This was followed by a ‘damn I did it again’ feeling because as a burnout experience expert I should have known better. Apparently, I hadn’t quite learned the lesson yet. In my case, the lesson meant finding fulfillment and wholeness within myself. Instead of taking it out of a job or relationship. My training ground had just shifted.
When I became aware of relational burnout, I realized which patterns played a determining role in it. Patterns similar to the ones that caused me to end up in a work-related burnout at the time. I also see many people in my network who are currently struggling with relational problems. And many of them have experienced burnout in the past. Whether this is a coincidence or not, it is high time to map out the common features.
First and foremost, of course, it all comes down to boundaries. Just like with a ‘normal’ burnout, with a relational burnout, you have shifted and exceeded your own limit several times. This happens largely unconsciously, usually because – due to a lack of self-love or self-esteem – you are not in touch with your own limits.
When you finally set your limit, the damage is already done. The bucket is not just full at that moment but has been overflowing for quite some time. That’s how it was at work, the moment I sounded the alarm, I was already dangerously deep in the red.
Craving for recognition
In addition, you are initially praised because of your great adaptability by your employer or partner. “Thank you for filling in for that sick colleague and thereby keeping the department upright”, I was told several times. Grateful for the recognition I received, I passed by the fact that I worked 7 days in a row several times and took on the tasks of 3 people for months.
My ex-partner also praised me for my adaptability. For example, when he couldn’t be with me again during the holidays because of an unexpected opportunity at work. What a fantastic partner I was that I understood so much. I also granted it to him ‘out of love, after all, you want your partner to be happy. And if that includes some sacrifices on your part, then so be it, right?! Meanwhile, our long-distance relationship rule’, which used to be a maximum of 8 weeks apart, which I attached great importance to, was broken once again.
“If you keep adding water to the wine, at some point it won’t be wine anymore.”
People prone to burnout are seen as committed. Committed employees are similar to committed partners, both are very loyal to the relationship (either with the employer or the partner).
In relational burnout, the loyalty to the partner goes so far that his/her needs are placed above your own or even come together. I repeatedly referred to burnout as an identity crisis, because your identity came to coincide with your profession or status. This is no different from relational burnout.
Strict for yourself
Instead of saying ‘I did everything I could to make this relationship work’ when things inevitably go awry, people with relationship burnout say ‘I should have tried even harder, had to be more patient. have to hold on even longer, not be allowed to just give up…’. The relief, which is felt for a moment, soon gives way to a feeling of failure and guilt. You blame yourself for missing out on the relationship, making the acceptance process difficult. Even if you feel completely empty, you would give even more if it would make the relationship what it once was or what you hoped it would be in the future.
Lost touch with reality
Everyone seemed to see my breakup coming, except myself. Even though I had known for quite some time that our relationship was going nowhere. Or, as one friend described it very clearly, ‘that the relationship was not grounded’. Still, I kept pulling and pulling, dragging a lot of dead weight with me. Just like I did at the time in the department where my burnout started. There is such an idealistic image in your head, which you want to hold on to at all costs.
Until you have to let go…
Recovering from a relational burnout
Strangely enough, realizing that I had a relational burnout gave me a sense of calm and even gratitude. The period before that I had been fighting against myself enormously and I tried to force my healing process. Which is counterproductive of course and which got me completely stuck.
As soon as I knew it was a relational burnout, I also knew what I needed to recover. The two determining factors also helped me through my work-related burnout.
In the case of a relationship burnout, that means accepting the breakup. Just as my work-related burnout turned out to be necessary to start my awakening process. This breakup was also necessary to walk the path to wholeness within myself. And no longer seeking fulfillment in things outside of myself such as a job, partner relationship, hobby, place of residence, matter or finances.
I now also see that gaining this insight was precisely the whole purpose of this relationship. That this was the agreement that my ex-partner and I probably made beforehand on a soul level. I could have stood on my head thousand times to try and save the relationship, it was just not meant to be. My soul just needs to grow further.
Putting your own needs first
I have never given so much to myself and invested so lovingly in myself as during the period that I was sitting at home with my burnout. Time and attention in the first place. The right therapies, books, courses, and coaches are second. But I also gave myself other things, such as a move to a different environment and form of living, a trip to Morocco, and a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Things I would never have done were not because of the burnout, but because we’re so nourishing and enriching for my soul.
While recovering from my relationship burnout, one morning when I woke up crying for the umpteenth time, I asked myself ‘what can I give myself now?’ Was the answer: ‘take a few days off to a place you’ve never been before. And so two days later I got in the car and crossed 800km across the country. For an adventurous mini-vacation on my own in Valencia. Where I then wrote this blog from under a tree in the Turia park.
Just like with a work-related burnout, with a relational burnout, the real work only starts after your recovery. The development process, which serves to get closer to your true self and which comes with many challenges, requires a lot of self-discipline, courage, decisiveness, and confidence.