WHEN RELATIONSHIPS END
The Road Ahead
From one man to another. (Of course, if you are a woman, you can read this!) In recent years, I have written a lot about relationships and, in particular, staying the course with a relationship. My recent book, From The Frying Pan To The Jacuzzi is a testimony to the desire to stay the course that I see and hear expressed by many of my clients and that I experience within myself as well. But the reality is there are "Perfect Storms" and relationships break apart, or worse rip apart, drown, die, or sometimes there is no perfect storm, the relationship just fades or simply ends. And don’t ask how that happens? The reasons are infinite, unfathomable, heart breaking, ridiculous, and beyond judgment.
Sometimes the end of a relationship just kind of shows up. The road ends, so to speak. A good friend of mine described it this way.
For several months or maybe even longer, it seemed like there was this large box with a lid on it, following me around everywhere I went. Sometimes, it wouldn’t follow me, but just sit right smack in front of me. I did everything I could to avoid even seeing the box let alone dealing with it. But, finally, one day, I said to the box. "Okay, okay." I first lifted the lid just enough to peak inside and then just went for it and took the lid off all together. And it was just an empty box. It held nothing. Whatever it had held before was gone, vanished, disappeared. There was no longer a relationship between us. And it made me wonder if there ever was one. I knew obviously there had to have been something between us, but maybe it was not a relationship. I don’t know why I put off looking inside for so long. Well, no, of course I do. The ache in my heart and chest were so intense. Having to face packing up and heading out was excruciating. The sadness, the loneliness, the embarrassment, the sense of failure, the sense of inadequacy. My relatively small paunch grew into an enormous stomach four times the size it was in reality whenever I looked in the mirror, and I would say to myself, "Hell, I’d leave me." I walked around in shock for several days wondering how I would keep my secret, secret. But I found I was not able to keep the secret. Every time I saw or talked to someone I knew, I burst into tears and I mean burst, monsoon type!
When a relationship ends, some clients tell me that they want to kill themselves. So I imagine this guy jumping off a bridge. About half way down he realizes that a woman is passing him by. She’s going to hit the water first! "Damned," he says to himself. "She’s still in my life!" Or half way down he realizes that he can actually control the flight, and he wishes he had taken up hang gliding or sky diving. "Damn, maybe I can hit the water in just the right way and survive this idiotic move."
I have to admit that I have considered checking out early on any number of occasions throughout my life, but it has never become an option for me. I have too much that I WANT to do while I’m here, and I want every second available to me. Not interested in turning in any unused minutes. I don’t think there’s a refund, you know, perhaps even a penalty for cashing in early. I don’t know. And I do not judge those who opt out. And I don’t think they are in hell or necessarily mentally ill. The ones I know personally are honorable people, and I miss them dearly. I work every day in the office where Dr. Fred blew his brains out. GD, you, Fred! But I think he has been responsible for keeping many of my clients alive and well. Now speaking of relationships, my relationship with Dr. Fred is a whole hub in itself.
I remember one client telling me that when he finally came up for air from his denial that the relationship was over, he realized there was a road in front of him, and it was time to head out. He told me he wasn’t sure if he had any control over the journey in front of him, but being the control freak that he was, he was going to be sure to bring certain things on the journey and be sure to leave other things behind. I remember him jokingly saying, "Just in case I do have some control, I want to exercise my choices and options." What an interesting concept: exercising my choices and my options. So maybe it is just like your muscles growing from exercising them. Your choices and options also expand as you exercise them.
So before you jump, think about exercising your choices and options and checking out early is never on the list. It’s one that your wounded ego adds! Yea, I know, a little Wayne Dyeresque! But I like it!
Jim, an alcoholic friend with about twenty years sobriety told me that when his relationship ended, he lived on the verge of tears twenty fours a day, and as he allowed the waves of sadness to permeate his body instead of tensing up against them, the tears literally washed away and soothed the pain and the self doubt, the sense of being stupid, of being had, of being used, the urge to blame and even the desire to get even somehow. He also said that letting out all the tears seemed to help him let go of the urge to hang on to a relationship that might ultimately electrocute him if he didn’t let go. He told me that he had been a dry drunk for a great deal of the relationship, and he imagined that being a dry drunk hurt the relationship more than when he was actually drinking. "It took me a long time before I was able to plug my heart and my emotions back in and be there as a compassionate human being to the people I so dearly love, but unfortunately for the women I loved and still love, it was too late."
Another client told me that as he started out on his new journey, he promised himself that he would consciously empty his back pack of bitterness and cynicism every day, and for a period of time, he had to empty out that sucker almost daily. "I do not want to spend the next ten years coming to therapy and regurgitating my bitter bitterness, nor do I want to come in here ranting about the woman I dearly love, still, and cramming her along with all other women into a trash barrel or into that other blue container for recyclables as a way to rid myself of my lingering attachment for her and my desire to find another woman to love."
It is interesting how some folks find it almost impossible to live with or by themselves and need to be in a relationship with someone else. I wonder if we became totally at home with ourselves, to where we could sing that song with gusto, "I love myself the way I am...." that we would attract a totally different kind of person into our lives.
When I asked the client to describe to me, if he could, what being bitter or cynical looks like, he told me it would sound like this.
"Oh you poor woman! You want to be liberated and equal, but don’t have a clue as to what that means in the context of a relationship with a man. You want to tease and use a man until you are bored with him. Then kick him to the curb and wait for some other sucker to come along to be in love with. Some other sucker with his head up his you know what. Some other sucker who will actually believe that you are in love with him, and that he is better than your ex, only to find out later that he too is an ex, in line, waiting for his number to be called."
Yes bitter and cynical, and loaded with bear, but it also made me laugh.
I told my client he could come in every week and rant. That this was a safe place to dump his backpack, and I would only ask that he scoop it up at the end of the session and drop the stuff in the dumpster in the parking lot. So he started bringing a bag to each session and would symbolically scoop up his bitterness and cynicism at the end of each session and then tossed it into the dumptser in the parking lot. He said that there were actually times he was tempted to hold onto the bag and he found that quite interesting. "A little scary," he said. He said this little ritual made it possible for him to feel good, really really good, about all the wonderful events in his day-to-day life, and it even made it possible for him to be a friend of sorts to his ex.
The option to dumping your back pack daily is to outright grow a garden of bitterness and cynicism. This garden will not combat global warming nor will there be any flowers or delicious fruit in it. Only bitterness and cynicism. And it takes a lot of effort to keep those things healthy. I mean every day you must produce more toxic waste within your heart and brain and mind and soul and you have to put a high chain link fence around the garden to keep people out, and pretty soon you have to add guards and attack dogs, and at the end, you still have only bitterness and cynicism.
Ironically, if you build such a garden of bitterness and cynicism, just as in the film, Field Of Dreams, "they" will come. Lots of other cynical and bitter folks will come. And you will have all the bitterness and cynicism anyone could dream for.
Yes, it is painstaking to build a different kind of garden when a relationship ends, one with flowers, juicy peach trees, an interesting weed or two, at least one redwood tree twenty five hundred years old, perhaps a brook, a babbling brook at that, a couple of clowns, balloons in the shape of hearts, birds flying, soaring, swooping, and singing. And some of the balloons will have the words "Good By" on them. Almost too painful to build such a garden, at least at the beginning, but as the garden grows, so do your choices and options. And by all means, surround yourself with folks who will be eager to work with you in THIS garden.
You know, at rock bottom I truly believe that men and women or women and men are good people, really good people. I mean the women we love are not suicide bombers! As men, we are smart enough to know that the women we marry also feel used and at some point just figured we were bored with them because of all the time and energy we put into our work or hobbies.
Again, at rock bottom, I believe we are all good people, really good people, and we really do have the best interest at heart for the people we think we love, and however mysterious it may be to our partners, we do what we do for good reasons. That’s not to deny or dismiss that our "good reasons" may trigger enough hurt and pain for the entire planet.
The words of the song say it well. "I love myself the way I am....I love you the way you are....I love the world the way it is....and all the things I judge are done by people just like me....."
Maybe that’s a song to sing with each other every morning to sustain the relationship if you're still in one, as well as a song to sing to let go when it is over.
Sometimes when a relationship ends, I hear one or both partners saying something like, "I just don’t want to feel guilty about anything."
I always counter with What’s the big deal about feeling guilty? I mean, we all make mistakes. Feel some healthy guilt, for crying out loud. Give yourself an opportunity to see where you did go wrong so you won’t repeat it in the next relationship. Guilt doesn’t have to be toxic or a a death sentence.
As a man, I can feel guilty that I was not able to walk tall at those moments she needed me to. I can feel guilty that I did not want to risk swooping in and taking her into my arms and reassuring her that everything was going to be okay. I can feel guilty that I got caught up in trying to please her instead of saying No to financial decisions that have ended up wrecking our relationship. I can feel guilty for long hours on the job in the name of providing. I can even feel guilty that I’m a chicken and still a little boy who struggles to grow up, and maybe I’m like every other man on the face of the earth, obsessed with my inadequacies and hell-bent on self protection, instead of spreading my wings and flying and living free, free of the preoccupation of what is going on inside the other person’s head and allowing myself to behave in the best ways I know how even if misinterpreted.
Feeling guilty about any of this does not mean that the guilt has to take over and control your life and haunt your future. Feel the guilt, acknowledge it, and it will go on its own, believe me, but you have to really acknowledge it first.
I AM WRITING THIS HUB FROM A MALE PERSPECTIVE.
No duh! I KNOW THERE IS ONE OF YOU GREAT WOMEN HUBBERS OUT THERE WHO COULD WRITE THE SAME HUB FROM A WOMAN’S PERSPECTIVE.
So I have come to the end of what I have to say about relationships ending, at least for today. It is sad when a relationship ends, much like death, and there is a road ahead of us, in part a road of grief, but it is a road to life. For all of you who are experiencing the end of a relationship, grab your back pack and head on down that road and BREATHE.
And if you have a spiritual practice, it is a good time to check in with your Senior Partner, and if not, it might be a time to think about beginning one. It doesn't have to be a time of complete disillusionment or a reason to toss your faith out the window. It's just painful!
Another client told me that he was very grateful for all that he learned from his ex and was grateful for the time he was able to live with her and love her. Now that is a really tall order for some! But isn’t that interesting?
So BREATHE and BE GRATEFUL.