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When a Relationship Ends

Recently a friend in pain came to me for help. She was suffering from ending a love relationship. I got to thinking, every intimate relationship I’ve ever had (except the one I’m in now) has ended.  Some with ease, most with trauma. Why are we so good at starting relationships–good at falling in love, yet so bad at endings?

We’ve all grown up with a difficult box to fit into: We’ve learned the one right way to do intimate relationships: we’re supposed to love one person, and only one, exclusively, forever, till we die. When many close relationship don’t follow this last-forever myth, we think we’ve failed. Relationship becomes a destination instead of a process. And if we discount this model we feel shamed and lesser.

To help my hurting friend (and myself) I dug out a book that saved me when I was going through a difficult divorce (and I have used it several times since.) Daphine Kingma in Coming Apart says there are always legitimate and understandable reasons why relationships end. When we can recognize what purpose has been fulfilled by the relationship, we can end the relationship consciously, compassionately, and heal. Kingma suggests we choose our relationships according to the developmental tasks we encounter at different stages of our lives so that we may grow and self-actualize into larger, loving beings.

She laid out a step-by-step, engaging Ritual for Parting which helped me stop the usual emotional battering and blaming.  I actually started having fun with the simple exercises and began to regain myself by incorporating what I had learned from the relationship. I stopped calling my divorced spouse my “x”; instead I called him either by name, or “a friend, former partner, or father of my child.” I realized I didn’t have to hate him in order to leave; I could love him still. Furthermore, I could appreciate what developmental tasks he help me learn so I could love again—even better, and more profoundly. I looked at my own role in our coming apart–without judgment. I found grace and healing at a difficult time.

Ending a relationship is one of the most difficult experiences we encounter. Kingma’s Ritual for Parting took me through a process that invited growth, self-empathy, and discovery. I invited my newly-solo friend to be loving to herself and ask “What new frontiers am I ready to explore with a new partner that I was unable to before? What is my development task right now and what do I need from a new partner?  How am I more capable now at getting my needs met than before?” Endings can be done well; this is our challenge. Maybe they’ll never be as attractive as beginnings, but they can carry their own dignity, grace, and wisdom.