By ADINA LAKSER
Neil Sedaka got it right: breaking up is indeed hard to do. The before, the after, the in-between – the whole process is chock-full of angst, sadness and hurt. No matter if it’s mutual and amenable, or angry and dramatic, breaking up is never easy.
You might think a relationship coach spends most of her time helping clients to date and meet someone, but you might be surprised how often I work with clients around ending relationships. It shows how much we all struggle with the decisions around the process of breaking up.
Here are some learnings I have gleaned from my my own experience – and my clients – about how to make the painful process a little more tolerable.
Maybe it just has to be a part of the process, but the mind games we play on ourselves when we are contemplating a breakup are just torture. Our minds swirl with self-judgments: Maybe I expect too much? Maybe this is just what a relationship looks like? Maybe I just need to let go more? Maybe it’ll get better?
Most people know long before the actual breakup that it’s time to end things. You can trust that you know your truth. You don’t necessarily have to act on it right away, because relationship endings often come with some difficult transitional negotiations, especially if there are kids and property involved. But know that you know. You don’t need to defend your knowledge to anyone, especially not to yourself.
Others May Not Understand
But he’s so nice. But she’s so successful. But you guys were so cute together. How about the kids?!
No one, I mean no one, not even your best friend with whom you chat every night or your mom, who once changed your diapers, knows what your relationship was really like. Only you and your (ex) partner. And often the day-to-day dysfunctions and micro-violence that exist in a fraying relationship are not visible from the outside. Others might not understand, respect or support your breakup, but they don’t get an opinion. This is your relationship.
As well, there is this unfair assumption that we now take relationships, especially marriage, too lightly. That we don’t work hard enough on relationships. That we give up too quickly. As Ann Patchett writes so beautifully in her essay about the end of her first marriage, “The Sacrament of Divorce”:
I have never known anyone who went into marriage thinking they would have to get out, and I have never known anyone who got out simply….I do not believe that there were more happy marriages before divorce became socially acceptable, that people tried harder, got through their rough times, and were better off. I believe that more people suffered.
You don’t need, or deserve, to suffer.
Loneliness is Inevitable
Even the worst relationships are not bad 100% of the time. Even a relationship on its last legs still has some intimacy, fun, laughter and companionship. So when the relationship ends, while at first there might be some relief that a decision was made, there will still be feelings of loneliness. It might take an hour, a day, a week or a year, but it’s almost inevitable that you’ll start thinking “Oh damn, maybe I made the wrong choice?” You might start to forget the bad parts and just focus on the good parts that are now gone from your life. You might miss sex, cuddles and a date night so much that you start to see it all as a sign that you should be back together.
These feelings of loneliness are a healthy and expected part of letting go of a relationship. As well, they may be the fuel to “get back out there.” However, feeling lonely or even missing your ex-partner are not necessarily signs that you should get back together. Try to ride these feelings out and see where they may take you.
Size Doesn’t Matter
Your relationship could’ve lasted three months, three years, or three decades – no matter how “big” a relationship it was, you are absolutely entitled to grieve its end. I had a client who had been in an “undefined” involvement with a man for years. When she ended it, she didn’t feel like she had the right to call it a breakup, because it was never defined as a “relationship.” It doesn’t matter what it’s called or if you or your partner resisted labeling it; if there were feelings of connection and intimacy – when it ends, it hurts. You have full permission to give yourself the emotional room and self-care that a breakup demands.
It’s the Best for Both of You
Oh, your ex-partner may say things like “I didn’t see it coming,” “I can’t live without you,” “I don’t want this.” But the breakup is still the best thing for him or her. For one, if your partner truly cannot live without you, s/he might have to do some inner work to avoid codependency.
No one wants to be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t want to be in the relationship. Even if they say, “please don’t leave,” it’s best for both of you to make room for a partnership that works.
Lillian, the scrappy landlady in the Netflix show The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, hits the nail on the head when she encourages Kimmy to let go of her unattainable love with this pearl of advice: “The sooner you quit something that stinks, the sooner you can find something that doesn’t. Save your hope for that.”
It’s springtime. We celebrate and welcome new growth. However, spring can only come after the trees drop their leaves, the flowers die, and a new cycle has begun.
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I’d love to hear from you. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments or questions or if you’d like to learn more about how working with me can help you to let go of relationships that no longer work.