Endings: Relationship Breakup Advice

Jar of pink roses wilting while it gently snows in the background - suggests an atmosphere of relationship breakup.Photo by Elijah O'Donnell on Unsplash

Life is filled with breakups. All of our intimate relationships will end, whether through breakup or death. Many people have multiple love relationships across their lifetime (some at the same time), and very few of us are with our first lover or partner. On IntimacyIs.com you will find relationship breakup advice that takes the natural cycles of relating into account.

It’s stifling to hold onto a relationship when it is over, for both people:

  • Yes, it’s common that one person initiates the breakup and feels the desire for it more strongly.
  • Yes, it’s common for the other to cling to how the relationship once was, and try to prevent the ending.

But deep down, perhaps even unknown to themselves, both people desire the breakup and both people wish the relationship wouldn’t end. It’s just that in intimate relating, we commonly play polarities for each other, and push each other (unconsciously) into the opposite polarity.

Pushing Each Other into Polarities

Have you ever noticed that the more you embody a certain quality in a relationship, the more your partner embodies the opposite? One common example is that one partner will have more access to their emotions. They will feel big feelings and express them with vigour. The other partner will have more access to their rationality. They will craft clever logical arguments and express them adeptly.

Neither emotion nor logic is right or wrong, and in relationship, neither is enough. Both are needed in a harmonious dance for loving relating. But if one partner is ‘stuck’ in one of these, the other partner is very often pushed (unconsciously) to the other extreme. When stressed both partners resort to their area of ease and strength. Tragically, occupying one extreme tends to bring out more of the opposite extreme in the other.

This pushing-into-polarity process can actually be a helpful tool of intimacy, when made conscious (Sidebar: everything can be transformed to be helpful when made conscious!). Our partners help us get more in touch with qualities we’ve disowned and left behind, that remain under-developed in our shadow selves. Your skilled partner can help you get in touch with your disowned polarity. You can do the same for them. Yet so commonly this doesn’t happen, and over time the polarities widen.

Tension increases. Conflicts heat (or go frosty cold) and come up more frequently. Eventually almost any excuse can set one of the parties off -  a dripping tap, a tone of voice, something forgotten or something remembered. Both parties are looking for any excuse to air their hurt, rage, and disappointment at not being met fully, and loved just as they are (one might air this with tears and screaming, one might air this with an expressionless face and stonewalling. And there are myriad other strategies).

The energy of breakup is increasing between the couple. The abyss is stretching wider, and eventually they will fall in. It might take them a certain amount of time to get to that ending … maybe a week, a year, more. But if you tune in, you can sense it in their combined atmosphere. It’s like a storm waiting to break (a bigger storm, building behind all the little storms of recycled conflicts).

Storm about to break - dark clouds gathering ominously.Photo by Victor Rodriguez on Unsplash

Their relationship breakup is not inevitable: If the little storms are entered into by both parties as they arise, it is possible for tension to ease. It is possible for the storms to destroy what needs to be destroyed, and usher in the new. The storm can ease into soft rain that washes away the hurt, and makes new beginnings possible.

The Energy of Breakup

I’m remembering a breakup with a beloved long-term partner. I felt the energy of breakup moving between us, but a part of me turned away from it in fear and sadness.

On the outward-side of life we just weren’t working. We tried several different relationship forms, trying to find one that worked for both of us. But we couldn’t seem to co-discover the equilibrium that would help us both flourish, together.

On the inward-side of life our polarities were pushing us apart.

I tried something new (eventually, after many hard lessons resulting in personal growth). I managed to bring in the polarities she was asking of me, into myself, and develop them into my own qualities. In this partnership it meant refining my logic, taking co-responsibility for household tasks, and speaking more directly and truthfully about my inner world and my outer needs (as opposed to passive aggression and dishonesty).

I felt our ‘relational system’ shift in a strange, previously unknown way. The dynamic between us was out-of-balance. When we occupied opposite polarity positions we were miserable, but in a way, we were also solid, balanced in equilibrium. And we both (unconsciously) received a sick sense of pleasure out of the melodrama we indulged in regularly. It made me feel so desperately alive! It fed my ego, and I enjoyed (and hated, and was in agony) playing the ‘drama triangle’s’ shifting roles of Perpetrator > Victim > Rescuer.

My partner didn’t bring into herself the polarities I asked her to rediscover and develop (and kept asking for a long time, too long). These included opening her heart emotionally, stopping judging my way of doing things as wrong and to see it as merely different, and to speak more gently and tenderly when communicating truths … especially hard ones. Or rather, she did open into some of this, but only to a point. She was more engaged in defending against change than she was in allowing my influence. I came to realise that she saw change as a personal threat to her (ego) identity.

Growing Apart

From my perspective, I was growing and she wasn’t growing with me (and there is no right or wrong to that, it just is what it is). We were growing apart. I became more aware of my relational needs (unique to the two of us), and learned how to ask her for these, upfront (beyond passive aggressive communication). She was a teacher for me in some of this.

She was learning how to say no, and set firm boundaries (I was a teacher for her in some of that). She didn’t want the same things as me and she didn’t want to meet (many of) my needs. She started off saying no with her behaviour, but struggling to say it with words. And then she learned to say it directly, and later on she learned to say it more kindly. But she still said no.

We started off holding opposite ends of the polarity of Yes and No.

I was more on the Yes side: saying yes too much, making excuses for her, seeing the best in her and the relationship even when it was a mirage, ignoring the disparity in me taking on her feedback while she ignored mine, doing whatever I could to desperately keep the relationship on-track (because I feared breakup and the pain I might feel. And because it felt normal, and just like my childhood, to be in that unhappy dynamic of ‘love’ with her).

She was  more on the No side: saying no to change, no to my ideas for how we could help our relationship, no to being there for me emotionally (not all the time, but a significant portion), no to being vulnerable (past a certain point), no to exploring the deep pain and despair that kept coming up for her mysteriously (because she feared it would overwhelm her, and she didn’t see the point of self-development. And because this behaviour felt normal, and just like her childhood, to be in that unhappy dynamic of ‘love’ with me).

But then … a plot twist! I learned to start saying no, and how to recognise and own my boundaries. I learned that I feared her emotional reactions and possible punishing behaviours, and that that was why I ‘lied by omission’ around certain boundaries (which doesn't justify my lying, but helps me have more empathy for it). I developed my courage. I stepped out of the ‘victim role’ and into my adult-self (while holding my wounded child selves gently). I practiced sharing my truth and holding boundaries (gently but firmly) even in the face of her distress or anger or ultimatums.

But she didn’t learn to say yes, at least nowhere near the same extent as my journey into no.

We both grew on our own journeys, we just didn’t grow closer together. It just so happened, that in this instance, our path split and became two paths.

Years ago our paths had merged and we walked awhile together (and how heavenly it was … as well at times, hellish). Now, in the perfect timing of our ‘Us’, the path had split again.

A path splits into two, edged by snow and forest. This happens in a breakup.Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

The Lifespan of a Relationship

Everything in this world has a lifespan: It is born, it cycles through stages of development, and it dies. And then out of every death arises new birth, in its time.

Relationships are like that too. You can learn how to sense the season (though you might not want to, and you might invest a lot of energy in blocking this awareness!).

There is no good or bad to seasons, they just are. Yet most of us have been culturally conditioned that beginning is good and ending is bad. Breakup is to be avoided at all costs and is a sign of (gasp) ‘failure’. A ‘successful’ relationship is one that lasts for a long time, preferably til death.

I say no, a successful relationship is one that is true to its seasons, and that flows with the dance of Life. It is one in which the partners learn the developmental lessons they offer to each other as gifts – often the very qualities that drew them to each other (and which they later learned to hate).1

It is one in which the partners share love, yes, but not only share it, learn to open more into Big Love (the Love that we all are deepest inside, that we can learn to reunite with). The path to opening more is often through conflict, and conflict is often sparked by polarity.

Sometimes love is an ending.

Unorthodox Relationship Breakup Advice

So I would say that if you are approaching a relationship breakup or are in the middle of one or on the other side, and it’s what is real between the two (or more) of you … that there’s a perfection hiding in that.

I would offer relationship breakup advice (unorthodox as it may be) to stay with your experience in all its flavours. To give yourself room to grieve, be angry, be outraged, shake with fear, drop into despair, cry a river of tears … be relieved, open into newness, feel happy again, be at peace. Whatever is there, is what is there.

Be with it – it’s there for a reason, and in season.

Don’t try to hold the deluge of inner-experience back … that’s an exercise in futility. You won’t be successful; it will erupt out in other ways and/or constipate your heart. This will have increasingly damaging ramifications for your life and relationships. So allow the deluge to wash through you instead, cleansing you and transforming the landscape of your inner and outer worlds.

(I’m not saying to act on the deluge, but to be in and with it as fully as possible, experiencing it all. You may need the help of attuned others to do this, such as counsellors, trusted friends, even beloved pets.)

If you can stay with the seasons and learn to follow them closely, Life will unfold into a mystery that is too beautiful for words. And so will your relationships.

I suspect one day you’ll look back, and see what I mean (just as ‘younger me’ is shocked by what I see now about the ‘worst’ times in my life, and the most crushing heartbreaks. They were the making of my now-capacity for the kind of intimacy beyond my wildest notions of what intimacy could be).

"To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.

To live fully is to be always in no-man's-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh.

To live is to be willing to die over and over again.

From the awakened point of view, that's life."
~ Pema Chödrön

Let the death that is breakup unfold, if that is what is truly there. Live your breakup fully. It will lead you ultimately into more fullness, into the heart of Love, and Life Worth Living.