It is perhaps one of the most painful things you will ever go through, but you are not alone in this experience.
We live in times of rapid change and growth. One hundred years ago the average person didn’t travel more than 50 miles from the place they were born in their entire lifetime. One generation ago the average person had the same job for their whole life, today the average person has a career change every 5 years. Though the idea of a life-long soulmate is fun to dream about and some people still get to experience it, the reality is that many of us will have many genuine, loving, deep, life-changing relationships in our lifetime. This also means that we will experience painful breakups. This is why we should learn how to let go in healthy and constructive ways.
Let’s undo some of the cultural programming about relationships. It really is about quality, not quantity. Some people stay together for 40-50 years in a dysfunctional, unhealthy relationship where they never really evolve or support each other’s spiritual growth. So give up the notion of “failing” when your relationship comes to a natural end. Beating yourself up creates a nasty cycle of blame. Do your best to make the relationship work but also recognize when it’s time to let it go. If you each grew, loved, opened-up and bettered yourself through the relationship, it is a success even if it only lasts a year or two.
There is a whole lot to be said about sticking it out through the hard times. I am not advocating for a “throw-away” lifestyle, or bailing as soon as the “honeymoon stage” is over but it is also okay to acknowledge that each of us grow in different ways, at different paces, and our needs also change over time. Someone who may be the best person for you at one stage of your life may be unhealthy for you at a different stage in your life. Sometimes these cycles work in harmony, and other times we need to let go of someone we really love in order to meet our ever-changing needs.
One of the hardest things is when the other person needs to let go when we are not yet ready to say goodbye. It is also really hard to break up with someone who is still wanting to stay with you. Perseverance is admirable but clinging is a good way to push people away and create more suffering. When both parties feel they are in it together and willing to make it work, then perseverance is the way to go. When one person is ready to move on, that same perseverance becomes clinging and will make the transition more painful for both parties.
There really is no way to let go of someone you love without experiencing pain. So it is important to accept the pain as a gift because it is. In that pain is all the feelings and growth that are an integral part of all the beauty and love you just experienced with that person. You get to bring the love and beauty with you forever if you move through the pain, even if you don’t get to bring your ex with you forever.
It really is true that everyone you ever love imprints you forever, the good parts of that growth will be shared with your future partners. If you do the work, the negative patterns can be shed forever thus preparing you for something completely new and breath-taking. If you don’t work through it, you will seek another lover who reminds you of the last one and likely repeat the same patterns. Here’s some tips for a smooth transition:
1. Make a clean break. There is a very powerful chemical withdrawal from all the hormones we experience cuddling, making love, and sharing intimacy with another person. Some say that the withdrawal is more intense than breaking a heroine habit. It can be very easy to “fall back into it” in a moment of passion while missing the other person. Having a solid boundary will greatly reduce the added heart-ache between you. If you are meant to get back together, it can only happen in a healthy way once you have really allowed yourself to let go. Amazingly, your love and appreciation for a person can actually increase as you let them go. There can be some very beautiful acknowledgement between you when there is a clear boundary. You can express sweet things without it being an attempt to “win them back”. Sometimes this leaves the door open to get back together, and other times it builds a foundation for a life-long friendship.
2. Drugs and alcohol won’t make the pain go away, what they may do is lead you to an addiction where you will need family intervention services in order to get rid of it. Perhaps you need to let loose for a night or two of reckless abandonment or have a fling and free your mind from the sorrow, but this is not a sustainable long-term strategy. Remember, you don’t want to numb yourself from the pain, you want to accept it as part of the growth, part of the blessing of that love. If you had never loved you would never feel pain, the pain is a sign that you stretched beyond yourself and grew.
3. Don’t make your friends choose sides when you split. You will naturally gravitate to and become closer with some people and drift from others that you friended while you were a couple. Surround yourself with people who love and accept you both as individuals. Yes, sometime you will experience deep hurt and anger, that’s okay. Choose friends who can hear you bitch about your ex without adopting those feelings. This is called compassionate listening, and it is a very powerful skill to posses. If you ever experience someone holding space for you while you go to the depths of your pain, you will also learn how to do it for others when/if they need it.
4. Wish your ex the best (for real). Once I was feeling really low after a breakup and was venting with a friend, saying that I hope her (my ex’s) next boyfriend is a jerk. My friend said, “No you don’t! You want the very best for her because you deserve the very best for yourself also. You need to hold that vision for her if you ever hope to attain it for yourself. Just go on and live your most epic expression of yourself and give her space to do the same.” I was very grateful to hear that. Even though it was hard to hear I knew it was true. In having compassion for yourself, your shortcomings, you can also have compassion for them and whatever their path is calling them to experience. This is part of setting each other free emotionally and psychically.
5. Be okay with being single for a moment. There is nothing more attractive than someone who is strong and confident within themselves. It’s okay to let yourself reset for a bit, get into your own rhythm and enjoy the benefits of being free and single.
I never set out to be an “expert” at breakups. I always dreamed of one soulmate that would be with me forever. Life had different ideas for me… I am grateful to have come to the realization that I have had multiple soul-mates who have each brought me distinct blessings and growth. Once I learned to face tough emotions like jealousy, I realized that it isn’t a competition, there are no failures or losers, we all win when we let ourselves experience love. Loving a person is not the same as owning them, and letting go is just another way to deepen our ability to know compassion and depth. We are all complex beings feeling our way through this beautiful experience of life. Nobody learns to walk without skinning their knees. Just keep getting back up, dusting yourself off and embracing all that life throws at you!