Written by Brisbane Counselling Centre Psychologist, Natascha Madden.
If you or someone you care about is in a relationship that isn’t the healthiest partnership going around, you’ve probably realised that there isn’t an easy, magical, “right” time to end it.
Some relationships can be repaired. Others cannot. And if not, ending them is always difficult.
But while there’s no “right” time to end a relationship, what you may not realise is that there are scientifically-proven, biological and emotional reasons that you may find it difficult to end a relationship that you know in your “head” is unhealthy.
Actually, a lot of it comes down to one thing: your limbic bond.
Understanding this bond and how it affects you can help you to press ahead in making the right decision – so below, I’ve outlined a few key things you need to know.
Time matters… and it affects your brain
Most people know that the longer a relationship continues, the harder it is to end. In part, this is because of the stronger limbic bond you will have developed.
Many counselling clients come to me to discuss the distress and turmoil they feel in their current relationship. In their rational mind, they can see that their relationship is unhealthy or that it isn’t going to work. They can even acknowledge that if they had a friend in the same situation, they would advise that friend to end the relationship. Yet they’re unable to do this for themselves in their own situation.
So, what’s going on here?
How your limbic bond works
While there are many factors that influence a person’s unwillingness to leave an unhealthy relationship, a key factor is the “limbic bond” – an emotional and biological connection you form with your partner.
The limbic system is linked not only to your physical survival, but also to your emotional wellbeing.
When you first meet a person who sparks your interest as a potential partner, you begin to develop an emotional connection with them. This is the first step in creating a limbic bond. As you continue to feed this connection, you begin to develop the unconscious belief that you cannot survive without this person.
Your limbic bond is further cemented and maintained as you participate in physically intimate activities, such as looking into one another’s eyes, hugging, kissing, and having sex.
Over time, and often quickly, this limbic bond causes you to fantasise about the person and imagine how they’ll feature in your future. You begin to believe this person will make all your dreams come true – perhaps that you’ll get married, have children, and live happily ever after!
When things go wrong
While limbic bonds are important for strengthening healthy relationships (chances are, that’s why we evolved them), they can make it difficult to leave an unhealthy relationship.
Once you come down from the high of falling in love with someone, you can be hit with reality, as life returns to being normal, vanilla, or even boring.
In a healthy relationship, this is a challenge that can be overcome. In fact, in this situation, your limbic bond will help you by giving you added motivation to do this.
But if you discover after coming down from your high that your relationship isn’t healthy, your limbic bond can make it difficult to leave.
For example, you may be afraid of leaving a relationship because you don’t want to be alone. Your limbic bond will eagerly latch on to this idea and reinforce it, which can make it harder to leave when you really need to.
Doubt & confusion
Once you make the decision to end a relationship, your limbic bond may go into overdrive.
It can fill you with doubt, planting the idea that you are making the wrong decision or that you need to try harder. It can make you question what is wrong with you as a person and make you blame yourself for not being able to make the relationship work. It will try to tempt you with the call of familiarity and comfortability, suggesting that the person you’re with is necessary to your safety and security.
These thought processes can make it difficult to end a relationship.
They also explain why so many people break up only to get back together again, even when their relationship remains unhealthy.
However, knowing and understanding that these things have an underlying biological cause can help you to counteract them. Especially if you have someone you trust – someone you can talk to about these thoughts and ideas – who can help you challenge them if necessary.
You CAN overcome your limbic bond
It’s probably the understatement of the century to say that ending a relationship can be a very challenging thing to do.
But talking to someone about your relationship difficulties and seeking professional help can empower you to weaken your limbic bond and see your situation more clearly.
If you’re considering ending a relationship, why not come and speak to us at Brisbane Counselling Centre? We can help you understand your options and discuss strategies that will help you make the right decision for you – and help you stick with it. To learn more, send us a message or give us a call on 3831 4452. We’re here to help