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Vulture Therapy: A Relationship Expert Advises Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift, as you may have heard, is not the luckiest in love. We knew this even before yesterday's startling Kennedy breakup news; Taylor's every dating disappointment is covered first in the tabloids, then in her heartbreakingly specific songs (and vengeful liner notes.) Her newest album, Red, is essentially one long kiss-off to Jake Gyllenhaal, who apparently stole her scarf and her heart and stomped all over both. But it doesn't always have to be this way! People can learn from relationships. So, in the hope of a brighter romantic future for Taylor Swift, Vulture asked relationship therapist and Vh1 Couples Therapy host Dr. Jenn Berman to analyze some of Swift's recent boyfriend drama — as described in her songs — and offer advice about how to work through those situations in the future.

The first situation involves clues from several songs about a guy who's kind of a controlling snob. He makes fun of Taylor's music taste ("We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together") and doesn't like it when she wears high heels ("Begin Again"). How do you deal with a relationship like that?
Well, if you’re with someone who is controlling and is controlling about things you actually care about — as opposed to like, Chinese or Mexican tonight — you have to either (a) talk through it and come up with some compromise that makes everyone feel comfortable, or (b) leave the relationship because that person is too controlling or not ready for a relationship where people have autonomy.

What are the warning signs?
Someone who tries to control what you wear, who you talk to, who you spend time with, who tries to isolate you from your friends — those are all "b" signs.

The second situation is an ex-boyfriend who keeps calling Taylor ("All Too Well" and, of course, "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together") — one of those messy, never-ending breakups.
Really, the key with that is to make good boundaries. It’s important to be really clear and to say, “I’m so sorry you’re hurting, but I really can’t spend time with you. I’m really not interested in getting back together, and I wish you well.” And the other thing is that when two people break up, the primary task, psychologically speaking, is to work on letting go of the attachment with that person. That’s a painful process. You cannot do that while talking to them, texting them, e-mailing, Skyping, hanging out, having sex — you can’t do it while doing those other activities. They’re counter to letting go of that attachment, and that’s an important part of healing from a breakup.

Do you think that writing songs professionally continues an attachment?
I think it’s very cathartic to write about the pain you’ve suffered and about a breakup.

Okay, but what if someone can’t get past that attachment?
Then it’s time for therapy.

Sometimes people get back together and it works, right?
You don’t get back together because you can’t get over it. You get back together because you come to realize that it was a healthy relationship or that both people have done the work on themselves that they need to do to in order to make it a healthy relationship, that you figured out how to maintain the good stuff. I get a lot of calls on the radio show saying, “It’s hurting so much since the breakup. Does that mean that I made a mistake?” No, it doesn’t mean that you made a mistake. It means you love this person, and that’s healthy and that’s normal. Doesn’t mean you should be with them.

The next situation comes from a song called "I Knew You Were Trouble," which is pretty self-explanatory. How would you advise someone who is beginning a relationship with someone who they have doubts about?
Listen to your gut. Really, just listen to your gut and pay attention to the signs.

What about when you've finally made it into a happy relationship after getting burned so many times. [Editor's note: We asked this before the Taylor-Conor news broke; sorry for jinxing!] Do you have any tips for not freaking out?
Really, the main thing is, don’t make your current boyfriend suffer because of the behavior of those in your past. You have to be really careful anytime you have big reactions that are disproportionate to the event that has occurred that you look at what it is in your history that you may be reacting to.

And in general, this habit of writing so specifically about her love life — how much pressure do you think it puts on a relationship?
A lot. I think that it is brilliant creatively, but not necessarily wise personally. We tend to write best about what we know best and what we’re most passionate about, and I think it’s largely why she’s such a success, and at the same time, that’s got to be very hard for her boyfriends. I would advise discretion while writing about someone from your past, doing your best to protect their privacy, because you never know when someone will write about you next.

Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images