I broke up with my boyfriend six months ago. After two years together, we were fighting all the time and realised we wanted very different things from life and our relationship. So we split by mutual agreement. The trouble is, we keep ending up in bed together. I’m wondering if our separation is a mistake?
Splitting up is always hard. When a break-up simply reflects the fact that the bad bits of the relationship have started to outweigh the good bits, it is, arguably, a little less painful, but it can be a lot more complicated.
If there is no one waiting in the wings for either person, the door is left slightly ajar, so when you feel sad, lonely and reflective, as you are bound to at times, it is all too easy to drink and dial.
Although your present situation feels confusing, research indicates that it is a normal way of decreasing the stress of separation.
In 1994 research by the psychologists Cindy Hazan and Debra Zeifman found that sexual contact with a former partner allowed people who were struggling with a break-up to accept their separation and reduce their anxiety levels.
In 2012 Ashley Mason and David Sbarra of the University of Arizona extended the research of Hazan and Zeifman by exploring psychological adjustment in a group of 137 married men and women who had recently separated.
Some of the people were perfectly happy about the split, but others were struggling to accept their separation.
The study by Mason and Sbarra revealed that for people who were having difficulties, non-sexual contact with an ex amplified distress, whereas sexual contact decreased it.
The researchers explained that seeing a former partner activated the “attachment” system for both groups, but only the people who had sex with their ex were able to get those attachment needs met.
Your relationship feels different now because you are enjoying all the good bits (sex) and giving the bad bits (fighting) a wide berth.
And the sex you are having is more passionate because it is occurring in a vacuum of uncertainty.
Not knowing what it means, or why it is happening, oxygenates the flame and heightens the tension, but if your relationship was tethered again, this fiery passion might disappear.
However, I would urge you to do some serious repair work on the foundations of your relationship before you get back together.
If you don’t try to fix the problems that broke you last time you will end up back at square one.
It is also worth questioning what your motives are for continuing to have sex with your ex.
Remaining sexually involved with a previous partner is a very effective way of sabotaging your capacity to move on, but it also denies him that opportunity too.
At the moment sex is helping you both to cope, but sooner or later one of you is bound to meet someone else — and if it’s not you that meets someone, failing to complete the separation process may begin to look like a really bad decision.
Although everyone warns about rebound relationships, once you are certain that you don’t want to go back, do everything you can to move forwards.
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