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.

2 thoughts on “When a Relationship Ends”

  1. Thank you, Charla, for sharing this. I’m experiencing the end of a friendship with a woman friend, and enjoyed particularly the helpful questions at the end of the article.

  2. Charla,

    there is a wonderful saying I learnt in Bolivia: “Cuando se cierra una puerta, se abren cien.” When one door is closing, there are another hundred opening.
    I could not agree more. And I have always thought that it is almost a miracle and an enormous privilege if one relationship could in continuous synchronicity cover all the developmental stages both partners are destined to go through. Therefore, as you said, it is important to realize that one or both might have outlived one stage – they are losing the “consonance” and continuing a relationship might stunt the spiritual growth of both partners. Indeed you can and should be thankful for the important “lessons learnt” from your partner in that particular relationship and you will continue to love hir for that rich experience.
    I shouldn’t go on, though, because I am the last person to give advice: After my partner and I finally captured this wisdom, our relationship flourished anew, and here we are, after thirty-eight years knowing full well but without fear: tomorrow, even the next moment, a-synchronicity can set in and our relationship might have run its course.

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