Pain and Need

Additional Information for Chapter 4, pages 47 & 54

There are two basic characteristics of people who are hurting (pain) and want it to stop (need).

  1. People who are hurting are often drawn to each other like magnets, and
  2. People who are hurting rarely think rationally

1. People who are hurting are often drawn to each other like magnets: Research psychology has explored the ancient saying “misery loves company.” Results have found that misery doesn’t love just any kind of company, it loves miserable company. Specifically, when I hurt, I have little interest in being around irritatingly cheerful people. I prefer someone who can feel my pain and share my torment. If my pain is great or my need severe, the urge to be around someone who can comfort is also great.

2. People who are hurting rarely think rationally: Take an extreme example: If you fell into a bathtub of scalding hot water, what would your response be? Every impulse of your brain and every fiber of your body would be unified in one frantic effort to get out of that tub. When you consider the somewhat less reactive issue of emotional pain, the urge to escape is also huge. The more sever the pain (or equivalently, the less capable one is of handling the pain) the more likely it is that one will grasp onto something that mollifies the immediate pain regardless of long term consequences. Drugs, alcohol, and sexual intimacies are common responses because they feel good in the present. However these are not logical responses because of severe negative outcomes that are either not considered or, once considered, are ignored. One of the most astonishing examples comes from the Bible. Esau was starved; Jacob had food. Esau traded a bowl of food for his birthright. If we apply modern standards to Esau’s father Isaac’s wealth, it computes to greater than one billion dollars! Intense need; long term consequences. A $6.95 Big Mac, Fries and drink in exchange for a billion bucks!

But the pain is real and the need is hard wired into our system. The focus of this section is: How can we deal with need and pain without bankrupting our future?

We quote a sentence from the Compatibility Code (p. 54). “Until the pain is diminished and the hunger to date or be in a relationship is reduced to the point that you are comfortable being single, it is better to avoid any relationship that extends beyond friendship.”

So how do we get there?

In the pages of the book that deal with devastation (pp. 51-53) we find the answer. Ten activities are described that move you away from pain toward emotional health. Read the ten items from the book and then, if you wish more information, the same ten are listed   below. All of these are healthy ways to deal with pain and need-activities and attitudes that will encourage future growth and relational success. Read whichever ones best fit you need.

  • Closure: First and foremost, come to an irrevocable decision that the relationship is over and you will not return to it. While you remain in ambiguity about whether you should or shouldn’t, you will remain in turmoil. Only the closed and locked door allows the process of healing to begin. “But can’t we be just friends?” I hear someone cry. The answer is a defini-tive no! Maybe a couple years later after full recovery, but don’t even think about it now. Break off all contact.
  • Externalize: Externalize the negative reactions, talk through your feelings, write them in dia-ries, accept that you are hurting, but don’t cling to it. The methods of externalization are numerous: speak with a number of friends (but don’t over-burden any one of them), go to groups that allow recovery such a Divorce Anonymous, or go see some type of qualified counselor or therapist. Whatever the cost, this phase must be done for emotionally healthy recovery to occur.
  • Appropriate process: Once you have satisfactorily worked through the negativity, don’t al-low your mind to obsess on it. The five-step process I noted above for anger works just as well for handling devastation. Here it is again so you can specifically consider your feelings of devastation-if you have them. They are: 1) admit the pain, anger, etc.; 2) vent or externalize it; 3) determine a course of response; 4) do it by carrying out your plan; and 5) forget it. One needs to have completed the first four steps prior to forgetting. Once the steps are completed then a natural death of the damaging feelings can occur by shifting thoughts when “the topic” comes up.
  • Activities: Engage in activities that you enjoy even though there is a sense of desperation that you are only doing this to forget something painful. Accept that! Don’t demand that the activities, early in the process, bring much pleasure. Usually they won’t because you are still hurting too much. Do them anyway and the pain will eventually subside.
  • Maintain routine: Don’t stop living to sit and stew. I know one individual who would con-tinue to prepare a real meal despite the fact that it was only for herself. If you are working, continue; if going to school, don’t drop out; if you have a regular exercise program, keep it up. Once again, don’t expect much joy out of these activities, just do them until, in the full-ness of time, the joy begins to return. If your devastation is too great to maintain routine, consider the next item.
  • Find a safe place: Sometimes it is good to get away from your current environment to a safe place, one that doesn’t re-stimulate the memory of the devastation. For some, that may be moving back in with your parents for a while. Your safe place is entirely up to you, but physically removing yourself from the dangerous environment can help the healing process begin.
  • Avoid the torture chamber: Avoid situations or settings that allow the pain to settle in. For example, don’t go to bed early. Wait until you are so tired you will fall asleep easily. Avoid times or locations when the feelings of pain may be the greatest, such as Friday nights by yourself, or weekends bumping around the empty rooms in your home. Instead, get out and join an exercise, hobby, or community-service group, invite friends over, develop an after work get-together or movie night, anything that will get you away from places that invite painful reflection.
  • Rich network: Maintain a rich network of friends. In a 1996 study that my husband con-ducted on factors that contribute to or detract from divorce recovery, he found that a rich network of friends and family was the greatest single predictor of emotional restoration. It will work just as well when recovering from any sort of relationship break.
  • Nurturing physical closeness: Involve yourself in settings that allow for non-sexual physical contact. In the same study, the second greatest predictor of recovery was physical con-tact outside of a sexual setting. Enjoy affection from family and friends; get an affectionate, non-judgmental pet (avoid frogs, salamanders, and tarantulas); get a massage, a facial, a manicure, a haircut, but, at this phase, don’t cross the line into sexuality.
  • Avoid sexual contact: Avoid sexual or romantic entanglements during this phase. As mentioned above, while physical closeness was the second greatest predictor of recovery from divorce, sexual involvement was the second greatest detriment.
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