Dr. Wall cautions people who are going through tough relational times to stay away from starting new relationships. Oftentimes a traumatic event brings people together romantically, but this is not the stuff of long-term marital success.
You remember the scene in the movie Speed, where Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock are in this bus that some terrorist crazy person had rigged with a bomb to go off whenever the bus dropped below a certain speed? There was sexual tension between these two stars during the earlier scenes in the movie and we are led to believe by the last scene in the movie that they became true lovers. The trauma of experiencing near death and then surviving it with each other brought them emotionally together. It was awesome.
What you may not have noticed is that in Speed II Sandra Bullock is again the star, but Keanu Reeves is nowhere to be seen. They broke up, as yours truly could have predicted, even in fictional movie land. It wouldn’t be realistic at all if they were still together. The trauma brought them together in the first movie. By the second movie, those traumatic feelings would have waned. One or both would have healed and moved on. Trauma is not the makings of a strong relationship. It’s understandable why it happens. The shared emotional intensity and commonality gets misinterpreted as love, because it feels so awesome.
In case you haven’t noticed by now, love is not a feeling. It is something you DO. An ACT. A CHOICE.
Love is patient.
Love is kind.
Love does not seek it’s own.
Love keeps no record of wrongs.
That’s just a few phrases from the most famous of poems about love in the entire world (1 Corinthians 13). Nothing about feelings here, folks. When we let our fickle feelings be our guide instead of wisdom, we end up in trouble.
This problem comes in two flavors: Dating too soon after a divorce or relationship breakup (after living together without marriage) or the force behind many affairs. The fancy term for all this emotional involvement, when a person is an absolute emotional wreck, is called a “trauma bond.”
The example from the Speed movie above is a trauma bond. Other examples are war, terrorist attacks, victims of crime, terrible accidents or natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes. I had a number of affair cases after Hurricane Katrina among relief workers. I’ve also had many affair cases from soldiers returning from war or when their spouses are left alone Stateside. One of the most traumatic of all experiences is going through a divorce or thinking that divorce might be imminent because of marital problems. Neither scenario turns out very well.
Enter the relationship of your dreams. He is so understanding. He knows exactly how you feel! You are not alone! The reason he is so understanding is because this new person you are giving your heart to has gone through the same thing at the same time as you or went through it very recently and the feelings for him are still raw. People going through traumatic events have very powerful feelings. It is easy for them to think that they are the only ones in the entire universe who have ever felt so alone, or hopeless or scared or hurt or violated.
Lo and behold, here comes this person from down the hall or across the cubicles or at the gym or in the bar who UNDERSTANDS YOU!!!!! I can’t believe it. Thank you, Lord (Careful. This prayer is one of those that only reaches the ceiling.). They compare notes. You felt this? Oh, man, so did I! You are so compassionate. You are so understanding. It feels like I have discovered my soul mate, someone who knows my inner thoughts. I’ve never been this real with anyone.
And then they get together. And then they are sexual. And then their spouses find out and a divorce or two ensues. Or they are already divorced and found each other in their pain and comfort each other. Oh, how wonderful love is!
And then one or both heal as most people do. And they don’t need no stinkin’ band aid anymore. They weren’t really meant to be together. They were too very needy people sucking blood out of each other until there was nothing left. Negative feelings for the enemy (both their ex’s) aren’t enough kindling to keep a fire burning. You can only keep a relationship built on resentment for a common enemy so long.
One summer, years ago, I helped run a youth camp at Trout Lake Camp in northern Minnesota for a week. It was a junior high camp. Hundreds of youth were coming from all over Minnesota. They arrived in the morning to meet their counselors and get set up in their cabins. The first all-camp activity was lunch. By 1 o’clock that afternoon, all the rough kids, who did drugs, knew who each other was! I kid you not. Just like that, they started hanging out with each other. It was the weirdest thing. How did they figure that out? How they carried themselves? Their dress? Do they give off a certain scent only known to kindred hearts?
I have a theory, that if two people are going through a divorce or very difficult marital issues, and they are in the same office or hospital or school, out of hundred’s of other people, these two very hurting people will somehow find each other and will compare notes and, what do you know, they discover they are not alone and PRESTO. Instant relationship. Instant camaraderie. Instant, “I am not alone.” It feels great. Someone listens to me. Someone understands me. Someone believes in me. Someone supports me. Someone accepts me. It is so awesome. The quickly rush into a new relationship, only to discover that this one is worse than the first! YIKES! Now we’ve got two divorces on our hands (or more).
PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE! If you are going through difficult relationship crap, either at home now, or since a breakup or divorce, do NOT get caught up in trauma bond relationships. Stay away from dating others until you pull yourself together. Give us a call instead. Work on healing yourself.
Give yourself time to heal. Emotions heal. It’ll take time, just like if you broke your leg it would take time to heal. That’s fine.
Two emotional wrecks don’t make for a great relationship.