“Separate!” – that’s the name of a book by the Swiss author Thomas Meyer. He says: We don’t look closely when we meet someone. What he thinks we need to look out for in order to have a working relationship.
FOCUS online: Mr. Meyer, you deal full-time with separations. Why?
Thomas Meyer: My main job is writing texts. I’ve been dealing with breakups part-time since my book “Separate!” was published six years ago and people have kept writing to me looking for advice.
The title is quite pessimistic.
Meyer: On the contrary. The book calls for breaking out of bad relationships and freeing yourself for good relationships.
Why did you write it?
Meyer: I find relationships fascinating. Why do we choose people as our partners who don’t suit us at all? Why do we all experience similar things over and over again when it comes to relationships and their endings? We start partnerships with the best of intentions, and they often end in disaster.
And why are we voting so badly?
Meyer: Because we don’t look closely. Most of the time, when we get to know each other, we don’t conduct an in-depth interview. We don’t ask: What are your values, what weaknesses do you have, what bad things did you experience in your childhood? All of that is not dealt with. Everyone shows their best side and we start a relationship. That is grossly negligent.
How long does it take to find out that it doesn’t fit?
Meyer: A week. Maybe two.
And why do so many continue anyway?
Meyer: Because they like the other person and want it to work. And because they believe he can change. They convince themselves that the incompatibility is small and that their influence on it is large.
You have to explain that in more detail.
Meyer: Relationships only work if we are similar to our partner in the central aspects. It takes a similar sense of humour, a similar political stance, similar living conditions and similar needs.
Otherwise, permanent power struggles arise, because such differences create stress, and we try to eliminate it by trying to eliminate the differences, i.e. by changing the partner. And that’s not possible.
Not for that reason alone, because he proceeds in exactly the same way. He, too, suffers from too great a difference. But there’s another key factor that complicates relationships: unresolved childhood trauma.
What do you mean?
Meyer: We all experienced situations as children that were painful or threatening. When we are reminded of this, emotional stress arises. For example, if I had the experience in my childhood that my opinion doesn’t count and that people don’t take me seriously, as an adult I will react sensitively and angry if I feel left out.
So if we want to have a working partnership, we not only have to make sure that we are pairing up with someone who is similar to us in the core things, but also that this person is aware of their old traumas – and they are not on us projected.
Break Up!: An Essay on Incompatible Relationships and Their Well-Deserved End
4 out of 5 couples should break up, you say. Isn’t it worth fighting for a relationship?
Meyer: That’s not a survey, it was the answer to an interview question that a journalist once asked me. I just wanted to say that there are a lot. Anyone who wants to fight for a relationship is usually already in a bad position.
But this does not necessarily have to lead to separation, because as I said, childhood injuries very often come up, and if we have thoughts of separation, it is often due to the desire not to be constantly reminded of old pain.
Then you can go. But you take the pain with you into the next partnership. We usually look to our partner when things go wrong, but we also have to look at ourselves.
And what did your introspection reveal?
Meyer: There are protective mechanisms that were vital as children, but which block us as adults in our relationships. Some become aggressive, others withdraw, others cover up their fears with happiness. My tactic was retreat.
At some point I had to ask myself: Am I breaking up because it really doesn’t fit, or because I feel too much like a vulnerable child? And have I really tried everything to make myself understood by my partner – and in turn have given her every chance? In the latest edition of my book I have written a new chapter for this consideration.
So you step back from “break up!”.
Meyer: No. Everyone has the right and the duty to stop when it is no longer possible. Especially when children are involved. They suffer even more from the parental annoyance.
But I now see things in a more differentiated way, because through all the discussions and coaching I have found that relationship problems are often communication problems.
So that sometimes it would work, but we make it impossible with traditional defense mechanisms. So before we break up, we need to ask ourselves what exactly we want to break up with.
How can people with unresolved trauma have happy relationships?
Meyer: By making ourselves aware of these traumas. When strong emotions come up in the relationship and we feel the impulse to defend ourselves massively, we briefly ask ourselves: What exactly is happening there now?
Have I really been attacked, or am I just feeling that way? Is my partner really as bad a person as I think right now? It’s terribly exhausting, but ideally, our counterpart is someone who will help us.
Can a compatible relationship turn into an incompatible one?
Meyer: Compatibility means that it fits, that you understand each other and feel comfortable with each other. However, individual developments can also take place in such a way that it no longer fits. The first relationship we had would almost certainly not work today.
Is it then important to develop together in the same direction, over time?
Meyer: Yes, I think so. A relationship is the result of saying “yes” to each other every day. But it is also the result of a lot of work. communicative work. If someone doesn’t want to talk anymore – this tends to affect men more – it becomes practically impossible to have a serious relationship.
What role does love play?
Meyer: A big one. Otherwise relationships don’t develop at all. But love alone is not enough. Love is not an argument. After a breakup that wasn’t my fault, I desperately said to my ex-partner: But I love you! As if that were the trump card.
Love is affection on several levels, it is also quite stable, but also very impulsive. You can fall in love with someone in one night, but you don’t experience enough in that time to figure out if it’s a match.
After my last breakup, I was 45 and I didn’t want any more disappointments. So I decided to take a really close look the next time before I get involved and to think very clearly about what is important to me in a relationship and what I cannot accept.
Doesn’t that make you too picky?
Meyer: If my list says that my partner has to be brunette, then of course that’s superficial nonsense. It’s about personal well-being. When I wake up next to my partner in the morning, I want to think: Hooray, another day with her!
So what do I need to make me feel this way? Unfortunately, most relationships are devoid of this feeling. In my coaching, many say their partnership is contentious, sad, cold, distant. I find that terrible. A relationship should be there so that we feel safe and can flourish.
What was the best thing you experienced in your coaching sessions?
Meyer: I think it’s nice when someone allows themselves to go down a path that is difficult but meets their own needs. Of course, when someone is in a terrible relationship and decides to leave, that’s not nice. But the person also says: I am worth not doing this to myself any longer. That’s the interesting question: why do so many people let terrible things stand for so long?
And what’s the answer?
Meyer: That takes us back to the beginning. They hope that everything turns out for the best. They believe in their power of persuasion. You think there is that one sentence that makes the other person see everything. And that is nothing other than belief in miracles and overconfidence.
But there are also extreme cases in which people believe that it is not only normal that they are treated badly, but that they deserve it. Or even helpful. Someone asked me if his wife, who verbally abused him massively, wasn’t the best teacher to become a better person – after all, maybe she was right.
This is only spoken by someone who has lost their self-worth, and when that has happened, the relationship must end. I broke up several times because I wasn’t treated in a way that made me feel good about myself. And that’s how I ended up in a really loving relationship. That was only possible thanks to the previous separations and dealing with them.
Thomas Meyer is a Swiss author and podcaster. In 2017 his book “Separate!” was published, in which he deals with incompatible relationships and their “well-deserved end”. He has been offering separation coaching in Zurich since the summer of 2022 and advises people who are facing a separation or have had one.