The end of your relationship isn’t the end of your dreams or of your happiness. It just may be about discovery, renovation, and learning to let go.
When a relationship ends, it is natural to focus on what is lost, to fully submerge in the heartache and mourn the departed. It is all too easy to become so mired in the sadness that the end of a relationship is extrapolated to mean the end of so much more. But that’s just your wounded heart speaking. And it has a tendency to exaggerate.
The End of Your Relationship is Not…
The End of Hopes and Dreams
When my ex walked out the door, he took my dreams with him. He carried out the trips we had planned over dinners and walks, running over them with his car until they were but black marks on the street. He hefted the retirement daydreams onto his back and launched them in the dumpster as he drove away. The house plans and projects were sent through the shredder before being addressed to the incinerator. He even stuffed his pockets with the small yearnings, the desire to grow old together and to watch our world evolve. He took it all.
For years, I was afraid to dream. Afraid that it would again be stolen by a thief in the night. But then I realized how limiting that was. Silly, even. After all, lost dreams are better than no dreams at all. I’ve since worked to build new visions, both solo and with my second husband. I again carry hope for the future and paint images of a desired life.When a relationship ends, some dreams are dashed but that simply clears the way for new ones. Maybe even better ones.
The End of Intimacy
There is an ease found in a developed relationship. A sense of truly being known and accepted, fears and all. I worried that I would never again feel that deep connection with someone and, once I started dating again, my fears were confirmed. I felt a distance with each date. A sense of observing the interaction rather than feeling it. I blamed the men, assuming that there was something special about my connection with my ex that allowed true intimacy to develop.
But what I neglected to consider is that time is the true medium needed for intimacy to flourish. It is not fair to compare the infancy stage of one relationship to the fully-developed period of another.
It’s scary to open up again, to risk the pain of loss and heartbreak. But if you are willing to take the risk, the fulfillment of true intimacy may again be your reward.
The End of Family
My ex and I knew each other since high school; his family became my family. When he elected to abandon the marriage, his family followed suit. I mourned the loss not only of the marriage, but of the extended network that we were embedded within.
I did lose that family but the divorce did not mean the loss of family altogether. In fact, it strengthened the bond with my own relatives, especially my father. It made me more open and committed to my friends, who truly became family to me.
It’s painful to be ostracized from a social group, to feel like a pariah in the same moments you are mourning a marriage. But it is also an opportunity to build and fortify new connections.
The End of Happiness
We all have a tendency to believe that the way we feel in a given moment is the way we will always feel. And after a divorce or break-up, that’s a pretty abysmal thought.
There’s a strange distortion that often happens at the end of a relationship, where the past is viewed as better than it was and the future is perceived to be bleaker than it is. We may have believed that we were happy in our relationships, but we often mistake comfort for happiness.
Happiness comes when there is an agreement between your perceptions and your reality. It is found when you are able to be yourself and are not afraid to face any obstacles in your path. Happiness is not found from others; it comes from within. Only you can make you happy.
The end of a relationship may feel like the end of happiness. But all it can do is delay it for a while.
We resist endings, often preferring to hold on to what we know rather than move forth into the unfamiliar.
The End of Your Relationship Is…
In the beginning, I classified my divorce as ruinous, especially considering the numerous betrayals and deceptions. It was an attack. I was a victim. And I had to learn to live in a world destroyed.
But now, years later, I no longer see it as completely injurious. In fact, in some ways, that horrible year was the best episode of my existence, the rock bottom that became the foundation of a better life.
The end of a relationship is ultimately neither good nor bad. It’s simply different. It may be planned or delivered in a blow. Wanted or undesired. Regardless, it is a change that touches every aspect of your life. And change, in any magnitude or guise, is hard.
The secret to successfully navigating any change in your life is found in your ability to adapt to the new environment. It’s difficult to negotiate the transition from partnered to single, especially if it was a choice thrust upon you.
When I first started dating again, I made the mistake of immediately acting married. I’m sure I spooked a few guys, but I never intended to come on too strong or too fast. It was just that I was still learning to adapt; I knew how to be married but I had to learn how to be single.
As with everything, practice makes better. Give yourself the time and opportunity to adapt to your new reality. New is always uncomfortable. But nothing stays new forever. You are stronger and more resilient than you ever imagined. You will adapt.
When I felt the last scraps of the marriage slide through my fingers, I responded with panic, grasping on to whatever I could. I sent him desperate messages, imploring him to reconsider. I entertained fantasies where somehow everything was a big mistake and reality would return again.
It’s so difficult to let go. To release our beliefs about the person we loved and the resilience of the relationship. It is scary to let go and trust that you will survive when you don’t yet know how far you will fall. Letting go is a battle between faith and fear. It takes courage to bridge to release your past and trust in your future.
Letting go is the ultimate gift to yourself. It’s a gift of freedom.
When strangers and acquaintances asked intrusive questions about my life in the year after the divorce, I responded with the statement, “I am in the middle of a major life renovation.” And really, what could have been more true? When your life is torn down to the studs, you have the opportunity to rebuild however you want.
The end of a relationship is a time to make deliberate decisions about your life. It’s a time to evaluate what you have and remove or repurpose what no longer fits. It’s an opportunity for you to be the architect of your life without anyone else trying to change your plans.
The best lessons are found when we are open and bleeding. When our defenses are down and we are searching for meaning and reassurances.
As I started writing about the end of my marriage, I was amazed to discover connections between the divorce and my childhood wounds. I found patterns in my responses to situations and, once identified, I was able to work to change those behaviors. I have learned more about myself in the past five years than I did in the first thirty plus.
Use the end of a relationship as an opportunity to reflect. To gain perspective and to make conscious changes. Choose to be a student of life rather than a victim of circumstance.
The end of a relationship is a brief window of opportunity because when nothing is certain, anything is possible.
Every ending holds the seed to another beginning. Let it grow.
Also by Lisa: How to Love When You’re the Next Love
Photo: Bureau of Land Management Oregon/Washington-Flickr