Stacey Chillemi: Hi Dr. Foster! Can you start by telling us a little about your book?
Dr. Kathryn Foster: I wrote the book to help women go through a breakup and know they can be happy or being single until they couple again. The book is supposed to be like a having a psychologist in your ear during this kind of difficulty, to help you find yourself again.
Stacey Chillemi: You say that in the beginning of a relationship, the two people who fall hopelessly in love are usually not the same two people in years to come. What are some of the feelings and “rom-com” or romantic comedy myths that couples tend to have in this so-called “honeymoon” phase of the relationship?
Dr. Kathryn Foster: First, Mother Nature imbues new lovers with a hormonal cocktail that makes us high when we’re around our partner, low and obsessed about them when we’re not, and the cocktail makes guys more like women for many months: that is, he’s imbued with the mostly female hormone: Oxytocin, which makes him more talkable, more relational, more giving. But after 8-12 months, we all change. Men and women return to what’s more natural: men to the rewards of work, he then may not be as attentive, romantic, or relational as she’d hoped. Whereas, being relational is her brain’s natural orientation.
Stacey Chillemi: How do we evolve as time goes on as individuals and in our relationships?
Dr. Kathryn Foster: The entire human journey is about releasing dependency. From learning to walk on your own to go off to college, we grow into greater independence. But many stops once married, as though marriage provides the ultimate safe haven and a reprieve. It’s a socially accepted reliance on one another–“belong” “to” or “with” a partner; you are not someone’s “better half.” The old myth is that every person needs a romantic partner to “complete” her or him. Or, are you complete and whole in and of yourself?
Further, people used to marry with the assumption that they will take care of each other. This fundamental basis for the relationship is weakening. It assumes we are deficient in some way that requires being taken care of. Even if all the couple means is that they will take care of each other emotionally (and women usually get the raw end of that deal) the supposition is that people can’t be emotionally autonomous. Indeed, emotional autonomy is possible and is what psychotherapists teach.
Today, young people stay single longer and more people have periods of singleness between coupling, and that means becoming more self-actualized, learning how to navigate life alone, and tasting freedom through the course of making more life decisions on your own. The average woman is more self-possessed than her grandmother and less willing to grant a guy difference which is reflected in the statistic saying 2/3 of div. is initiated by women.
Let’s look at relationships for a moment. Women who marry before age 25 are four times more likely to get divorced and marrying after 30 makes women’s marriages even more likely to last. The stats for men marrying later are almost as good. The chance is cut by 30 percent if the person earns more than $50,000. (I don’t think that’s just about money, but about the identity & self-pride that comes with having a career.) The statistics support the idea that knowing yourself better through maturation, education, and career develops the sense of identity that allows a relationship to flourish. People are bringing are a stronger sense of self into romance. This self-possession also allows you to feel comfortable single.
Stacey Chillemi: What are some of the common problems and differences that come up, which can create distance in a relationship over time?
Dr. Kathryn Foster: Another problem you talk about, which changes relationships is those “unspoken promises.” What do you mean by that? p 34 opposites attract: Especially in first unions, opposites attract. This kind of relationship is difficult to sustain over a long period and requires a growing tolerance.
First unions typically include starting a family. The attraction has to do with Nature’s putting together a wide genetic pool from which to create healthy children. While having too small a gene pool (i.e., with incest or relatives marrying) can create children with disabilities, so having a wide and richly varied gene pool tends to provide a foundation for creating healthy babies. Susan’s husband is kind of ADD and misplaced things and forgot details. Susan herself is on the obsessive end and misplaced or forgot nothing. Stephanie is a gentle artistic kind who needs lots of alone time. She married a hard-hitting business guy who loved sports and needed very little alone time.
These differences can create passion. We feel that, all at once, by coming together with a person of opposite qualities, we vicariously possess those qualities too. But a fireworks attraction can fizzle to plain old irritation as we get close to the flip side of the person’s attractive characteristics. The fun, spontaneous person is also impetuous with money, the high achieving person is no fun, the extrovert wastes time in shallow relationships, the deep introvert never talks; the adventuresome person has few reflective, deep thoughts to share, while the careful person stubbornly, stonily bores us. The characteristics that drew us in hold us there for months or years and then irritate the life out of us.
Later in life, however, we tend to make a different choice. We choose a partner who is complementary, not opposite.
Second, our minds are exposed to more, bringing opportunity, rapid change, and growth leaps. The expectations of marriage were easier to sustain when we were isolated down on the farm when life revolved around family functions, the grocery store, and church. Now, we travel—actually or via the internet, experiencing life-changing new thoughts, religions, and ways of healing, meeting people from all over the world, seeing how the rest of the world lives, experiencing fulfillment outside romance. We may live a portion of our lives overseas.
Currently, those who retire have changed careers—not just jobs, three times in their working lifetime. The number will probably change from 3 to 5 to 7, meaning a person will go back into intensive training several times and take on the new identity of a new career. All in all, we are coming to think of ourselves as more liquid and transformable. Though it is possible for a mate to go with us through these life-renovations, it is often unlikely. The relationship may have begun with the unspoken agreement that no changes would be made. “I want you to be the same person I married,” is the silent understanding. But it doesn’t resonate with the growth of today’s individual.
Third, women are empowered emotionally and financially. Women are no longer willing to sacrifice their goals so a man can have his, women surge forward. Many men still envision being top dog and the primary focus of the relationship. But empowered with education, more experiences, and money, the average woman is more self-possessed than her grandmother and less willing to grant him deference.
Stacey Chillemi: In your book, “When Your Relationship Changes, A Woman’s Journey,” you describe how many women seek a “better than the best” type of emotional bonding but that their mate may likely not be able to provide this. Why do we do this and what is wrong with seeking this type of bonding?
Dr. Kathryn Foster: A woman needs to understand men. I cover that in depth in The Naked Truth About Men & Romance. So briefly, men’s testosterone is 10-30 times higher than a women’s. Testosterone lowers social skill and tunes men into their own goals, creating a push to achieve. Women, higher in oxytocin, are more other-centered—Mother Nature had to make sure of that so she would stay tuned into her kids. Sex equals emotional closeness for most men, whereas dialogue and cooperation make women feel close. At least 55% of women can be described as more tender-hearted, responsive, nurturing, and more likely to show that they “get” someone using nonverbal communication. Since girls grow up in close relationships with other girls, they come to expect emotional intimacy that centers on dialogue and reading each other. Most men, however, are systemizers, meaning that they detach to analyze a system, and they also detach on and off from relationships. So you have a woman befuddled when a guy doesn’t text for five days after they’ve really hit it off. That’s natural for me but not her.
Stacey Chillemi: There is a strange phenomenon you talk about that, when a relationship dies, the tendency in our society is to see this as a shameful failure. How can we stop villainizing the process of divorce or breakups?
Dr. Kathryn Foster: On p 31: Regarding divorce, we again turn to current hunter-gatherer societies to make educated guesses about how our ancestors once lived. This tells us how our own nervous systems developed. Our ancestral parents choose their child’s first mate but did not insist the betrothal sustain itself, and most did not. Divorcees went on to second and third mates. Surprised? Sounds like today. Our ancestors did not marry for life. In every way—socially, economically, sexually, women in these early societies were powerful and not too dependent to leave.
In our complex world, Young couples come together, in part, to facilitate individuation in each other, so that, one day, they can express fuller autonomy. Relationships serve as a holding place in which to further grow up after parents have done their part. Society mourns divorce, even calling it a failure when it often means the purpose of the union has been successfully fulfilled. It will be a great day when partners learn to part in kindness, celebrating the memories, and wishing one another further growth and joy. But first, we have to see divorce differently.
The number of human variables operating between two grown people in contemporary life is too great to predict how long their relationship will last. For many, “Till death do us part” is for a slower, more predictable era. Relationships run their course and come to a natural stopping point, and it’s not about someone being at fault or not trying. The couple understands, or one of them does, that they can no longer grow together. The vibrancy and health of the relationship simply have a time limit. If we understood this, we could part as friends, and call divorce a redefinition of the relationship. Our current expectation that couplings last till death is unreasonable for many couples and sets us up for a needless sense of failure. Rather than “till death do us part” we may need to say “until the death of the relationship parts us.”
Stacey Chillemi: In your book, “When Your Relationship Changes,” You talk about “love addicts.” What do you mean by this, and how can we get out of this addictive cycle so we don’t keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again in relationships?
Dr. Kathryn Foster: Though you’d never be a cocaine addict, you might choose romance as your substance of choice. New romances kick in a love cocktail that fires the brain much like cocaine does. Deep in our oldest “reptilian” brain, lays a reward system attuning us to pleasure, be it romance, chocolate, alcohol, or shopping. It fuels an obsession for your lover. Oxytocin opens you to take a chance with a stranger, responding to his compliments, his cologne, and his touch. Dopamine then fuels your wanting more and more. At about the 12-18 month mark, you may start feeling like breaking up. (Of course, you may have learned enough about the person to realize the relationship can’t sustain itself.) The chemicals are wearing off. You may then go in search of a new relationship to refresh your chemical charge.
To get out, realize that Addiction is looking outside yourself for something to cling to or be dependent on to equalize your mood. All addiction therapies begin with stopping your access to the addictive substance. Then, solitude allows you to turn within, (a) find that you can like yourself, (b) be present for (or sit with and feel) your compulsions rather than obeying them, (c) and ride out your anxieties rather than medicating them with a romance. On the other end are freedom and the pride of self-reliance.
Lastly, you begin seeking relationships, not based on hot romance and sex, but on genuine sharing. You seek to know another while maintaining the balance of tuning into and responding to your own non-romance needs. You spread out your relational needs so that you seek female friends and relationships with the old and young and those who are different from you. This widening of your relational interests brings a deeper and often more long-lasting fulfillment.
Stacey Chillemi: When we find ourselves alone in the aftermath of an ended relationship, what are some of the steps that we can take to heal from the pain and move on with our lives?
Dr. Kathryn Foster: p 84 lst, Learn or heighten self-care: Often a relationship is about compromising, adapting to the other, putting yourself aside, and reshaping yourself so you fit with that person. Women are particularly likely to be the ones making the lion share of these concessions. p 74: You may nourish yourself by lingering lazily in oiled bathwater, walk mindfully among trees, travel based on your interests, read what you desire, invent, cook exotic fare, begin a butterfly garden, try out a career, paint or salsa. You may need to spread your wings and take risks, jumping out of airplanes or starting a new business. You’ve lost yourself and you’re on a voyage of self-discovery.
Many women find that caretaking a husband has left them exhausted. As one lady, a caretaker by nature, said, “I’m beaten down, exhausted from taking care of him emotionally. I feel so much better on my own: I can finally have a life. I realized I could be putting my energy into my work or just spending time the way I want to.
Stacey Chillemi: You talk about the importance of us to go deep inside ourselves to know what we need in our relationships before we jump into another partnership. How do we go about doing this?
Dr. Kathryn Foster: Find your genuine self before your date. Humans are prone to go in and out of being genuine. Being alone can help you maintain your “true you.” Alone, you can learn, by listening to and studying your inner reaction, to embrace what resonates within and reject what doesn’t. Alone, you don’t surrender your power to anyone.
Solitude is a pause, allowing self-review and self-creation. You deepen your understanding of yourself, expand your consciousness, unhindered by the voice of another living in your space. In addition, you more actively create your own life—what you want it to be. You have more time and space to explore your interests. You hear your own thoughts more clearly. To make decisions alone is different than making them collaboratively: your ownership is deeper.
Solitude can be a detoxification interlude, a time to disentangle yourself from less-than-ideal habits, automatic strategies, or well-practiced reactions. You can cleanse yourself of the subtle ways in which you have hidden from your own truth. Ask yourself daring questions: am I unhappy about the role I’m supposed to play in relationships? Do I have invisible interests needing to be unleashed? Is culture organized in a way that cuts me off? Is there something I need to say?
It provides an opportunity to wake up and begin living consciously–to master life rather than living in a hassled, harried state. You can find the time to pursue a spiritual practice that is life-giving. You can plant a garden and consciously, joyously feel the dirt and relish the fresh food.
Solitude grants you a chance to create a wider context for your life, to explore studies, relationships, countries, your genealogy, hobbies, talents, interests. Many fulfill only a small part of themselves because their romantic relationships take so much energy, but, alone, you can experience the expanded you. Solitude can help you commit to the principle of never giving your own care away to someone else.
Genuineness is one of the most beautiful of human characteristics, making a person highly attractive. It cannot be copied because it reflects the true perceptions and feelings of a person void of calculated statements, facades and pretends feelings. Genuineness is about true meanings, unmasked ways of being, and speaking one’s inner experience. The goal is to be true to yourself at your deepest, most profound level of being.
Stacey Chillemi: What are some of the other ways in which we can discover serenity and feel good about our new lives when our relationship changes?
Dr. Kathryn Foster: Solitude serves many purposes. You may need to truly and deeply relax after years of giving yourself to others or time alone to rediscover your own interests and preferred living style. In addition, you may need a reprieve from the world that has become too painful. Solitude provides these comforts and more. It is a time to reboot, to go beyond the why-isn’t-anyone-texting-me mentality. Disengaged from our hyper-connected culture, you regenerate your interest and curiosity about life, realigning your sense of balance. Leaving your other-centeredness behind, you seek Self Awareness.
Focus on having an open heart to others, developing a deep inner connection, and, from there, finding what brings you joy. Live beyond the dogma that you must be in a relationship. Practice small kindnesses to all people. That is, give non-romantic relationships greater significance. Whether you’re in or out of a relationship, say to yourself, “I am sufficient to stand alone. I see an inner picture of myself and she is doing great.
Stacey Chillemi: How can we re-build our identity after a breakup, and let go of the bitterness we feel towards that ex?
Dr. Kathryn Foster: Being silent and still is the speedway to finding your single self again. Instead of running from the sense of betrayal or rejection you feel do the opposite: sit with it, cry, and journal, letting your life experiences carve out your soul. Without judging your former partner, be present for the pain, knowing there were gross misunderstandings and unfairness’s in the relationship. Shun blame, yet feel your feelings fully. Know that the past is an ushering in of something new and good. You will birth a new path.
Research tells us that most people grapple long and hard before leaving a relationship, maybe 4-7 years, so it’s most probably the breakup was a long time in the making & given consideration. If you’re the person who was left, know that a person leaving has more to do with them—their perceived needs, their perspectives, than with you. It doesn’t matter. You are here.
At the top of the recovery, agenda is adapting to being alone. Your nervous system acclimated to being with someone, sleeping, and eating and conversing with them regularly. On a cellular level, you were accustomed to his presence and now it is gone. But we humans are, above all, adaptable. Be cognizant and appreciative of the changes going on. Grant yourself some slack.
Intermittently, celebrate all the good. The happy moments, the children born, the homes purchased, the careers that developed, the music shared, the support you once gave each other, and the people that flowed in and out of your lives together. These memories belong to you forever. Treasure them. The memories are still yours.
And, remember, you are about to begin a new life. As long as you remain in entrenched routines and habits, your potentialities remain dormant. We can get stuck in patterns of living and awakened to interests lying buried. When I suggested using a humorous approach to dealing with people at work, my client said, “That’s just not me.”
I understood what he meant: he hasn’t done that before and doesn’t feel comfortable trying it. But I said, “it’s part of the dormant you.” We are all filled with potentialities, but the ones that have, so far, been called forth, are the ones we are comfortable with. I remember the first time, as a middle-aged person, that I went dancing. My partner felt comfortable on the dance floor. I began dancing—hesitantly– and tried it again after a Crown and diet coke. During this time I discovered something: I loved to dance. I began dancing five hours every Saturday night and practicing another four. If no one had ever pulled me onto a dance floor, I never would have known.
If you choose to live alone, you join 106 million American adults. In September of 2010, the Census Bureau reported that, for the fifth year, singles headed up the majority of the households. You’re not alone or doing something unusual.
Stacey Chillemi: You have a great quote in your book, which says, “To fail to accept our own aloneness is to render ourselves needy.” What do you mean by that?
Dr. Kathryn Foster: Partnering is for those who choose to do their growth, for however long, through a relationship. Growth will be no different, though, in that it will still at times be hard and at times feel lonely. Growth is mostly an alone experience in that no one else lives in your head or your body. Even when married, one still does her growth experiences essentially alone. When your mother is dying, you feel the pain alone. When you yourself are sick, you alone feel it. At the time, you experience career difficulties or fear genetic health issues, he may be beside you, he may listen, but you feel it alone. To fail to accept our essential aloneness is to render ourselves needy.
A study from a professor Bookwala shows that people who have never married and are 40 years old and older show several characteristics that contribute to their mental health: high self-sufficiency, personal mastery, and agency, that is, traits that are opposite of being needy. Merely being single and in charge of yourself may fuel these traits.
Stacey Chillemi: How can people find out more about you, and get your book “When Your Relationship Changes, “along with your other books, “What Women Want…Really,” “The Naked Truth About Men” and others?
Official Website: Dr. Katheryn Foster
Find Dr. Foster’s articles on your tango