Isat on the sofa, working diligently at pretending to read a book while my mind went on screaming. He was sitting in the dining room but I could feel the nervous concern of his gaze, carefully scanning me for signs of sentient life. I knew what his next words would be. You don’t live with someone for all those years without being able to sense the yet unspoken. I didn’t know if I would have the courage to answer. To forever interrupt the patterns of our shared lives that had become such a source of unhappiness for me.
“Are you OK? What are you thinking?”
There it was. For a moment, time stood still. And, in that moment, I realized that if there were even a remote possibility that he would be able to understand the words I was about to speak, and the painfully difficult feelings that created them, and in a way that I longed to be understood, none of this would be necessary.
There’s nothing easy about the ending of a relationship. Let’s face it. It’s nothing short of miraculous when two people get together. As a species, we are seriously complex. We spend years building up our emotional defenses. Most of these defenses are erected subconsciously to protect us from repeating hurtful experiences. Others we create to intentionally keep people at a safe and comfortable distance so as not to allow anyone to get close enough to actually cause us pain. So, when we, against all odds, actually let someone in, remove the barriers and let the walls fall down, it really is a spectacular achievement.
Some break-ups, though difficult and painful, are at least simple. Sometimes a relationship blows up dramatically, like when the stupid son of a bitch accidentally slips and falls landing naked into the arms (and various other naked body parts) of another. Or when arguments start including fists, dishes, golf clubs and other instruments of physical abuse. These cause an enormous amount of complex emotions, but do allow for a clean and fast break, frequently giving the neighbors an entertaining, R rated show, and lots to talk about (behind your back) over the next few weeks.
Some relationships just die of natural causes. Both parties mutually fall apart and desire to move on with their separate lives.
But what about when there is no dramatic breach of relational contract? What about when one is simply unhappy in the relationship and wants out? No explosions. No natural and mutual demise. There will be a death, but it must actually be caused. It feels like an act of violence. It won’t just happen on its own.
As painful and difficult as it is to end a relationship, I needed to come to terms with how important some break-ups are to both persons. Without break-ups there would be an awful lot of bad, unhappy and unhealthy marriages out there. Not to mention all the murders.
Now, I am all for couples staying together… but not at any cost. When the price for staying together involves losing important parts of who you are, violating your dreams, or accepting emotionally unhealthy behavior, then the price is just too high. You should never have to become someone you don’t like or don’t want to be, just to keep a relationship going. There is nothing loving about allowing that.
Each of us must be able to draw a line as to what we are willing and unwilling to do, or become in order to make a relationship work. No one else can do it for us. It’s part of us being true to ourselves and no one else can, or should, interfere at that level. We complicate matters by not being clear, within ourselves, as to what these issues are and where these lines are drawn. We make relational messes when we are unwilling to ask ourselves the difficult questions and we allow our ‘auto-pilot’ setting to guide our lives instead of intentionally designing who we are and who we are becoming.
Now, I do realize that it is considered to be in poor taste to throw divorce or break up parties among those who consider themselves to be ‘polite society’. And, all of those delightfully evil cards that we all laugh at, but never buy or send, are probably out of place. But, there really is something about break-ups worth celebrating. How else would two people ever be free to find the kind of love and relationship that they truly want and deserve? Break-ups are an important part of how the world (and the stomach) turns and as painful as they can be, often, they are part of the true path to happiness.