Peter’s couple therapy blog

Breaking up with a soul mate

How do people cope when they break up with a soul mate?

A soul mate relationship could be defined as as one of “absolute love” and a “completely perfect match”

These are subjective feelings and beliefs about soul mate that are unique to every individual and not necessarily having the same set of beliefs (nor defined in the same way) for each party to the relationship. That of course is the first place couples come unstuck – discovering two to three years into the relationship that they meant very different things when they swore ‘absolute undying love’ to what was then their idea of a ‘perfect match’.

One of the problems in these sorts of definitions is that love is both a verb and a noun – to love absolutely and an absolute love are not the same. The wish for a soul mate is an ambition, of which the idea of love includes many (ambitions that is). Lovers can be blinded by ambition – desperately wanting to believe they have arrived at the destination of soul mate when in fact every relationship is a journey.

How do you make the gods laugh? Tell them your plans. No matter how much we want to believe it, certain that ours is the blessed and special love of soul mates won’t divert change according to our will nor make NOW the destination. Soul mates is not the promise of perfection (or as close to it as we can get) that we invest in the idea.

The inevitable benefit of a good relationship is that people grow and as they grow, they differentiate. They grow in different directions according to their abilities, temperaments, influences, values, passions and gifts.

The ambition of ‘soul mate’ is often confused with the bonding and simultaneity of identical twins. However, not even identical birth twins are identical and their fights can cut more deeply than a non-twin could ever aim or even imagine.

Their directions of growth will always be different. So the problem is not how compatible ‘soul mates’ are but how they handle their incompatibilities as their growth or when the pace and rhythm of growth differs or where stasis takes one in a different direction.

Another problem deriving from your usual idea of ‘soul mate’ is that of confusing intimacy with emotional fusion. Something like a belief that perfect compatibility means a fusion of selves. A kind of intermingling soup where the two individuals do not create waves by striving for separateness as well as intimacy. For a talk on the history of “soul mate” try this YouTube video

Yet from what we now about intimate relationships – both vulnerability and being able to stand up for yourself (and simultaneously stand up for the other even when the two positions are in direct conflict) is essential to intimacy.

Vulnerability isn’t safe in a climate of fusion – someone has to stand out and hold the other, make a safe harbor for them when they feel alone, scared or hurt. This requires standing aside from entering their own vulnerabilities to allow the other to touch theirs. Soul mates struggle with this as much as couples who don’t define themselves as soul mates. It is so difficult at times to put yourself aside for the other when you are hurting too.

In my experience of working with couples in a long term committed relationship (where they defined and continue to define their partner as soul mates) trouble comes with the discovery that where they have come to is not the destination they had expected. Rather it has turned into a voyage of two souls made of a subtly different combination of the same elements. Both widely and deeply connected at every level of their beings but for one apparently new, critical difference.

Often the difference is brought into relief by events outside their control – typically health/illness, employment/income, differing ways of handling loss of a parent or even of one of their own children. But on closer examination the difference was apparent in small things ignored or discounted at the outset of their soul’s meeting.

Whilst working to help them find a way to harmonize the now incompatible rhythms, melodies or instruments of their relationship orchestra, I find myself repeating that being soul mates guarantees that the growth nurtured by the relationship is far deeper and wider than if they were not soul mates! Therefore, their struggle to find a deep inner permission and give their blessings broadly to the growth occurring in the other, even when it threatens the end of their relationship, is so much more challenging. Yet also potentially more liberating for the giver and the receiver though it does not feel like that at the time. It feels like absolute hell.

Truly the most important attribute of a good and lasting relationship is friendship, fondness and admiration. Those are far easier things to get a handle on than the confusion that I read about soul mates.

Here’s another view:

While marriage is losing much of its public and institutional character, it is gaining popularity as a “soul mate” relationship – a private couple relationship whose main purpose is to promote the psychological well-being and emotional satisfaction of each adult. For example, ninety-four percent of never-married young singles agree with the statement that “when you marry you want your spouse to be your soul mate, first and foremost.” Over eighty percent of all young women, married and single, agree that “it is more important to them to have a husband who can communicate about his deepest feelings than to have a husband who makes a good living.”

There is a good reason for the popularity of soul mate marriage. People are living longer and healthier lives. Women want emotional closeness with their husband. According to one recent study, the high quality time men spend with their wives and the love and affection they show to their wives – is the most crucial determinant of women’s marital satisfaction.

How do people often feel and what kind of things are running through their head when they break up with their soul mate?

These are typical of all bereavements whether loss of child, parent, pet, career, health, home, country etc. A soul mate, however we define that special knowing, is a bond of attachment like all those mentioned.

The process of grieving follows a well worn figure 8 like path – shock/denial/numbness to fear/anger/depression to understanding/acceptance/moving on and back to the beginning to denial, revisiting anger out to acceptance and all places in between and back in and around all over again – mad at yourself that you thought you were through that phase six months ago.

Like the wound sinews of rope, many thoughts travel alongside the unwinding of feelings such as why me, why now; what do I tell friends/family; is it me or is it her/him; maybe if I did this or that it wouldn’t have ended; maybe if we try again it will work; if I did what h/she asked would it make any difference; where are all those extra miles we said we would give to fix anything that went wrong; I feel so betrayed by broken promises, so bereaved of a future we had laid out before us; so angry with her/him/them/the world/g-d/life. SO broken. I will never get over this, never recover, never trust again etc.

How can someone effectively deal/cope with the emotions and issues associated with losing their soul mate? Tips/advice on dealing with sadness, feelings about ‘losing the one’, any steps that need to be taken etc.

Buy the book “How to survive the loss of a love” and keep it by your bedside. Even though you think you don’t want your friends to call, telling them you will be alright, “just leave me alone to lick my wounds” – ask the closest friend and family to call each day and check in.

Get heart food nourishment from music; poetry; writing a journal; modeling/sculpting with clay; paint; dance in the moon; smell the flowers, and know that you will live again and live to love again.

Make sure you have your friend’s phone numbers in your mobile. Drink water with a pinch of unrefined, unbleached sea salt; eat nutritious light meals and slow cooked stews or chicken or veggie soups; avoid stimulants and alcohol.

Rebuild your life in whatever way that feels right to you.

Write a letter to your inner child and hold her/him tight.

It takes as much time as it takes.

Can you offer me some tips/advice on how to start dating again for people who have broken up from a long-term relationship?

Don’t until you are ready and then some.

Choose friendship, fondness and admiration over the promise of a soul mate. A good solid investment with steady returns over an exciting speculative one promising the world.

Be choosy and don’t settle for “better than nothing”.

When you meet someone who feels right GO SLOWLY. Slow down to the pace required to watch a snail move. Remember, all important decisions are made by the body and emotions first and then backed up after the event by the head. So go only as fast as you can do head and heart in synch together.

If your heart is hurt or broken, that pace will be more like a long slow waltz or a lingering tango rather than a game.

/* ]]> */