Breakups suck. It's easy to hit rock bottom when you realize the future you were hoping to have with your soul mate is no longer in sight. Maybe it's because they were disloyal to you. Maybe it's because of chemistry that eventually faded. Or maybe it's because you discovered something about them that became a deal breaker. Whatever it is, I think we can all agree that most breakups result in pain, and a lot of it. Interestingly, one study showed that the emotional pain we feel after a breakup can often activate the same area of our brain that's responsible for eliciting physical pain (Eisenberger, 2012). In fact, a recent survey showed that many people would rather endure severe physical pain than relive the emotional pain of a breakup. Is that just the nature of resolution dissolution? Is there any way to make breakups easier to do and less painful?
I’ve listened to multiple, messy breakup stories, both from the break-er and the break-ee after of course experiencing one myself. After analyzing both my own and other people's story of how the breakup came to be, I made an interesting observation that I now believe to be why breakups are so difficult.
In today's day and age, it's commonplace to give our dating partner almost every single part of us: our future, our emotions, our body, our purpose... As a result, we end up investing almost everything we have and everything we are into them. But that means when we lose them, we lose a part of ourselves. I'm proposing this is one of the biggest reasons why breakups are so difficult and why they’re so painful. Yes, we're in love with our 'boo thang', and yes it hurts (a lot!)-- I've been there! But I also believe that it hurts because we've entitled our dating partners with too much of ourselves.
Instead of standing on my soap box talking about what you should and shouldn't do in your relationship, I thought I'd share some boundaries that I've implemented in my own life in order to limit how much I invest in my future relationships:
1. My money; I will financially invest in my forever, not my for-now.
I think it's OK to buy gifts for your dating partner. In fact, coming from a person who's #1 love language is gifts, I believe that it's essential in every relationship! (You better be paying for a few dinners every now and then). But in my last relationship, there were times when I was investing too much money in something that was not yet forever. I first noticed it during the holidays. I spent 3x more on my dating partner during Christmas than I did the rest of my family. THREE times! That’s an investment! The question is NOT if I can afford it (and if you can’t, that should be a no brainer), but rather the idea that I’m investing in someone who is not yet forever. My SO is not forever, but my family is—so shouldn’t I have honored my family with my money just as much as I honored my SO? I want to encourage you-- don't let a person who is not yet committed (reality check: if you're not married, you're not committed!) become your biggest financial priority. Next time you’re putting her Tiffany necklace on credit, paying for his groceries for the second week in a row, or writing a check for her rent, take a step back and ask yourself if you’re investing too much in someone who is not yet forever.
2. My time; what does my partner take precedence over?
If I’m being completely honest, I think this is one of the hardest investments for me to balance. But the reason I list it here is because, in my previous relationship, I gave my for-now partner unnecessary precedence over things and people that needed it more. I sacrificed family time, valuable friendships, and performance in school to talk and spend time with my partner. I remember one day specifically when there was tension between me and my SO and we hadn’t talked for a few days. I so desperately wanted to talk to him, and so when he called me for the first time in days, I treated it as if it was an emergency and left in the middle of my lecture to answer his call. The problem was not that he called in the middle of my lecture, but that I answered. And he wasn’t demanding my attention; I freely gave it to him. The fact of the matter is my relationship shouldn’t be interfering with my attendance to class (honestly because I know school is the investment I make toward the calling that God has given to me-- to be a vet).
Another area of my life that I sacrificed in order to invest time into the relationship was sleep. All too often I wanted to show my partner how much I valued the relationship by being willing to stay up at the wee hours of the night to talk with him. There were far too many nights where I stayed up much later than necessary, and it ended up affecting my performance and ability to focus the next day. Let’s be real—most of the conversations we have with our SO can wait until the next day!
One of the biggest questions I’ve generated and am committed to asking myself in my next relationship is: Linzey, do you spend just as much time with God as you do with your SO? And better yet, do you spend just as much time thinking about God as you do thinking about your SO?
Balancing the time you spend with your dating partner and the time you spend doing your normal routine can be hard. I always just try to remember the things that are forever in my life (my God, my family, my calling, and my support system), and make sure they are prioritized just as much as my partner.
3. My future; if I haven’t made a commitment to my future, then I shouldn’t make a commitment to a relationship.
By nature, I’m a planner. Actually, that’s a lie. I’m more of a control freak. For me, I usually have the next 2 years of my life planned out, as I don’t like leaving the future to the unknown. However, I’m also very guilty to wanting to plan my future around the person I’m dating. I’m usually willing to give up opportunities in career, location, academics, etc. to follow the person I love. And I think that’s very natural, and I don’t blame myself. But what I’ve learned is that if I don’t know where I’m going or where I want to go in the near future, then I shouldn’t start a relationship. For example-- as of right now, I don’t know if I will be working in Sacramento or in Phoenix following graduation, and so I am committed to remaining single until God has shown me where my future will be. For you, maybe it’s waiting until you know where you want to attend college. Or maybe it’s until you get a response from the job offer you’ve been shooting for ever since graduation. Or maybe it’s waiting to move away from home until your mom receives the care she needs to be independent. Regardless, when it comes to relationships, it’s difficult to commit to a forever (marriage…) when your future is unknown.
4. My family and his family; Family comes first until he becomes your forever. There are multiple commitments that I have decided to make to my family before I make to my relationship. Those are…
Time with family is almost always more important than time with your dating partner.
This is relevant to me because, living in another state, I rarely see my family.
The opinion of my partner from my family matters.
I have been in a place where my relationship began to separate me further and further from my family, and it was one of the most toxic things I’ve ever experienced. If anything, I believe my partner should be encouraging my relationships with my family, not damaging them.
I don’t want to meet his family too early and vice versa.
I think it’s easy to underestimate the significance of meeting the family. At least for me, it’s a sign of a serious relationship, and so I don’t want it to occur prematurely. One of the biggest reasons I hesitated to breakup with my partner was because I felt like I had already invested my family into our relationship—he knew my family well, I loved his, etc. etc. In my opinion, formally meeting each other’s family is a big step toward marriage, so I want to wait to meet them until I can clearly see myself marrying them in the near future.
He highly respects his family
One of my biggest pet peeves is people who talk complete trash about their own family members. It simply doesn’t make sense to me that you would dishonor those who love you most (which also makes me think-- if you disrespect the people who raised you, does that not give you permission to disrespect your future wife?). I presumed that if a man doesn’t love and respect his own family, then I will have a hard time loving and respecting him.
5. My honeymoon; one-on-one trips are for marriage.
On Instagram, all the couples that fall under “goals” are more often than not literally taking the following picture: the arm of the guy starts at the bottom of the photo and is seen holding the hand of a tall, tan, skinny girl who, in the other hand, holds a Pina colada matching her pink bikini, all while in the Bahamas depicting white sandy beaches and dolphins jumping through the water in the background. It’s easy to idolize couples who go on luxurious vacations together on what seems like a pre-mature honeymoon. But in my opinion, that’s something that I want to do with my husband, not my boyfriend. And trust me, I by no means have a perfect record. I took numerous road trips and mini getaways in my previous relationship. In fact, I even lied to my parents to make one of them happen. Don't get me wrong--going on trips with my partner did feel magical in the moment, but I believed they would have been even more special if we had spent them as a married couple who was committed to each other forever. When going through a breakup, it’s easy to get caught up in the memories and the emotions attached to the history, further blinding us from what is probably the toxic reality of the relationship.
But you’re still probably asking—why is going on vacation/trips with your SO bad?! And the answer is something that is probably not true for everyone as it’s rooted in my own personal/religious beliefs. But I believe that going on trips with your partner opens the door for deep emotional intimacy and temptation for physical intimacy that I believe should be experienced only after you’re married. And this brings me to my next investment…
6. My body; don’t underestimate the immense investment of sexual intimacy.
As said previously, this is something that will differ from person to person. For me, I know God wants me to restrain from sex until marriage for multiple reasons, and a big one is the blinding effect it can have when it comes to deciphering my own emotions and reading the reality of the relationship. But I also think physical and sexual investment is one of the biggest pieces of yourself that you can give. So by nature, in a breakup, it can thus be a huge contributor to severe emotional pain. I know my views on sexuality are uncommon and seem primitive, but if I'm sharing all the relationship boundaries I implement myself, I couldn't leave this one out.
7. My relationship with God; my partner should not distract my faith, but propel it.
Again, this doesn’t apply to everyone. But for me, the most important thing about my future spouse is that they chase God more than they do anything else, including me. Not only does it remind me to value a man who loves God above anything else, but also is an important reminder to not implement double standards. Am I continuing to grow into the wife God has called me to be? Would I be ready to set the example for my future kids and my future husband? I’m convinced that I will know who my spouse is when I see how they pursue God.
You might have noticed by now there’s an overarching theme. It’s important to realize that when you’re dating, it is not your spouse! It’s not your forever, it’s your for-now! You are not entitled to spend hundreds of dollars on them. You are not entitled to give them your body. You are not entitled to sacrifice the relationships and friendships closest to you. Yes, it’s important to show someone that you love them by making them a priority in your life, but I believe you can still love them and agree on boundaries together. That’s what I believe is the ultimate prevention solution to investing too much of yourself in a relationship—boundaries. These can include only going on group road trips, not talking later than 11pm, having a price limit on birthday gifts, etc. Be sure that you talk about them in the BEGINNING of your relationship, and make sure that you both are keeping each other accountable to keeping them. If you guard your heart with your for-now, not only will it enable you to make better decisions about when to pursue or end the relationship, but it will result in less damage to your future, your finances, your body and soul, your family, and your time.
Eisenberger, Naomi I. "The neural bases of social pain: evidence for shared representations with physical pain." Psychosomatic medicine 74.2 (2012): 126