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My last official break-up was some years ago, on my 3-year anniversary with a man who was absolutely wrong for me – but who I had grown to love completely. There was a kindness, a simplicity to him, a feral intelligence and dark sense of humor which overrode the other stuff – for a while.
We had been living together for over 2 years when I went upstairs to his man-cave to ask for more quality time and ended up walking down alone and single . . . I DO love irony – but this was likely a masterpiece of Irony in this lifetime.
“I want to move out” he said . . . “If you go, if you won’t stay and won’t work with me on this then it’s over” I said . . . and apparently there was no going back from that. “I have wanted to leave several times before,” were the next words, “but I had nowhere to go.”
THUD! That was my heart – like the final beat when you turn into a zombie . . . processing the full meaning of his words. It felt like it had stopped. A full night of tears, days then months, and then years of sadness. On and off.
That relationship had been the first time I had risked my heart (and not just my body) in over a decade . . . and I had given it completely. I had so badly wanted this to be the ONE – the LAST time – the LASTING answer to real happiness, fulfillment, connection and more.
Before that, reaching back over the years until the tender age of 13 – ran a long string of relationships of all kinds, including a long and rather unhappy marriage. Many souls – some more loved than others. But none still with me in that way.
At some point I had to stop – take some time to review – and the deep pain on this last ‘failure’ was just the thing I needed . . . it burnt through me – shook my world, shook my thinking . . . made me stop and take stock of my life. Of who I am, what my ‘story’ was, what I wanted and what was important.
I had to deal with some after-effects and issues – from the last 40 or so years.
Of course, I had questions.
- Were all these relationships failed or did they serve a purpose?
- What makes a relationship a success? How long it lasts? What about the very many long-lasting relationships where both haven’t been happy with each other for quite some time?
- Does married 50 years – but secretly (or not so secretly) dissatisfied qualify as successful?
- Are we meant to find and be with one person? Does another person out there hold the secret to our fulfillment and happiness?
- What do I expect a relationship to be or do for me and why?
- How much of my ‘stuff’ needs sorting before I should be allowed back into polite society?
- How much had I contributed to each ‘failure’ and why?
- Do I even want another relationship – is this healthy or is fear or cynicism taking over my life?
And so on . . .
There’s that saying – that hard times grow you … and it is absolutely true. Only when we feel at our worst, our most uncomfortable, are we prodded to perhaps look at ourselves, our choices and make some changes.
I eventually found some answers. They came through a process which I believe we all need to follow regardless of who we are, what has happened or what we want . . .
Whether you have just broken up – or you are sitting in a relationship – I can really recommend trying some of these things:
- Take some time out from others. Specifically – stop looking for your next chemical/romantic fix with the next person. The answers to your happiness lie WITHIN YOU. No-one is going to save you. Nobody else has a magic potion to change your life or your story. Not even the person you love – who says they love you. Not even your Mom, your Dad, your best friend or your dog. Not even me. Give yourself the time and space to start on the next step.
- Take your attention and your energy and turn it on yourself for a while – this can be scary, it can be quite uncomfortable and you aren’t going to build Rome in a day but doing some work, any work, on yourself – creating self-awareness and growth of any kind – is a step towards your happiness. If you are already uncomfortable because of a broken/unhappy love situation this discomfort will not be as hard – so use your current dissatisfaction, anger, sadness etc to help you fuel this process. Any positive change you make will eventually reflect on your outside world and the people in it.
- Stop trying to create (or expecting) the perfect partner – if it’s so hard to change yourself how possible is it that you will change others? The ONLY way you can create change in your world and in those around you IS to change yourself.
- Look for patterns – do you choose the same kind of person, does the same situation play out again and again? Dig into the obvious places like your childhood, your parents, your past relationships and choices. Google is your friend – so is YouTube, Ted talks, or any source of information that gets you thinking and gives you more insight. A good life coach or therapist can help with alternative perspectives and insights as well. Or ask a close friend or 2 for their honest views – if you and they are brave enough for this conversation. Keep looking.
- Stop chasing the dream of a perfect partner who will be the answer to all your needs. Firstly – the harder you are actively chasing the perfect relationship the less likely it will happen. Focus on your self – your interests, hobbies, connecting with friends and support structures, chase your own growth – all these things will add together and make you a better partner to someone down the line. If that’s what’s on the cards. Also – perfection is a terrible unrealistic pressure to put on anyone – nobody can be everything you want nor should they have to.
- You need to learn to meet your own needs. Whatever another person adds to your life is just a value-add, a lucky extra. You need to work knowing and connecting to yourself. You need to get comfortable with your own company. Working on self-worth, knowing yourself, and loving yourself through acceptance, understanding and support of yourself by yourself is such an amazing superpower. Of all the steps – this is almost the most important.
- Let go of the past – once you have taken what learning you can from what has happened – use my forgiveness process (or your own) to move on . . . (see The Forgiveness Process on theuncommoncoach.org)
- Get clear on what you want, your expectations and your hopes – get clear on what kinds of people you have been choosing before and why. What red flags you might want to avoid if you see them in a prospective future partner. What a healthy relationship looks like. (For a quick self-help survey go to How Healthy is my Relationship at theuncommoncoach.org)
- Be open to the unexpected – have an idea of what you would like, but let your rigid expectations of your perfect partner go and see what arrives at your doorstep. Don’t let looking for treasure blind you to the jewels you may find at your feet.
- Let go of the picture in your head of how it SHOULD be – value each person, to the extent that they are present, and for what they have to contribute. See them for who they are – not what you want them to be. Whether they stay 1 day or 1 lifetime. If you are happy in and with your self you will not feel the need to control this. It cannot BE controlled – because life will always surprise us no matter what we do. The only certainty is change.
It is pretty easy to write these things now – they seem so simple – but each step was and continues to be a growth challenge.
It took me a few years of intentionally being out of any romantic relationship – of directing my time and energy into ME for a change. I had realised that all my ‘failed’ relationships had one thing in common – they all took my time, effort and energy – so much energy – so much focus – on THEM, on what they wanted or needed. On their growth – because if ONLY they would understand, grow and become MORE then they could give me what I needed. The quality of connection I craved. The answer to this empty hole in my chest.
It was such a great distraction from doing the work on myself. And of course they never did meet all my needs or give me what I needed. Not one. How could they?
What a great excuse though. And what damage I had done to myself and others because of all this? I simply couldn’t keep looking for love in all the wrong places.
It was hard to do the work. It still is.
There were times when loneliness almost overpowered me. Despite many loving friends, the sweetest children who love to give hugs, the best dogs and the best comfort-cats, there was still that sneaky belief that finding THE ONE – or not finding them – was at the heart of my unrest.
The loneliness was strangely enough a healthy part of the process, although I didn’t know it at the time. It pushed me to keep looking, keep trying for the answers. One day it struck me that I needed to connect but that of all the people I knew there was no one I could reach out to, to get what I needed. They could provide some understanding, they could provide love and caring, but not with the deep feeling of connection I craved. “We are all alone,” I thought – “when we are born – when we die – and in life.” But that thought didn’t make me feel bad, or sad.
It was a strange day when I GOT nobody was able to make me feel better, or could fill this emptiness I had felt most of my life. Certainly no romantic relationship was the answer here.
The minute I really connected to ME – my SELF – accepted myself – the good and the bad – and felt the peace and the incredible support of being on my own side – all the angst and dis-ease of the situation truly and completely defused. That was steps 1 & 2, mainly.
I had me. I had also found something unexpected – something more.
I would be leaving out an important bit which takes this learning to the next level – because I am not all that and a packet of chips – and simply connecting to myself wasn’t the end. It didn’t get me the full experience I was after.
During all my intent navel-gazing I had also found a stronger connection to something else – an energy source if you like. Those of you who have found it through payer or meditation or whatever will know. And if you haven’t yet – then you won’t. Simple as that. I hope you find it.
Some call it the super-conscious, some God, some call it energy, nature or source, or a higher power or whatever. It works for me – anyway. It’s always been there for me on a level – but the work I had to do on self and spirit made it stronger.
The feeling of connection to something greater in turn goes a long way towards healing self. It is a side of ourselves too much denied in our modern age of science and logic and a big part I believe of many of us feeling so empty and disconnected.
Great – well does this mean I’m ready to go live on a mountain top in a white loin cloth . . . not really. Now that I am at peace with myself and am able to meet my own needs emotionally, and spiritually (through connection to source and self) it opens up possibilities for other, healthier connections too.
I now feel ready to allow another into my space if I want – but if I do it will be for entirely different reasons than before. And it will be because they make my days lighter, better in some way but NEVER because I need anything they have to give – never because I am nothing without them. Never because I am looking to them to fix my world or myself.
I do not believe any second I spent with any person that has led to my growth was wasted. They may have been painful, they weren’t always so bad. I have had incredibly happy moments too. None of the relationships were perfect and none were pointless.
These may not have been the experiences I expected – but it was what has brought me here.
I have found a certain beautiful peace – I like it here – wherever I am.
I’m going to stay . . .