In America, we are raised on romance—the notion that there is a perfect “forever” for us.
Of course, this is a template that has been handed down through generations of traditions, stipulations, and dictations. A lot of us think that being in a relationship will elevate our status. If we date someone with money, who is hot, who has connections, who can support our dreams, or who, at the very least, will sooth loneliness, then we can feel good about our lives.
But, what happens when we get into a relationship that breaks us down instead of builds us up?
An event called cognitive dissonance, which is when our external reality does not match the internal imagery of who we think we are, can lead to us confusing love with abusive or demeaning behaviors from our partners. Furthermore, our internal world acts as a filter to external input. So, we often cannot see the subtle degradations that chip away at our well-being.
We will often choose oppression and suppression over separation from our investment. And, that’s what a relationship is—an investment of time, energy, and resources.
Things are even more complicated when we are married to dysfunction—that is to say, that the contribution of both parties involved in creating the relationship are infusing it with distorted communication. This results in a toxic, yet often addictive, environment.
It can feel like a cage. It can undermine self-esteem. We can be aware of the discomfort, but at a total loss on how to shift it. In fact, we can keep making choices that reinforce our perception of being trapped.
Some of us attempt leaving the situation only to be pulled back in. Some of us wall off and withdraw from our significant other as a form of punishment. Some of us try to change who we are so we can manipulate our partner. At times we are aware of how we are contributing to the chaos. But, most of the time we are reactionary, which is born from our survival instincts.
When life is constructed from the energy of survival our choices become limited to fight, flight, freeze, or using sex as a means of control. Relationships are formed by two people contributing to a third entity. It becomes the vehicle that both sets the trajectory for each person, and helps to map out how each person is to behave in order to keep the wheels from falling off.
In an almost automatic fashion, when troubles arise, one person may want to veer off the road, while the other one wants to push harder on the accelerator. Each person has a choice to approach or avoid the conflict that shows up by virtue of habits, belief systems, and systemic issues. Suffice to say, we often cling the tightest to the thing we need to let go of the most.
Ironically, the action we need to take may be the last thing we perceive as accessible.
If you want to experience freedom then the right thing to do is break up. Actually, it isn’t even the right thing to do, it will inevitably be the next thing that happens because the soul is not meant to be confined.
Our birthright is to live an expressed life. We are the keepers of our fate and the arbiters of our destiny. Relationships have many functions. They can be a classroom and teach us. They can be a museum and help us archive memories. They can be a theme park and thrill us. They can be a spiritual journey and elevate our consciousness. But, rarely, are they meant to be a prescription to quell the persecution inflicted by life’s challenges.
Furthermore, although it is touted as such, self-love is also not a prescription to living a happy life. So often we search for reconciliation of our discomfort through intellectual means. We seek to explain away pain and to justify our folly. But, none of this is necessary. Freedom is immediately accessible if you are willing to let go.
The mistake we make when approaching breakup from frenetic emotions or analysis is to believe we have failed in some way. This is simply not true. Freedom comes when you remember you have, and always have had, a choice in the matter.
Living life as if it should have a defined outcome will ruin it. Don’t plan on forever with someone. Plan on spending your life having experiences that enrich your awareness of who you are and how you can use that to live your purpose.
Loving yourself simply means coming to full acceptance that you will be in a relationship with yourself for as long as your body lingers on this earth.
So, don’t think too hard on whether you can save your relationship or not. If you are asking that question, the answer is “No.”
Release it. Let go. Experience freedom and breakup.
Nothing feels more pejorative than being told to forgive yourself when you don’t even know who the hell you are anymore because a lifetime of energy has been invested in defending yourself. You have been strong enough to survive. You have fought the good fight. You have thwarted disappointment and championed justice. You have made the money, paid the bills, and woke up for 5am palates.
Let’s not even mention the narcissists you have had to put up with, your fucked up childhood, the trauma that happened in college, or the years it took and is still taking to realize your dream. Actually, let’s mention that last one. Is there any other point to living than to hold fast to a vision of who you are becoming in every moment?
We all have a purpose and a path to that purpose. It looks and feels different for everyone.
And the common truth for every human is that we all are figuring it out one moment at a time.
We build bridges to our futures by getting married, getting higher education, traveling the world, having children, innovating, and expressing ourselves through the many mediums of art. Conversely, we burn bridges by divorcing, giving up on our dreams, staying in one place for a long time, having and abandoning our children, being ridged, and judging everything that is different as wrong.
Sometimes that path to the bridge is long and winding. Let’s just say it is always long and winding with intermittent moments of magic. That’s life. And the most important bridge we can build is forgiveness.
It is obvious to look outside of ourselves at other humans we can forgive, circumstances we can forgive, or even forgiving our higher power. But, the most profound forgiveness happens between our shadow and our light.
That which you don’t own up to will own your ass. Think of all the things you judge out of your reality. Are you judging men harshly for hurting you? Are you blaming women for the losses in your life? What hurts have turned into judgements? What disappointments have transformed into walls? What is blocking you from really living your destiny?
The obstacle is the path. Sometimes we have to release years of pent up rage and frustration through the cathartic act of burning old love letters, screaming “Fuck you” at the top of our lungs, or finding some safe container—like a therapist’s office or boxing gym—to access our body in a way that hits the reset button.
One of the greatest tools to access forgiveness and to start building the bridge to more possibility is to ask yourself, “What’s not wrong?” There are some lessons that are more difficult to integrate than others like divorce, chronic illness, or rejection. And if you stop to ask, “What’s not wrong?” then the lesson will reveal itself in its purest form. Often times the strength to emerge as more of who you really are takes being broken open.
Forgiveness is an inside job. It takes resources such as faith, community, willingness, and acceptance to take what was broken, and rather than glue it back together, expand the space by bridging the broken pieces.
Every place there is resistance is an invitation for forgiveness. Every person you dislike is provoking you to forgive. Every stress that arises from the feeling of not having or being enough is stressing the importance of forgiveness. Every time you want to shut down and hide is the time to begin to build your bridge.
Now is always the best time to forgive.
Listen. Your time is precious.
I can’t emphasize this enough. One of the biggest regrets I hear from my clients is, “I wasted time with a person who didn’t really love me.” Time is money, it is energy; it is the place where worry, joy, fear, and existence resides.
I want to save you time. And, in some ways, save your life.
It takes perspective. So, if I may, I am going to divulge what I know from three years of being a relationship counselor and human being. Here goes:
First, you evolve through experience. That is just how life works. So, some thought leaders would purport that “You can’t waste time.” Bull-shit.
There are definitely choices that zig your zag onto the fast-track while others derail you for years at a time. And some people need a lot of time doing the opposite of what is intrinsic to their being. It takes knowing what you don’t want to understand what you do.
The path is always unfolding.
Basically, if you want to get married and have a family, there is no reason to get on Tinder and hookup with someone who, most likely, does not want anything to do with a structured relationship.
Stay on the “hold-out” track rather than the “put-out” track.
And let me be clear, while marriage is no walk in the park, having a partner makes life better.
I’m sure you know this.
Maybe you don’t know that having a partner means being a partner. So, in this respect the only mistakes in life are the ones you don’t learn from. It takes time to become the person you want to be with.
In other words, you can always make a different choice or a series of different choices.
That being said, breakups can often feel like something that happens to you and not from you.
The second thing I know from the conversations I’ve had with countless clients and friends is that it is a son-of-a-bitch accepting that while you may hold the dream of forever in your heart and all that goes with it, the person who was supposed to be “the person” in that long-haul scenario just isn’t.
The experiences you had with “that one” can’t be duplicated or replaced. And, it is also a son-of-a-bitch when you want to keep choosing to be with “that one” and they don’t choose you. The point is, you have a choice.
Keep the dream alive of coming home, building a life, and reciprocal love. Don’t let that dream die because you or the person you were with didn’t have the capacity to hold it and to rock you steady.
Sometimes the most mature thing we can do is admit, “I’m growing in a direction that is contrary to my capacity to negotiate all the sacrifices needed to stay in relationship.”
It is up to you to prioritize the cascade of desires that accompany being alive.
Most often, and especially in this fast-speed western culture, survival gets priority most of the time. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard having the conversation about “needing more money”.
Actually, we need more connection.
Abusive relationships both romantically and in the work-place flourish when the focus is on survival. This energy produces less than enough all the time.
Specific to your breakup, which led you to this article because you are searching the internet for the answer to why you could be so severely rejected, disregarded, and your dreams were just shit upon, there are answers.
If you live, you learn. Some lessons will kick your ass—hardcore. When this happens, you have a choice.
The third thing I know from my human experience is that if something feels “off”, it is.
The biggest gains come right after you cut your losses. It can be difficult to know when to do what. At what point do you go from thinking about something to taking action?
Right now is the time to make different choices. Even more than this, decide.
Decide to give yourself the grace to feel your feelings but don’t let them dictate your behaviors.
Don’t stalk him or her on social media.
Don’t get into another relationship to distract you.
Don’t fuck around with your time.
Do slow down—like, really slow down.
Pour all that pain into being creative. Write, dance, meditate, sleep, eat green, and breathe.
Know this: We are all trying to survive. You are not the only person suffering from confusion. Further, you are not the only person suffering. You are not special in that respect. You can be one of the many people that shines a light into the world therefore illuminating others because you were brave enough to decide to let your light be bigger than your suffering.
So, the break down is this: choose something else. Ask for help instead of using your suffering to make you feel special. Worry is the absence of faith; turn inward. And slow down. Ask questions like, “What else is possible?” “What would it take for me to receive?” “What can I be right now to experience what I am wanting?” Then pause.
Your time is precious. It is up to you to decide how you want to spend it. That’s it.
And I wish you well-being.
They sit across from me—couples desperate for answers on how to stay together, singles panicked that their last love was in fact their “last love”, and partners at odds which each other who see breaking up as the only path to freedom or at least relief.
I would say that my life path has had a unique yet common trajectory. A friend pointed out to me that I exposed myself to every weird emotion possible and was meant to be a relationship counselor. She made this comment after I told her that my teen years were spent lusting after this nineteen year old air force guy who used to sneak me on base, into his dorm room, and there we would lay side by side. While he slept I would just stare at him and then go home, listen to Garth Brooks, lament and write really bad poetry.
In some ways, my life has been poetic. It has replicated the soliloquies, prose, and sonnets I poured onto paper as a youth.
In my life, love has mostly been tragic.
Of course I couldn’t accept that tragedy was the hallmark of love, so I set out to research it. I spend ten effen years in school, in and out of bad relationships, in love, falling out of love, single and happy, single and lonely, and just plain single. I traced the trail of love a thousand times over until I could look at it from a bird’s eye view and scrutinize it with the eyes of a lynx.
What can I say? Relationships are hard. It’s not just a well worn saying. It is so factual it could be a law.
In my life, in the lives of my clients, and in the lives of dear friends I’ve witnessed the elations that come with being in a couple and the sickening defenses that are employed when feeling misunderstood. Much of the time and energy that gets expended in relationship has to do with each party explaining themselves and making sure that the internal picture he or she holds for himself or herself is validated by his or her partner.
Validating someone else’s existence while maintaining your own is hard work. This is especially true when the person who is seeking validation has no fucking clue who they are. And who we are is a moving target.
It gets even trickier when both people are discovering who they are through the vehicle that is the relationship.
But wait, there’s more!
When in the relationship people often discover who they are by uncovering what they don’t want. And then there is even more. Once what is not wanted is discovered, plans begin being made for what to do about it and expectations get projected onto the other party about how they should act so that at least one person in the relationship can get what they want.
Game. Set. Match.
We haven’t even begun to complicate things. First there is a desire to get what you want. That desire gets projected onto a lover. Then that lover fakes like he or she hasn’t an insecurity and can be the thing you need or you just assume they will be. Next, you realize, “Holy shit! They are not living up to my ideal.” This process can happen in five minutes or five years. When it happens sooner than later it just looks like rejection but when it happens later than sooner it looks like a string of justifications.
It sounds like, “He was just so good in bed I couldn’t leave.” “She was pretty good company most of the time.” I haven’t forgotten about sex. No one ever forgets about sex.
Sex is the great multiplier (pun intended).
Even one night stands create history between two people who would otherwise remain as close as strangers who sit next to each other on the same flight. There are those rare and beautiful moments where this orchestra of ego, desire, lust, fantasy, mommy issues and daddy issues coalesce into a cohesive relationship. Hollywood has built an industry off of these moments.
And relationship counselors have built an industry on all the other moments—the crises and the awakenings.
So how can you tell if your breakup is a crises or an awakening? The simple answer is that it is a crisis if you jump into another relationship or use some form of distraction to numb out rather than take the time needed to be introspective. If you skip learning from what you’ve experienced—live the unexamined life—it’s a crisis.
And in crisis blame, codependence, and addiction often get confused for true love. There is no force more powerful than true love.
Having a long-term, lasting and sustainable relationship is a humbling experience. It takes time to arrive at a place where you can be genuinely curious about how your partner views the world. They are more than just a sounding board, a validation machine, or an approval meter. They are so fucking beautiful in their uniqueness that you can’t help but want to drink in all parts of them thereby being transformed.
Waking up requires listening. Listening, like wisdom, doesn’t happen overnight. It happens over the course of many nights, days, events, emotions, and celebrations.
If your breakup teaches you these things it is an awakening:
1. Be humble and listen.
2. You do not have the answers for someone else’s life.
3. You are your own person and must remain your own person.
4. Communication is king.
5. You are ten times more clear on what fits in your life and what doesn’t.
6. Timing matters. Right person. Wrong time. Wrong person.
7. Sex isn’t the point.
8. You are a better version of yourself for having loved, continuing to love, and for getting the fuck out when you did.
9. He’s not wrong. She’s not wrong. It just didn’t fit.
10. Love never dies. It just expands through the cracks of a broken heart.
It will take time to feel the pangs of crisis melt away and the insight of awakening dominate your awareness. It will take more time than you want it to. And in the mean time, you may numb out, hook up, get down, force the issue, play with fire, try again, isolate, burn time on social media, and so on.
Sometimes before we come more of who we are we are less of who we are. We people please. We flirt with delusions of grandeur. We sell out, put out, and numb out. On the way to awakening we pass through the gateway of fear and the terror of crisis.
You can’t really get it wrong.
Just keep going. Just keep growing.
The problem with forgiveness
The problem with forgiveness is that no one really understands what it is.
The only certain thing about forgiveness is that people are directed to do it on a daily basis.
“If you don’t forgive, you are just hurting yourself.”
This is a pretty strong argument to make. And attempting to understand forgiveness is precisely the problem.
Yet, some claim to be able to forgive and also not to forget. This seems like an outlandish claim.
How can you really forgive if you don’t forget?
Let’s break it down.
There are variety of definitions for forgiveness. It is the releasing of grudges. It is a pardon. It is transmutation. It is making peace with fear. It is embracing the moment and no longer being hostage to the past.
But, what happens when forgiveness becomes a prescription for being a good human? This too causes problems because being human means experiencing the entire spectrum of emotion. It is okay to feel hate in your heart. It’s okay to be pissed. It’s all a part of being a human animal endowed with very real instincts that are informed by a variety of emotions.
Sometimes when we are told to forgive it can sound like, “Stop defending yourself.” Or better yet, “Stop protecting yourself.”
The animal inside of us all knows just how stupid both of those statements are, because without defending or protecting we cannot live, let alone forgive.
A strong relationship is one that is defended and protected. A strong relationship exists within clear boundaries and agreements. There is very little ambiguity. A life without borders is unrecognizable and generally chaotic.
And there is nothing wrong with chaos. It just is.
I am speaking both relativisticly and definitively. I believe that forgiveness exists in the middle of these two world view points.
On the one hand, it is good to forgive. On the other, it is not good to forgive if in doing so one feels a deeper sense of personal violation—if it is inauthentic.
And, is there such a thing as inauthentic forgiveness? Is forgiveness and absolute or a journey?
In reality, you could replace the concept of forgiveness with musings about love. We would still talk about it in broad strokes and with conclusive statements. It is not humanly possible to do otherwise.
As a counselor, I listen to clients talk about forgiveness often. In today’s society, there is a premium on self-forgiveness. The topic dominates a large portion of the “self-help” section in today’s bookstores.
Clients who have even the mildest self-awareness talk about needing to love themselves, forgive themselves and approve of themselves. We all kind of know this, but are a bit clueless when it comes to actually doing it.
This is another issue with forgiveness: Is it a way of being or something to do?
The greatest way to understand this is through an old parable my philosophy teacher told in one of my college classes, “A young philosopher will ask questions believing he will receive answers. The old philosopher asks questions knowing it will only lead to more questions.”
Simply, forgiveness is a question not an answer. It can’t be arrived at.
And the greatest act of forgiveness available to humans is giving thanks and living in gratitude. So, if forgiveness is a question, “Thank you” is the answer.
Lastly, having an answer is not the same as arriving. It is tempting to treat forgiveness like an item on a check-list or giving thanks as an annual event. Actually, both are on-going. So, if you are struggling to forgive, know that it is nothing to be forced or to be remanded to the “been there done that” pile.
In really simple terms, don’t struggle with anything. Live your way into it. Life will thank you.
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