Ten Things I’ve Learned from Relationships Ending
That translate to more graceful breakups
For reasons both known and mysterious, I’ve experienced much change in my life. Mainly in the realm of love relationships.
Partly because I have never embraced the cultural expectation that marriage should last forever (or even that marriage is desired or necessary) and partly due to my fierce independence, I’ve been through many endings.
Recently, in the face of yet another such ending, I have come to realize that I am able to move through with some modicum of grace and skill. I’ve also noticed that many folks don’t have as much access to those resources in the midst of breakups.
Here are ten things I’ve learned from surfing the waves of endings.
1. Grieving is crucial
Thankfully, I’ve had such incredible mentors in the realms of grief work including Sobonfu Some and her life-changing grief ritual work, conscious dying education, decades of re-evaluation co-counseling, and many many great books on processing loss. Because of this, I now know that decline, death, and change are constants in life. In addition, I know that grief is intricately intertwined with joy, gratitude, and ecstasy. If I want to experience the latter, I’d better be willing to feel the former. Embodying this wisdom has resulted in me being able to move, eventually, through the pain. I’ve had grief that’s lasted days and grief that has lasted years. In all cases, I have built the muscle to the neural pathways that know how to process loss. And this comes in handy all the time.
2. Being single is delicious
In my 40’s I was single for five years after a brutal divorce. Having been partnered for most of my adult life, I hadn’t had a stretch of relational autonomy since I was very young. I was terrified to face a life “alone.” What I would soon learn, after I got familiar with a new way of being, was how much I actually relished being uncoupled. It has provided me the opportunity to listen deeply to myself, to cultivate my abundant creativity, and to build a beautiful community of friends around me. I now have the lived experience of an exquisite life that doesn’t involve partnership. And while leaving a partnership might be disappointing, settling back into a life I already love is something I relish. Armed with this attitude, relationship endings are much lighter than they used to be.
3. Deeper attachment to self
Coming home to myself provides not only a sense of relief from the task of navigating other people’s feelings and needs, it’s an incredible invitation to remember my primary attachment — to myself. Since learning about attachment theory, I am acutely aware of my own and other people’s insecure attachment. Reinforcing my self attachment during stable times and in times of change helps regulate my nervous system towards the reality that I’ve got me.
4. Give it time
With enough distance and enough time perspectives change. Things that once looked unimaginable can become reasonable, understandable, and perhaps even loveable. When I can remind myself of this in the moment of an ending it can help buffer feelings of shock, sadness, and anger that often emerge.
I want to get better and better at championing others to meet their needs the best way they can, even if it means ending with me.
5. Relate with integrity. Always.
Even in the face of someone else’s choices to be small minded, clueless, or cruel, I do my best to take the high road. Sometimes this feels unfair. Yet I was born with a tenacity for personal responsibility and a conscience that won’t let me get away with much. I believe that moving with integrity has paid off through less overall drama and less back and forth retaliation. Less hurt in the world seems like a good thing all around.
6. Metabolize & Integrate
I’m a sensitive soul. I feel everything fully and deeply. Even though I’ve done my fair share of contracting around pain and protecting myself from the world, I’ve managed to acquire enough of a somatic toolkit to honor my feelings and my body processes without getting overly stuck. Generally that means, even though it’s not easy, I can trust myself to move through heartbreak.
7. Discern what’s mine and what’s not
I’ve had the experience of blaming others for things that were mine and blaming myself for things that belonged to others. After plenty of this trial and error, I’ve gotten pretty good at checking in with myself about where things belong. Once determined, the next step is to process what’s mine and let go of what’s not. Endings are always an opportunity for more practice.
8. It’s likely for the best
Things have a way of working out. Sometimes even really hard things have a way of working out. One of the hardest experiences I have ever had was when my partner suddenly ended our marriage on the very same day that I got the news that a dear friend had committed suicide. My life felt shattered. Later that year an astrologer told me that these events had shaped my life and my future and that they were precisely timed for me to use them for bigtime growth. It took me a very long time to see that, but now I can.
9. It’s not personal
Other people choose what they choose for a dizzying array of reasons. While there’s something to be said for sticking out relationships for the long haul, I find that it’s best to know soon if things aren’t working out. Even if, instead of choosing me, my beloved is choosing another person or another project or even just themselves, I’ve come to realize that they are being guided by their own truth in that moment. I want to get better and better at championing others to meet their needs the best way they can, even if it means ending with me.
10. The future awaits
As one wave goes out, so the next wave comes in. As the great saints and sages remind us “don’t be afraid,” and “trust the process,” some part of me knows that I will ultimately be fine. I will have new love and new adventure and new creativity and new expansion. When I can look towards that, I can ride those waves with more ease.
I’m certain that if our culture encouraged practicing endings clumsily until we got better at them, we would risk more, try more, and learn more. It sometimes feels that life is one long learning episode after another. I have a dear friend that says, “I surprise myself three times a day.” I’ve noticed for myself and others close to me that the greatest learning often comes with the most impactful life experiences.
I’m thrilled to be able to dance with what Clarissa Pinkola Estes calls the “life death life” cycle. As I get better and better at endings I hope to get better and better at welcoming all of life.