A former client, Deidre, called me, sobbing uncontrollably. Her beloved fiancé, Mac, texted her that he would be moving out. Texted her. Because an actual “Dear Jane” letter required too much effort. And a face-to-face conversation, too much courage. Only a few months prior, he had asked for her hand in marriage. Now he was worried who would get the mattress.
With 8 hours’ notice, he removed all of his belongings from their home, taking a sledgehammer to her heart in the process. The worst part? She didn’t see it coming because he had been such a “nice guy.” She never realized his capacity for cruelty. After watching her Dr. Jekyll become Mr. Hyde, Deidre wondered how she would ever trust again.
In a series of articles, I’ll be examining the details of Deidre and Mac’s breakup to illustrate the intersection between relationships, psychology and spirituality.
There is no doubt about it--a breakup will test your spiritual fortitude. While you may want to call names and point fingers, I advise taking the high road. The suggestions below are aimed at spiritual warriors who understand that breakups often lead to breakthroughs:
1. Choose happiness.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Your ex does not determine your happiness or your self-esteem. Life is short, so don’t waste it crying over someone who doesn’t value all the gifts you bring to the table. If they don’t, someone else will.
Refuse to spend every day drowning in misery. Instead, take this time to grow. Vow to learn your lessons, so you’ll make new mistakes going forward, instead of repeating the same ones again.
2. Feel the pain.
Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. Face your negative emotions as they arise, allowing yourself to feel sadness, grief, anxiety and anger. Your emotions have risen to the surface for a reason. What are they here to teach you?
Deidre had a range of emotions. As Deidre allowed herself to feel, she noticed something unbelievable—the negative emotions loosened their grip. She did feel bone-crushing sadness, but she also felt hope, gratitude and joy at different moments in her day. Negativity only took root when she fought against it. But, as she relented, it passed. Often, it transformed into something beautiful and uplifting.
We are complex humans with a range of emotions. Don’t be afraid of the bad ones; they often allow you to feel gratitude for the good ones.
The Serenity Prayer counsels to “accept the things you cannot change” and to “change the things you can.” You cannot change your ex’s feelings, behavior, or capacity for kindness or empathy. But, you can change yourself. Learn from your mistakes, grow stronger, and take this time to fortify your character.
Resist the urge to tell your ex how to live his life. Living your life is a full-time job; you don’t have time to live his. Just like you, he is an adult--responsible for his decisions and the consequences of his actions. Once you take the focus off your ex, you’re free to do the hard work of examining your own behavior. Work on self-improvement, so you can pave the way to greater happiness, self-esteem and confidence.
4. Grow in empathy.
As Deidre and I spoke about her heartbreaking situation, she related that her ex’s father often abandoned the family for years at a time. Her ex was unknowingly repeating the dysfunctional patterns he had learned in childhood. Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.
I encouraged Deidre to keep her ex in her prayers. He didn’t mean to hurt her; he was simply behaving in a way that seemed “normal” to him. Hurt people often hurt others.
Empathy provides light in dark moments. It is also the gateway for forgiveness. Regardless of the outcome of their relationship, Deidre would need to make peace with the past, so she could move forward in an empowering new way.
5. Remain open to possibilities.
From my vantage point, Deidre was lucky. While she initially recoiled at this suggestion, I taught her to remain open to what Deepak Chopra calls the “field of all possibilities.”
This “crisis” could be the catalyst towards a better, more conscious relationship between Deidre and Mac. He may “wake up,” take ownership of the chaos he created, and do the hard work necessary to be a better partner. Deidre, too, may undo her own dysfunctional behaviors and move towards growth and forgiveness.
If her ex does not take this opportunity for self-analysis and improvement, Deidre dodged a bullet, avoiding a marriage that would have likely ended in heartbreak or divorce. She is then free to find an emotionally mature and stable partner with the fortitude to do the hard work that relationships demand.
But, most importantly and regardless of her partner’s behavior, Deidre can use this time to deepen her love for God and herself—the two most important relationships in her life. As she grows and improves, her chances for a fruitful and loving relationship does, too.
The Universe always is working for our best interest. Avoid attaching to any particular ending. Instead say, “If not this, something better.”
Next, we will examine how Deidre’s family upbringing negatively influenced her behavior in relationships. I hope you’ll stay tuned.