Many romantic relationships – maybe even most romantic relationships – end at some point when the people involved have gotten to know each other better, or when one or both of them have changed. Sometimes the people involved have just come to understand each other better and realize that what they initially thought was attractive about their partner now seems to be boring or worrying.
This disenchantment occurs so frequently that it is commonplace. Most people who successfully marry have had a number of unsuccessful relationships that have ended, usually with someone walking out the door – although looking from the outside it’s hard to tell who is leaving. really who. A person pulls back a bit; the other is offended and retaliates. Either of them may behave in an angry or punitive manner. And, finally, as the couple react to each other’s ambivalence, the relationship ends. One person may have been the one who ultimately broke up, but both are likely to blame. Usually, no one is worse off. The next relationship seems to heal the bad feelings that are left over from the previous one.
Most of the time, the two people in such a failed relationship come to think, all things considered, that they are probably better apart. It is not uncommon for one or the other to see themselves as the injured party but sooner or later come to believe that neither of them was really at fault. It just wasn’t their time. However, there are times when one person is desperate to continue the relationship while the other is determined to end it. And every now and then that desperate person says, “If you leave me, I will kill myself.”
I think anyone who hears this from a lover will have more or less the same answer: he or she will be appalled. If they ever loved each other, neither can be completely indifferent to the other’s well-being, and no one would certainly want to feel responsible for the other’s death. If the purpose of the suicide threat is to make someone hesitate to leave, this is a strategy that may work temporarily. But I think the threat of suicide is just that – a threat – and it will elicit the same negative response as any other type of threat. “I am going to kill myself, and it will be your fault, and you will feel guilty forever!” that is what is implied. Anyone who hears this will be angry. Making someone angry is not going to encourage a feeling of love or a desire to return to a committed relationship.
In addition, the suicidal the person paints an unattractive image of themselves. We are all supposed to feel that our life is worthwhile. If a person doesn’t want us, surely we should know that someone else still could. And our view of ourselves shouldn’t depend exclusively on the good opinion of one person. Threatening suicide makes this individual seem sad and even, in the eyes of some, pathetic. And what’s the point of having a lover who pretends to stick around without really wanting to? On top of that, the threat of violence – violence against anyone, even yourself – is frightening and off-putting. If the couple stay together, will there be any other threats later about another affair? And is this a person likely in the future to view suicide as the consequence of another frustration?
Some rejected lovers indeed commit suicide. It’s rare, but it does happen, so the threat should be taken seriously.
I once saw a patient after her second suicide attempt. She was upset because her husband of 20 years had left her and her three children for another woman. The risk to her life seemed so real to me that I asked her husband to come see me.
He told me that, of course, he didn’t want his wife – who was the mother of his children and with whom he had lived all this time – to commit suicide. But his life was empty and he was determined to leave. This new woman, whom he had met at work, loved him in a way his wife didn’t, and he felt he had a right to be happy. (He mentioned in passing that this new woman was ugly. I wasn’t surprised that a man could fall in love with an “ugly” woman, although I was certainly surprised that he told me so for no apparent reason.) wedding, I realized that he was leaving his wife less than his entire extended family, who all saw him as a professional failure. It is often true that someone who leaves a spouse also leaves others and also leaves behind an unpleasant view of themselves. It is also easy to get carried away by worshiping a new person.
I told him I thought his wife was in danger, and suggested what I thought he should do. Whatever the reason a rejected lover may consider suicide (or homicide, for that matter), this feeling is strongest when it first appears and is likely to fade quickly over time. . (I’ve never seen someone kill themselves for unrequited love six months after a breakup, for example.) I asked this husband to tell his wife that he wasn’t quite sure. that he was going to leave but that he thought it was better for a while to live apart. Although he would admit no doubt to me, he believed that such a remark was not entirely false. I thought it was likely that she would then stay alive long enough to overcome her sense of humiliation and betrayal.
And that’s how it turned out. She went from missing him and mourning him to being vaguely annoyed when he came to visit the children. By the time they met in the judge’s office eight months later, she was anxious get rid of him. Moreover, in the wake of the divorced, she decided to abandon the boring work she had always done and start a song career. The last time I saw her she was meet a Broadway director. Her story is another example of the horror for so many to contemplate death when after some time – and perhaps with treatment – they will find good reasons to want to live.
It is reasonable to wonder why some people express a threat of suicide in such a situation – the situation of being rejected by someone they love – which, while painful for all, is common and does not lead others. to suicidal despair. Why are these people so vulnerable? It is probably because they are, more than others, defined by this special relationship. This is what they are. Without that particular partner they love, their life is meaningless. They think that if only they could make that other person understand how strong they feel, he or she will necessarily come back. In their opinion, there is no other alternative. There is no other way to be than in love with this person. Stalkers express similar feelings.
When I hear such thoughts, I remember the early Christian martyrs or soldiers who faced death tirelessly. The image of themselves is so absorbed by being a Christian – or a soldier – that death is better than a violation of that sense of self that would be necessary if they gave up their faith, or they fled from their comrades like a coward. And so they contemplate death.
So how do I try to help the patients who come to me, some of whom end up in the role of the rejected lover and others are the other person – the man or woman who is determined to leave?
This is the general advice I give to those who find themselves embroiled in such a failed romance. I try to help men and women – usually young men and women – who have been abandoned and who may be suicidal, by helping them find those other parts of themselves that are worthwhile, that a particular person likes them or not at that time. . They were able to live before they met this person and, surely, they will find the life worth living later. No feeling or passion lasts forever. It’s just a matter of time. But I can’t dissuade someone from feeling what they are feeling. So I try to convince them to spend time with their family and friends. If the work is satisfactory, we speak of work. There are things worth doing, and we’re talking about them, including things worth doing in the future. There will be a future. Even if they can’t imagine a different romantic relationship with someone else, I’m talking about that possibility. Deep down, they know there may be someone else someday, they just don’t want to wait. So I try to persuade them. Maybe my concern for what happens to them makes a difference.
I also see, from time to time, the man or the woman who is determined to leave. I try to recommend to them a plan similar to the one I suggested to the man with the ugly groom.
I remember one of these conversations:
A young man: I’m not going to sacrifice my life to keep someone else alive.
Me: Of course not. It wouldn’t work anyway. You cannot keep sacrificing and sacrificing forever. But if somebody pulls out a gun, you don’t walk away from it. A suicide threat is like a gun. If you don’t take the threat seriously, it’s an incentive to use the weapon. Or commit suicide, even if someone was thinking about it. You have to take your girlfriend seriously. Talk to him. Give her time to think about everything. Be nice to her. Maybe you can find the time to see her every now and then, even if you’re serious about someone else. Try to be a friend.
With the thrust of life being as strong as it is, most disappointed lovers overcome their failed affairs and find a purpose in doing something else with other people. They move on to other satisfactions and other worries. And sometimes they tell me years later that they can’t understand what was so important about that other person that without them they considered suicide.
I recently heard of a woman who stayed with her husband for 20 years because he said otherwise he would kill himself. But I don’t believe she was telling the truth. His feelings of hopelessness and feelings of responsibility would have faded long ago. I think she was looking for an excuse not to want to risk a change in her life, which is the usual reason unhappy marriages stay together.
(c) Frédéric Neuman
Follow Dr Neuman’s blog on fredricneumanmd.com/blog