Joseph Wolpe the great behavioral scientist, the father of Behavior Therapy, and my mentor at Temple University Medical School, wrote the introduction to How to Fall Out of Love. In it he explained the foundation for behavior therapy.
Our emotional habits resist logical argument or good advice, because something learned emotionally cannot be dealt with purely at an intellectual level.
He wrote: Anxiety is central to unadaptive behavior. Anxiety is learned behavior. Because of certain experiences, an individual forms the habit of reacting automatically with anxiety or fear to certain situations. Sometimes fear is appropriate, because real danger is involved. In cases where no real danger exists, the fear or anxiety is inappropriate (a fear of heights while looking out of a window would be an inappropriate fear). For some people, such anxiety, whether it’s fear of flying, fear of heights, fear of rejection, fear of what others think, fear of taking risks, fear of criticism, fear of intimacy, and a whole range of sexual fears, can become so debilitating that it seriously interferes with daily life.
Hundreds of thousands have gone through my program ( in How to Fall Out of Love) and have fallen out of love in the sense that they no longer constantly think about the person they formerly loved, no longer feel great pain and longing when they do think of that person, and are able to build new relationships with new people.
As I said, I first wrote this book more than thirty years ago, and I am really happy it has helped so many people. It makes me smile when I see copies of that first book, worn and dog-eared, passed from one person to another for sale on Amazon and eBay with the words, “this works.”
In going over the original version of How to Fall Out of Love I was impressed by the advantages of a systematic program. It really does help to observe and organize your feelings. It helps, because as psychologist Dr. Herbert Fensterheim has shown, once you observe your feelings, you objectify them and gain perspective.
Gaining perspective lets you see your feelings from a distance.
That distance makes your feelings less overwhelming and easier to handle. It also helps to have a step-by-step program of positive things to do rather than struggle with an tide of amorphous, overwhelming feelings. And it helps to have specific goals so you can measure your progress.
On my last trip to L.A., several friends and patients asked me, why are you re-writing How to Fall Out of Love. It’s still in print after thirty years. Why change it?
It’s a good question. I know How to Fall Out of Love has helped thousands of people. I have received letters and calls from all over the country from people who say that this book “saved my life.” I met a woman in Palm Beach, Florida, who had been walking toward the ocean intending to wade into the water and swim out as far as she could and drown. She saw How to Fall Out of Love in a bookstore window on her way to the ocean and thought it must be fate. She bought the book and started reading it as she continued walking but turned around when she reached the beach. I met her several times because she kept showing up at my television interviews all over the country. She felt I had saved her life.
When you can’t see or touch or talk to “him” or “her” as you usually do, the limbic part of your brain (which is responsible for your emotional life and where a lot of the formation of your memory takes place) where “he” or “she” has been embedded, becomes hyperactive, trying to make those connections.
Hyperactivity in the limbic, or emotional part of the brain, has been associated with depression and low serotonin levels, which is why you may have trouble sleeping, obsess about your former love, shut yourself off from other people, lose your appetite and nothing feels good anymore. Scientists have also detected an associated deficit in endorphins, which modulate pain and pleasure pathways in the brain and contribute to the physical level of pain you feel during a breakup.”
Millions of people are in love and in pain because their love is not returned. Chances are you know several people who are going through the painful process of falling out of love.
Suddenly, without warning, a young research engineer leaves his wife to live with another woman. A graduate student is deserted by her fiancé just before their wedding. An elderly woman’s husband leaves with his young lover for Hawaii. An administrative assistant is in love with his boss who strings him along. A website designer is having an affair with her neighbor but doesn’t want to damage her marriage. A banker falls in love with a client who cannot return her love. A venture capitalist is in love with an alcoholic. A hedge fund manager’s partner falls in love with another man. A love affair ends for the director but not for the actress.
Our whole culture says “love, love, love” is all you need and says it a thousand ways every day. Yes, yes, it’s so easy to fall in love.
But where are the signs to point the way out?
I developed the “How to Fall Out of Love” program from my notes on the first person I ever treated for a broken heart. Of course I realize that poets and song writers have much more to say about the pain of love than any therapist ever could. But I thought I might have something to add. Something that would help people get over their pain and get on with their lives. I analyzed the components of unrequited love: obsessive thinking; putting the person who doesn’t return your love on a pedestal; feeling a strong emotional and sexual attraction for that person; feeling worthless and inadequate; and, typically, intense jealousy about any other relationship that he or she might have.
I then designed ways to change those painful components for the better…
“How to Fall Out of Love” is a painstaking reproduction of an extraordinarily successful behavior therapy program. I wrote it for the millions of people (divorced, separated, or in a destructive relationship) who are suffering and have no idea how to deal with their suffering other than vaguely trying to suppress the love they feel for someone who does not love them, and for people who are in a relationship that gives them only pain.
“How to Fall Out of Love” is a sincere effort to make therapy practical, concrete, accessible, brief, and durable. The point is to stop the pain caused by obsessive thinking about someone who does not or cannot love you and to give you the skills you need to build a new relationship. It’s not a “fun read.” It is a work book, a step-by-step manual on how to stop constantly thinking about someone and how to change the way you think about someone. And how to get on with your new life. As the new cover says, “Someone you know needs this book.”
As I was saying few days ago, the world has changed radically since I first wrote “How to Fall Out of Love”. In that distant time, nobody had heard of the Internet, Walmart, Starbucks and Tim Tebow. Now we connect on Facebook and Zoosk. We Skype, Google and tweet to give our friends the news of our lives with a click. And yet, as much as the world has changed since I first wrote the book, human nature hasn’t changed at all. When love ends today it is just as painful as it was in those distant days before the Internet.
Isn’t it ironic that love, our greatest source of joy, can inflict so much pain?
Half the marriages in the United States end in divorce, casual affairs are common, and there’s a parallel rise in suffering.Perhaps as choices increase and the old behavior codes decline, anxiety rises. Perhaps people are simply more open about their pain.
Whatever the reason, every time I mention that I have a program called “How to Fall Out of Love,” I am swamped with letters and phone calls and personal visits from people who have seen the order of their lives turn to chaos, who suffer emotional devastation and pain and who desperately need help. And now with years more experience, hundreds of new cases, and innumerable improvements to my program, I knew I could make “How to Fall Out of Love” better and I knew I had to renew it.
The more I thought about updating and revising “How to Fall Out of Love”, the more excited I got about the project. So many of my techniques have been vindicated by new discoveries in neuroscience. We know so much more about how the brain works now on a cell by cell level.
So now that phrase from the beginning of the book “if you can learn to unlearn what freedom” is backed up by the new science on how the brain works. You can’t wish for change to make it happen. You can’t just tell yourself to stop thinking about someone who you have been thinking about constantly for months or years. But you can unlearn. And that’s exactly what “How to Fall Out of Love” is, a step by step program to unlearn those obsessive thoughts about someone. And a way to think about them differently.