Your Ex-Factor: Overcome Heartbreak and Build a Better Life

Your Ex-Factor: Overcome Heartbreak and Build a Better Life

by Stephan B. Poulter Ph.D.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781591027249
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Publication date: 07/28/2009
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 820,008
Product dimensions: 5.86(w) x 8.82(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Stephan B. Poulter, PhD (Los Angeles, CA), is the author of The Father Factor, The Mother Factor, Your Ex-Factor, and two other books. He has practiced as a clinical psychologist specializing in family relationships for more than twenty-five years. Dr. Poulter lectures widely and appears regularly on radio talk shows and news programs.

Read an Excerpt


overcome heartbreak & build a better life
By Stephan B. Poulter

Prometheus Books

Copyright © 2009 Stephan B. Poulter
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59102-724-9

Chapter One

HOW DID THIS EVER HAPPEN? The Process of Breaking Up We had had problems for years. She threatened to divorce me on a regular basis. This time Tamara wrote me a letter and demanded I move out. I could have prevented this, but this pattern of coming and going had been our style since we dated. I don't want to lose my family or be a failure. -Matt, age fifty-six, married for twenty-eight years, divorced We dated for seven years. We were engaged for three years and lived together for two, and he left me. I knew we had issues but I always thought we would work them out. We went to therapy and I thought we were making progress. Then I found out Brad had an affair with his personal trainer at the gym. I am still devastated-six months later! -Tracy, age thirty-nine, single and dating again


Picking up this book will be the beginning of a great journey. The trip will require of you things that you might not expect but that you truly need. It will start with your complete honesty and end with finding within yourself your own personal truth and courage. You picked up this book because you have had an intense relationship crisis, a traumatic breakup, an unforeseen loss, and/or a great disappointment in your adult romantic life. But regardless of how devastated, emotionally betrayed, bitter, angry, hateful of the opposite sex, and hopeless you feel, deep down in your heart you still believe in relationships and their curative nature and power.

Intimate relationships are the gold standard by which we measure success or disappointment in our lives. Business and careers will come and go, but nothing is more timeless than the experience of a solid marriage, a lifelong partner, and a loving relationship. A scholar once said that your life is the summation of all your relationships. I would also like to add it is the ongoing summation of all your intimate love relationships. Regardless of the despair, fear, and disappointment that you have experienced, you can recover your sense of well-being and build a new relationship life that better fits who and what you are today.

Despite the disappointment, embarrassment, and heartbreaking pain, we cannot get away from the fact that love relationships matter. We all know it, and that truth never changes. We never truly stop attempting to re-create deep emotional attachments when relationships end. Ironically, it is in trying to recover and overcome the heartbreak that we often set up the roadblocks that will damage our future love relationships. The underlying problem and crisis in not resolving your ex-factor issues is the "pain" will continue to persist in your life. The key is not to take the prior disappointments and bitterness wrapped up in your relationship with your ex-husband/wife/lover with you into your next intimate relationship. You can't bring your ex-husband on your honeymoon. It will never work. Again, you know this-but how do you stop recycling your pain and disappointment? This question will be repeatedly addressed, examined from all possible perspectives, and answered and explained thoroughly throughout this book. The short answer is that you can stop making the same self-defeating choices; creating the same painful attachments; and getting caught up in the same old patterns of abuse and loveless, codependent romantic connections.

Never before has the concept of the "ex" been so significant to families, children, new marriages, and future partners. According to a November 2007 article appearing in Time magazine, approximately 66 to 70 percent of all American families are some type of blended family combination. Blended families are those in which children live with one biological parent part of the time. Being a blended family has nothing to with marital status but rather the birth parents not living together with their biological or adopted children. Second marriages, two adults cohabituating, stepchildren, no new children, new wives, new husbands, and in-laws are all impacted by this growing social family phenomenon. Overcoming your heartbreak is essential to the possibility of creating future intimate relationships. Divorce or emotional rejection by a lover isn't the death sentence it once was to future intimate relationship potential. Now, emotional despair and disappointment can be catalysts for a more fulfilling relationship future and for creating the type of family that you desire. The emotional and psychological ability to move forward in your life after heartbreak is as important as your physical health. The ending of a relationship isn't the final stop in your romantic adult life, but rather a fork in the road of your life. In today's world, you have romantic choices and new opportunities that once were not even considered possible.


An article in the January 24, 2008, edition of Time magazine states, "Married people live longer and are healthier throughout those extra (over 62) years; Studies have linked marriage to lower rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease and mental illness; Marriage helps both spouses cope better with stress, though men benefit more than women." There is no doubt-medically, psychologically, or biologically-that we are wired for emotional attachment and intimate loving relationships. Men typically report the highest levels of satisfaction in long-term relationships. Women report being more emotionally content and less anxious in marriage-type love relationships than women who aren't in such relationships. It doesn't take a federal grant or a university research project to know that the opposite holds true for men and women when their love relationships end. The end of any type of romantic relationship is emotionally, mentally, and physically devastating for all parties concerned. No one is spared the rod of emotional pain when a relationship ends in divorce or in broken engagement.

One of the major premises of the ex-factor is that there is no such thing as a relationship failure. The fact that your marriage ended doesn't mean you failed as a wife, mother, woman, husband, father, or man. It means that the relationship ran out its natural time line and is now over. Every relationship has a timetable. You will have to draw on tremendous courage and weather severe emotional pain (unfortunate, but it is always present) to process the relationship and move forward with your life. Endings don't equal failure! Failure is the inability to realize that your prior belief system about relationships and how you operated in them needs to be expanded, changed, and reevaluated. Relationships change, and this is a natural process, like all things in life.

Endings are endings-nothing more or less-and it is what you ascribe to them that is paramount. The amount of shame and guilt you feel, as well as your prior relationship history, play a very large role in your present-day struggles and grief. Your current breakup can reactivate feelings of loss and rejection you've felt your whole life. Remember the heartbreak from your first romantic crush? It was a big event then, and heartbreaks today are no different. In fact, relationship endings are cumulative when we ignore them and carry them with us into our next intimate relationship. Do you really know what you have accumulated along your romantic path? The potential of your future relationships hinges on your ability, insight, courage, and desire to separate your past from your present. Your emotional, psychological, and physical health are greatly impacted by your ability to keep the past from recurring. You are the only one who can determine whether your ex-factor will be a positive legacy or an ongoing drama/tension-filled soap opera. You don't want to be the star in your own soap. You don't want the emotional drama, arguing, and raging conversations with your ex in front of the kids or in front of your new partner. If this type of drama is happening, you are bringing old behaviors from your past relationship endings and disappointments into your current romantic experience.

Relationships can end abruptly, slowly, suddenly, or traumatically-for reasons that husbands, wives, and lovers often ignore, deny, or avoid until the relationship has dissolved or "blown up." It is the emotional and psychological damage caused by these tragic endings that is so problematic and so difficult for adults to fathom. The goal of this entire discussion is to help you learn to resolve your traumatic relationship endings and move your current or future relationship forward in the direction that you desire. Recycling old relationship material every time you meet someone of significant romantic interest is self-defeating and pointless. It is extremely problematic, emotionally frustrating, and nauseating to continually repeat your personal history of romantic encounters. Unfortunately, replaying old relationship patterns is very common.


It is the severe emotional toll of a marriage (any type of romantic relationship) ending combined with a three-year bloodbath divorce that leaves all the participants psychologically reeling for years. The couple ends up spending thousands of dollars arguing over who gets the rosebushes, the airline miles, and the kids on Christmas and Thanksgiving. This type of divorce only exacerbates the deep emotional heartbreak of the parties involved. The ending can also be one of a long-term relationship that ends prior to marriage; the ex-lover might be a forty-two-year-old woman who wants children-and feels like that prospect ended when her partner walked out the door with his new girlfriend. The loss of both a dream and a partner creates an immediate sense of hopelessness and profound disappointment. Yet the unresolved residual effect of such an enormous disappointment is generally dismissed and/or minimized (we will expand on this topic throughout the book). This unresolved disappointment then becomes the primary cause of frustration and pain in future relationships.

The actual ending of a relationship is usually shocking for all parties involved. Yet there are very clear patterns, unresolved issues, and "clues" that occur over time to undermine a relationship and contribute to its tragic ending. These elements of the relationship breakup create a deep sense of disappointment in both partners. The loss of the relationship, the dreams, and the partnership become the fabric of your disappointment.


Now that we have discussed how relationship endings create your ex-factor, it is important to clearly identify what the ex-factor is. The accumulation of lost dreams, broken promises, disillusionment, regret, emotional setbacks, disenchantment with past romantic partners, and unrealistic expectations all make up your ex-factor. All these elements-acting singly or together-are impairments to future satisfaction and fulfillment in relationships.

The length of the love relationship isn't an issue when coping with the immense power of your ex-factor and the residual effects and myriad feelings it creates. The sheer horror of losing the "love of your life"-whether through divorce, a broken engagement, or the termination of an exclusive long-term dating relationship-is all the same: It is devastating. Breakups have no regard for sexual orientation, race, education, socioeconomic status, gender, or age. No one is exempt from the cycle of despair, hopelessness, and anger created by a romantic breakup. It is for good reason that divorce is considered one of the most important events that an adult will ever encounter. In fact, the only thing considered more psychologically traumatic than divorce (or a divorce-like breakup) is the loss of a child. You don't need to experience death to know that after the breakup of a romantic relationship, you are living through your own emotional funeral. When you look in the mirror and don't recognize yourself, that is one of the signs that you are in the process of a major life trauma and change. This recognition is a key to becoming aware that your personal, intimate, family, and social life is in the process of transformation.


The emotional roller coaster of despair and loss of stability is so traumatic that those experiencing it often become extremely depressed and anxious, emotionally numb, or physically sick. The sense of abandonment, rejection, and despair from a broken heart is so profound that some people foolishly consider the option of suicide. The psychology behind suicidal thinking is the hope of escaping the extreme emotional grief and hopelessness that seems never ending. But that pain will end. However, in the meantime, many people underestimate the powerful impact of a breakup on both partners. For instance, the birth of a child is usually the result of the powerful bond of romantic love consummated in the special connection of creating a life. It is in the context of an intimate love relationship that all personal insecurities, fears, emotional strength, weaknesses, positive and negative feelings, wishes, and conscious and unconscious hopes are played out. Your entire life is transformed in the romantic bond and the context of a supportive, loving relationship. But many times the relationship you were involved in-once it is over-seems like it wasn't anything other than a huge disappointment and a lie. That loss, which touches your heart, is palpable.

Life is a collection of different relationships-professional, social, familial, and intimate. The intimate connection is the ultimate relationship that we all crave and desire. It is the only place that we can be completely, totally, and fully ourselves, without fear of judgment. Intimate relationships are the emotional foundation for how we function in the outside world. When these significant bonds end, the psychological fallout can be severe. This helps to explain why we have such powerful emotional responses when these relationships end.

There is nothing in your life that isn't affected by your adult romantic relationships, marriages, and/or emotionally significant bonds (i.e., long-term friendships). On a personal level, nearly everything is enmeshed in that experience. The birth of your children, your career, your choice of pets, your accomplishments together-all of these were shared by that person who is now gone.

The desire for a loving, supportive life partner in an enduring relationship is as natural as breathing. The problem is that the disappointment created by this quest leaves millions of adults isolated, lonely, and feeling like "damaged goods." One question that my clients, friends, and colleagues repeatedly ask is: Will I ever feel good again? The short answer is yes-and the long answer is also yes. After a relationship fails, the people involved want to feel better and move forward with their lives-but that is almost impossible if they are emotionally wounded and ignoring all the extenuating factors that are involved (i.e., loss of open communication, anger, loss of sexual intimacy, resentment, loss of respect for your partner). Denial, avoidance, and placing blame only create more problems and complicate issues that make things worse. Throughout this book, we will discuss different ways to stop compounding these problems.

It is in the pursuit of a new love where our exes can become constant roadblocks to our future fulfillment. No one wants his or her ex to be any more of a negative factor than he or she already is. But the residual fallout from such severe disappointment leaves men and women of all ages, circumstances, and education levels emotionally staggered. No one can step over disappointment, betrayal, and hopelessness and pretend it didn't happen. Starting a new relationship in the wake of a divorce or a serious breakup is a guaranteed formula for more emotional pain and suffering. Relationship jumping (going from one love relationship to another with no time in between) is an emotional defense mechanism against feelings of rejection, abandonment, and disappointment. This defensive style of avoidance is commonly referred to as a "rebound" relationship. Men tend to fall into this relationship jumping dynamic more often than women. In fact, women often withdraw from the relationship scene for too long. Neither style is particularly productive or curative to emotional heartbreak and creating a different relationship future.


Excerpted from YOUR EX-FACTOR by Stephan B. Poulter Copyright © 2009 by Stephan B. Poulter. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: How Did This Ever Happen? The Process of Breaking Up....................19
Chapter 2: Emotional Whiplash-Five Stages-The Pain of Being Left....................45
Chapter 3: The Pain of Leaving-The Guilt Syndrome....................73
Chapter 4: The Power of Disappointment, Betrayal, and Affairs-How They Break Your Heart....................97
Chapter 5: Picking Up the Pieces-Processing the Damage....................127
Chapter 6: Which Parent Did I Marry? Lifelong Patterns....................151
Chapter 7: Rebuilding Your Love Life-Expanding Your Ability to Be Loved....................177
Chapter 8: Your Relationship Style-Five Styles of Intimacy-Building a New House....................199
Chapter 9: Dating and Picking Your Life Partner-Your Nonnegotiable Factors....................219
Chapter 10: Personal Responsibility-Your New Choices....................243
Chapter 11: Your Journey into Your New Life....................265

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