I am with my lover), it can’t be wrong”!


  1. “If I break up with him, I will never find another man.”…ignoring the fact that she has a lot of offer someone else and the fact that she has had a long string of boyfriend thus far!


  1. “It would all be ok if he just wouldn’t get so mad”….but he does, repeatedly, historically!


More later.