The end of a relationship is a double-edged sword.
- Cutting Edge One: I’m free to seek and love someone new. My horizon is boundless and unlimited.
- Cutting Edge Two: I’m letting go of someone I really care about, what if my exit is a mistake?
This post now available as a podcast:
What We Can Learn By Leaving a Relationship
There are certainly appropriate moments to leave a relationship. Sometimes, our boundaries are damaged and we don’t clearly understand how toxic the relationship has become. When we leave a toxic relationship we’re immediately relieved. It’s like a gift: along with the pain of loss and failure, we are given an ah-ha moment when we can see how bad staying in the relationship had become for our spirit as well as our emotional and physical bodies. We have an opportunity at the ending of any relationship to seek out our part in the failure.
Was there an element of codependency that kept us fighting for a relationship that was not capable of meeting our needs? Was alcohol, drug abuse, or mental illness (either ours or our partner’s) playing a role in keeping us attached to an unavailable person? Whatever the dysfunction, it’s a good opportunity to pause for a moment and examine what your part in the breakdown was. Occasionally, the answer is “I didn’t ask for what I want. I didn’t state my boundaries clearly enough.” Or, “When my partner crashed the boundaries, we gave them some permission or excuse, by giving in to their wants and needs rather than our own.”
Whatever it is that we need to learn, sometimes the ending of a relationship is the only way we’re going to take the next evolutionary step. We can only learn healthy boundaries by trial and error. If you fail, it’s your responsibility to buff up your self-awareness and get back in the arena of dating, only when you have had a chance to reset and recommit to your health and your “must-haves” in your next relationship. We might have to let go to move forward in our lives.
What We Can Learn By Staying in a Relationship
If the relationship still has value, there is a lot we can learn by sticking it out, and growing into a stronger individual and partner ourselves, by asking for what we need, and demanding that our boundaries be respected. Often, relationship troubles are really boundary troubles. If you don’t set your boundaries, by asking for what you want and what you don’t want, the other person has to imagine your edges. It’s better to tell your partner what you want. Mindreading is a terrible illusion. We try to mindread and often we get the message wrong, and the boundary is misunderstood or not well-articulated. You must ask for what you need.
The ASK is 100% up to you. You might need to tell your partner, “Hey, I need tonight off, can we skip dinner and just get together tomorrow?” This request gives them two messages: 1. I’m needing a little distance (see 6th Love Language section below); and 2. I’m comfortable telling you what I need.
The flip side is when your partner puts in this kind of request. If it hurts it’s okay to express your disappointment. Then, it’s your responsibility to grant the request, regardless of how it makes you feel. Asking for a bit of time alone is not a threat to the relationship unless you allow it to feel threatening. And in that circumstance, you can voice your disappointment, and then TAKE CARE OF YOUR OWN DISAPPOINTMENT. We’ve developed the habit, in many relationships, of trying to take care of everyone else’s feelings. Or asking someone else to take care of mine. I can actually express my disappointment, at the request for alone time, and realize it’s MY DISAPPOINTMENT.
At this point, the request is a boundary. It’s a simple request for alone time. And as we will see in a minute, Alone Time is an essential Love Language for all of us to learn more about. When a boundary is requested, both partners have an opportunity to discuss the change.
How To Sharpen Your Edge As a Couple
When we decide to stay in a relationship that has been somewhat dysfunctional, it’s our responsibility to “do the work” to make things better. Both partners have to be committed to growing and evolving the relationship together. This can involve counseling/coaching, it can mean recommitting some time and energy to “the relationship.” But the main part or a recommitment is to express to each other, often, how important the relationship is, and how our intentions, as a couple, are to make it work.
By closing our exits OUT of the relationship we can learn to ask for and respect better boundaries with each other. We can do a better job of listening and supporting what your partner is asking for. We can do a better job of speaking up when things are painful, or not working. We have to reestablish our edges with each other. Where you end and I begin. In most relationships there are some elements of codependency, it’s normal. It’s also part of the problem that you must work together to get out of the relationship. You don’t want codependent behaviors to run the show. Here’s an example.
My partner is having a bad day. During the day, I give little text assurances about my support, my love, my availability. That’s the extent of what we can do. When I want to rush in to try and solve the problem for them, take care of the distress, take on some of the pain for them, I am actually crossing a boundary that blurs my own pain and isolation with theirs. I may be feeling sadness that my partner is hurting, BUT… It is MY pain that is hurting me. I am not allowed to try to take on their pain. Feeling our partners in pain is a sure-fire way to feel our own pain. (It’s the same with children, their pain affects us deeply.) But we have to draw the line between our pain and what our partners are going through. If I try and FIX my partner’s pain, I’m heading down a slippery slope towards codependency and dysfunction.
In Braving, Brené Brown has given us the framework for “standing strong beside our partners” while not taking on their burden. I’m guilty of this all the time. I want to rush in, I want to fix, I want to rescue, but… I am not a firefighter. I am not trained to defuse someone else’s bomb. I cannot “coach” my partner. I have to stand beside them, profess my support and love, and allow them their journey through whatever is hurting them at the moment. If I am triggering them, I can work on what behavior I can change, but I cannot stop their pain, or heal their suffering. It’s actually toxic for me to try. We get into bad behavior problems when we get into each others stuff. Let your partner have their own stuff. You do your part to take care of your own. And then reassure them that you are present, available, and loving when they are ready for your comfort.
We All Rest Alone – The 6th Love Language: Distance
An article on Medium recently gave voice to the idea of a 6th Love Language. I’m now thinking these are “Skills” and not “Languages” but the article does us all a deep service in explaining how we really do need alone time.
Solitude brings a peace of mind you can’t get any other way.
We do rest alone. For many of us on the empathic scale, we’re consciously aware of anyone within a short range of our hearts. We feel when someone else is in the house, even if they are in the backroom and being completely quiet. As a writer or creative person, you also need alone time to “do your work.” I cannot be deep in a writing project and be asked every 15 minutes if I want to go see a movie. It’s hard to ask for the time we need, especially if we’re also used to taking care of others first. BUT… We’ve got to ask for our time. And this time alone is an opportunity to recharge our own souls.
We all travel alone into the darkness at the end of our lives. (Or light, depending on your perspective.) And when we take alone time we get an opportunity to check-in with ourselves and our hearts in a way that is not possible when others are around. We don’t need to go on long retreats or climb mountains to sit on, but we do need to find moments and opportunities to feel our ultimate aloneness. When we are alone we can feel our connection with god more directly. Often, in a loving relationship, my expression of giving love and receiving love is part of my prayerful life. I am giving thanks and prayers of gratitude every day I get to spend with my beloved. But, the days I’m spending along, I’m having to find that grateful connection on my own.
Only alone can we reach out to god for what we need
from the deeper spiritual connections in our lives.
I choose to express and celebrate my love and my spirituality through my relationship. I also learn how to take it deeper and get more personal when I spend some time by myself. There’s no one around to reflect back my joy or my sadness except god. (I only use the lowercase god, because I have a more spiritual and less “church-based” god. Your higher power, or Universal spirit, may be different than mine.)
Returning from The Mountain of Aloneness
We come back from moments alone with more clarity and more vigor. Another goal can be to return with more objectivity about our partner and their independent journey. In life, we can choose to travel together, to travel side-by-side, to hold hands, to make love, to pray together, but in the end, we’re alone on this planet with our thoughts and our connection or disconnection from our higher power.
By taking the relationship path, we’ve got to find our edge IN the relationship as well as OUTSIDE the relationship, with our own practices and our own spiritual work. If we strengthen ourselves while alone, we bring a stronger, brighter partner to the relationship. And the better we get at standing in while allowing our partners to struggle without our direct help and only our loving-support, we strengthen our relationship boundaries too. This is the path of the lover: learn to love your partner enough to stand beside them in their pain and not try to fix them.
We stand alone is a relationship. But in a relationship, we also stand beside a spiritual partner, teacher, lover. In a relationship, we can transcend our isolation and truly feel loved. From this “loved” place we can head out into the world as a couple and as individuals, and burn with our desire for connection with ourselves and others. First, we must connect with ourselves. Then, we can love others with the same vigor that our god loves us. This is the trick of our lifetimes. It’s what we are here to learn. It’s why we love deeply and look for our salvation in our lover’s eyes. And while there is love and guidance there, the lasting connection is between us and our god.
From spiritual confidence, we can support our partners on their journey. We are overjoyed that they are deciding to travel with us. And we’ve got to let them have their alone time as well. It’s essential. We are alone. We are also lovers in search of an authentic connection. And when you’ve found a BIG LOVE you will never settle for anything less. Walk along together. Celebrate your love and cherish your time together. Then let them go to their quiet place without any needs or expectations from you. They will come back renewed and happy to see you. We’re stronger when our individual programs of spiritual practice are engaged and nurtured. Then we can continue our quest for love, together.
John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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As a certified life coach, I’ve been helping men and women find fulfilling relationships. If you’d like to chat for 30-minutes about your post-divorce challenges, I always give the first 30-session away for free. LEARN ABOUT COACHING WITH JOHN. There are no obligations to continue. But I get excited every time I talk to someone new. I can offer new perspectives and experiences from my post-divorce journey. Most of all, I can offer hope.
- I Am a Big Love Generator: It’s Not Easy for Me to Slow My Roll
- Alignment in Time and Space: Finding and Refinding Your Partner
- Big Love Burns Through All Other Things
- Stoking Your Soul Fire: Finding Peace at the Edge of the Unknown
- Becoming the Beloved
- Mind the Gap: Listening for the Signals from Your Lover
- Patience, Mindfulness, and the Slow Road to a Healthy Relationship
- The 5 Love Languages Gary Chapman
- Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone – Brené Brown
Here are my books on Amazon:
- Single Dad Seeks: Dating Again After Divorce: Advice and Strategies on Learning How to be Loved Again
- Fall of the House of Dad: My journey through divorce, from loss to joy, again and again
- A Good Dad’s Guide to Divorce: One father’s quest to stay connected with his children
- The Sex Index: Getting Our Love Languages Right in the Bedroom
- Here Comes the Darkness: Surviving and Thriving After a Mental Illness Diagnosis
- The Third Glass: When Drinking Becomes an Issue
- The Storm Before the Divorce: When One Parent Wants Out, That’s the End