Why Did They End the Relationship – Free Ebook

They’ve gone – and what we need most of
all to understand is why? What is striking

is that, despite what friends and well-meaning
acquaintances tell us, we already know. It

is us. We firmly and naturally assume that
the explanation is primarily to do with us

and our miserable failings. They’ve gone
because we weren’t good enough. They got

to know us better than almost anyone has ever
done – and then, inevitably, felt horrified

by the truth. It’s not the relationship
that failed: we failed. But – counterintuitively

– what seems most obvious to us in our hearts
might not actually be true in reality. There

is a famous experiment in the history of psychology
which pinpoints our tendency to project: that

is, to read decisive, clear explanations drawn
from our minds into what are in fact ambiguous

situations in the world. The Thematic Apperception
test, as it’s technically known, was developed

in the 1930s by the American psychologist
Henry Murray. It presents us with images of

people – and asks us to say what’s going
on in them.People tend to come to quite specific

conclusions. For example:
She’d fed up with him; he’s weak and a

bit boring and she’s just told him that
their relationship isn’t working and that

she’s leaving.
He’s just told her they have to break up

and the reason has something to do with their
sex lives. He’s not as fulfilled as he wants

to be.
It seems to be about his parents. She wants

him to take more distance from them. If he
doesn’t, she can’t be expected to stay

around forever…
The power of the experiment derives from the

fact that the image has, by design, no precise
or definite significance: they’re just actors

asked to assume certain poses. The stories
and the meanings come from us. This is often

exactly what happens around our own heartbreaks.
We may never actually know precisely why the

other person left us. That shouldn’t be
surprising. However well we know someone,

they are never fully transparent to us. What
they say may only be a part of what’s really

in their minds. Their deeper motives will
remain obscure – perhaps even to them. We’re

presented with a fact – they’ve left us
– and onto that we project a meaning. But

the meaning we give to that fact comes, in
large part, from us. Holding onto the idea

that we don’t actually know something is
an underused and powerful skill. At one of

the foundational moment of philosophy, in
ancient Athens, Socrates argued that a huge

component of wisdom lies in our capacity to
accept our ignorance in certain situations:

‘the wise are those who know that they don’t
know’. This recognition of not-knowing,

and the reminder of our tendency to project,
may be helpful in easing us away form the

more catastrophic and self-incriminating interpretations
of a break up. The lover who furiously told

us they never wanted to see us again may – in
the hidden recesses of their soul – have

been actually thinking: ‘I’m so sad this
didn’t work out; I wish I could find a way

to make this work; you are so lovely in many
ways, but there’s something desperate in

me that’s turning away from your offer of
love’. The person who coldly texts us: ‘that‘s

it, I’m out’ may behind the scenes be
weeping at their own sense of loss and failure

rather than (as we imagine) gleefully celebrating
the end of their over-extended encounter with

us. The person who says: ‘I wish this could
work but just for now I’ve got to concentrate

on my career’ might actually be quite sincere
rather than (as we might darkly suppose) putting

a polite cover over their contempt for us.
The acceptance of ambiguity is liberating:

we’re free to recognise that the ending
wasn’t necessarily all our fault; that there

may have been forces at work other than our
own inadequacy. We’re still very sad, but

the target of our misery is a little more
bearable: we can focus on the deep, sorrowful

strangeness of love and loss rather than suffering
an extended excoriating confrontation with

our own inadequacies.

To learn more about love try our set of cards that help answer that essential question; “Who should I be with?”

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