Not All Relationships Can Be Salvaged

Not All Relationships Can Be Salvaged

Sometimes, two people who were once in love decide to go their separate ways. What kind of emotional journey will they go through? Can they still be friends after a breakup?

Often, we tend to use a model of the material world to understand relationships between people. So when two people who no longer love each other get caught up in conflicts and arguments, there’s always an unwillingness to accept it:

“We had so much love before. Even if conflicts and arguments have consumed some of it, there should still be some left, right?”

“I was wrong in the past, but now I know better. As long as I make an effort to increase our emotional connection, we can always salvage it, right?”

Not all relationships can be salvaged. Once a certain line is crossed, it becomes difficult to reverse the relationship.

Before a relationship is destroyed, people make efforts. But if these efforts don’t elicit a benevolent response and instead bring more pain, when the pain becomes unbearable, the impulse to avoid it outweighs the desire for the relationship. At this point, the self-preservation mechanism kicks in.

I need to separate you from “us,” I need to make you someone unrelated to me, just like removing you from my body. I need to redefine you, turning you from a lover into a villain, a stranger, someone unrelated to me, to remind myself not to try to get close to you again, not to endure this kind of hurt.

The ultimate result is like what someone answered on Zhihu when asked about the difference between love and not loving:

“When in love, this person emits light. Now, the light is gone.”

When love diminishes, the relationship can be salvaged, but when love disappears, it becomes difficult to reverse the relationship. The decrease of love is a lengthy process, full of hope and disappointment intertwined. However, the transition from love to not loving happens almost instantaneously. From love to not loving is not a process of reduction but a complete transformation of the relationship that changes both individuals entirely.

I have encountered many couples on the verge of collapse in their relationships. I always ask them, “Your relationship has been damaged. Is it still possible to repair it?”

Sometimes, both individuals feel it is still possible. I would say, “Okay, let’s give it a try then. To salvage the relationship, we need to address each other’s problems, suppress the impulse of self-preservation, and reignite the desire for the relationship.”

Sometimes, both individuals say it’s too late. Maybe it could have worked in the past, but not anymore. We no longer love each other. In that case, I would say, “Alright, then don’t make efforts to salvage it anymore. Just focus on how to end it.”

Sometimes, one person wants to salvage the relationship while the other has given up. I always suggest to the one who wants to salvage it, to seriously inquire, “If I can make the changes you request, is there still a chance to salvage our relationship?”

Sometimes the other person says it’s impossible, that they no longer want it. This often causes great pain. This inquiry not only fails to help us salvage the relationship but also shatters the illusions in our minds. In such moments, I would say:

“Remember, you are not choosing between continuing and ending this relationship. Ending the relationship is not your choice. You are merely choosing between facing reality and not facing reality, and you have chosen to face reality.”

Not loving is a kind of reality.

If you don’t yet need to face this reality, cherish it while there’s still time. If it has already become a reality, face it, no matter how difficult it may be, and rebuild your life,