Ending a relationship can leave you feeling empty and alone. Our hearts can feel so hurt that we forget that breaking up with a significant other can ultimately bring out the best in us.
But it also represents an opportunity to rediscover yourself. You spend more time with family and friends, and more important, you spend more time unaccompanied – and grow to like it.
You go to the movies by yourself or with a friend. You pick the DVD you want to see. No more science-fi thrillers your boyfriend made you watch, and certainly, no more chick flicks your girlfriend made you rent.
You can listen to your favorite album – that one he hated. You take a last-minute vacation to visit your friend across the country; you stay out late without "checking in." You're reminded that being single is fun, and that's just about the time when you're ready to fall in love again.
Falling for someone is one of the greatest feelings in the world. You love spending as much time together as possible. In the beginning, you easily spend so much time together that you allow yourself to lag behind in work and chores. Something gets pushed aside when you enter a new relationship, but you shrug it off because you're so happy.
Why is it that every time we enter a new relationship, our opinionated, carefree and adventurous attitudes disappear, left behind with our "single selves"? We are at such risk for dependence that it's scary. Where does it go? Why can't we take it with us?
Setting Yourself Up
When I start spending so much time with a new boyfriend, my natural instinct is to create expectations and rely on him. The more time we spend with each other, the more I realize how nice it is to have support. It would be easy to allow myself to need the support.
Licensed professional counselor Valerie J. Shinbaum, who has specialized in areas such as marital and relationship stressors for almost 15 years, and who co-hosts a radio show titled "Body, Mind and Balance," says that it's healthy to have needs, but not to look to your romantic partner with the expectation that he or she will fulfill them all.
"Whenever you are relying on your romantic partner to meet all of your needs, you are setting yourself up for a problem," she says. "In order to appreciate or even to recognize who that right partner for each of us is, we need to first own the reality that the first right partner each of us has is ourselves!"
Should we be setting time limits? How much time should we allot ourselves to spend with our significant others and still maintain a healthy relationship? Should the amount of time we spend together change as the relationship progresses?
All relationships are different, and the independence levels vary. What makes one couple happy might make another claustrophobic. As much as I like my boyfriend, there are some parts of my life I want to keep to myself.
For instance, time with my friends and family. Of course, I want my boyfriend to meet my friends (and, hopefully, develop their own friendships), but I still want my alone time with them. I would never give up a friend for a boyfriend. If he doesn't like one of my friends, he doesn't have to hang out with him or her. If my boyfriend were to ever ask me to choose between him and a friend, then I know he's not the right guy for me.
And the same goes for him. I'm not going to have any more control over my boyfriend even if he knows I don't like one of his friends. If I were to ask him not to hang around with that friend anymore, I'm only asking for trouble. He is friends with that person for a reason separate from me. He should do what he wants, as long as it doesn't hurt me.
You want your significant other to fix all your problems? That kind of pressure can create dysfunction and emotionally abusive relationships. A bad day at work for me should never become a bad day for my boyfriend.
Of course, I'll want him to listen, empathize and dote a little, but it's not going to make me feel any better if he becomes miserable, too. I'm looking to him to give me the support I need, and when he has a bad day, I'll give him the space he needs.
But how do you find the right balance?
Dr. Cory Bank, Ph.D, who specializes in sports psychology and relationship issues, and Shinbaum's co-host on "Mind, Body and Balance," suggests making a list of the most important aspects in your life to ensure that you don't compromise too much.
"Whether it's exercise, classes, jobs, maintaining religious beliefs or close proximity to your family, choose rationally what you will and won't compromise," he says. "The relationship should grow while maintaining who you are, and there should be a level of congruence.
"If both people really dig each other," he continues, "and want to be around each other 24/7 and it's not distracting from their relationship, that is fine, but it depends on the people."
Balancing a healthy relationship does require some work, but it shouldn't feel difficult.
"When you're with the right person, it feels right because being with him is effortless," says Shinbaum. "The reason it's effortless is because he does the same things for you."