Is Missing a Long-Distance Sweetheart a Chemical Imbalance?

Reader’s Question

I have been in a relationship for two and a half years. All but the first three months have been long distance. We have survived a lot of tough things but have grown stronger in love, trust, communication and companionship. We have tried our best to see each other once a month. Usually it is me making the 3 hour flight; it works out better for me to fly. The longer we date, the more in love we get. My problem is this: Every time we part, it feels like my heart gets ripped out of my chest, then stomped on and squished. It seems to feel worse as each new departure from each other comes. I have broken up our relationship a few times because I feel like I can’t mentally deal with it anymore. I just get so so sad, then numb, then angry, then I block it out, then start working my butt off at work to prepare for a couple days off work to go see him. We finally see each other again, then this cycle starts over again except it’s even harder to deal with. It’s not realistic or possible to move closer right now, we have set a time to talk in about 5-6 months about who is going to move and when. I have broken us up, again a couple days ago after I flew home from a very busy, sleepless, exhausting, holiday trip. I can’t function even thinking of doing this over and over again for even just 6 months. I want to curl up in a ball and sleep so I don’t have to miss him and feel such a real physical ache. My question is this: Is there a chemical imbalance that happens from separating from my boyfriend over and over again? It seems no matter how hard I try to stay positive and be thankful, I get so sad and lonely. My only response to an immediate solution is to cut him out so I don’t hurt from missing him, again and again. I tell him I can’t handle this long distance, maybe we can try dating again when we have more of an opportunity to move closer. I’ve done this more then once. It’s not fair to him. If there is or isn’t a chemical imbalance, what’s the appropriate action to take in this kind of situation?

Psychologist’s Reply

A type of chemical imbalance is involved — that’s why the misery is so severe. The major problem is Emotional Memory. Missing a sweetheart is very normal, and even healthy. In your current situation however, you are missing each other on a predictable schedule. When we remember certain experiences, our brain changes our chemistry and duplicates the mood that we experienced at that time. If we think about the loss of a loved one, we begin tearing up, that kind of thing. That connection betwen what we think about and how we feel is Emotional Memory (see article on this website).

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Here’s the problem… Each time you leave him the brain remembers the past departures as well as the current feelings. You’re building up a large amount of “homesick” and missing-him emotions with each trip. These emotions are so strong that you’re probably experiencing some anxious anticipation of the misery on the way to see him. It’s like driving to have your fourth dental root canal! All this emotion creates emotional exhaustion (no energy, excessive sleep, fatigue, can’t concentrate, etc.).

You can’t solve this overload of emotions by missing him. With each visit, you need to develop a return-home ritual that may involve journaling, listening to your favorite music, looking/printing pictures of the visit, sending out emails about the adventure, etc. You need to put a positive ritual on what is now a negative emotional beating. If we think about it, you now use a negative ritual each time — probably the same behaviors each time. A positive ritual keeps your mood up for the next meeting. Counseling would also help you sort out the pros and cons of this relationship. At present, this is a very long-distance and limited relationship (3 hr flight). It’s not fair to you as well. You might consider putting the relationship on probation to see if you’re going to move closer over the next six months. If that doesn’t happen for whatever reason, you might consider being good friends as at this distance, where both lives and loves are “on hold”, preventing the development of more permanent and fulfilling romance to be found locally.

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