March 2, 2016

The End of a Relationship—When the Problem is Us.

woman reflection mirror

We will all inevitably have relationships that come to an end.

There is a specific kind of ending that leaves us feeling diffident or defensive (and maybe a bit of both). In this ending, the other party makes accusations—blatant or implied—which may be gentle or unkind.

It is the kind of ending that hurts our sense of self. It rattles the bones of our self-image and our vision of our self aches at their accusations.

We have all had those relationships—whether romantic or platonic—that have shaped us, changed us and broken our hearts. It sucks and it hurts, but it teaches us. No, we are not always the things they accuse us of, but sometimes we are.

We are quite obviously not going to have one bad experience, one tragic heartbreak, then transform wholly as a person, coming out of the experience wise and faultless beyond all doubt, radiating confidence and self-conviction. We are not, nor will we ever be perfect and we get beaten down more than any of us care for.

I am not addressing fault or reasons for relationship termination here. I am also not by any means claiming that we did not both make mistakes, because undoubtedly we both made mistakes that contributed to the end.

What I would like to address here is when it is us.

We are tackling the tough stuff, the things they accused us of being that we were repulsed by, that we denied, that we defended, but questioned. We are facing the thing that made us want to curl up in a ball in the back corner of our being and say in a small voice, “Am I really?”

It was challenging to lay my pride aside to write this piece. It takes courage to admit that someone is actually right about us. At first, I faced this truth alone, in my own heart and mind. Then finally, tearfully, I admitted it aloud. I had an incredible amount of pride that I was not ready or willing to lay aside, pride that was all too easily hurt.

I began my attempts at reform by seeking to spite my lost companion, which sounds kind of backward—absurd really. “And now, for my next, trick I am going to spite you by doing exactly what you wanted.” Although venturing to be a better person is a positive way to deal with anger and hurt, spite is not. As time passed and the more I tried to be the things I had not been the more peaceful I became, the healthier my other relationships became and I started to do it for myself.

It is like a car. If instead of simply buffing and waxing our flaws, we tear apart the engine—into the heart of the beast, changing the belts and scrubbing the spark plugs with a wire brush; if we truly transform our inner workings—the whole of our lives will be more peaceful and cohesive. If we simply take it through the wash to make it look pretty—even if we sweep out all the crumbs and throw away the empty coffee cups—it will look nice for a time, but when we start driving again we still have that tick, that putter, that awful ca-lunk. We will inevitably break down in the middle of the highway with the same problem over and over again, until we repair it.

So often transformation in our lives is romanticized. We will change, then our lives will be so much better, or we will change and the person we lost will come back to us, or all those we have hurt or wronged along the way will see who we have become and forgive us—but it does not always happen that way.

In fact, it rarely does. Life just keeps moving, as if nothing happened, as if we never attempted self-improvement. But there is an inherent satisfaction that comes with doing something for ourselves—with mending and healing for the betterment of our own future.

It may be that no one ever recognizes us for our efforts. However, we are not taking action for the right reasons if our inspiration is grounded in external praise and recognition. We are never going to get a medal that says, “Congratulations, you are patient!” (or supportive, or selfless).

If we change solely to bring someone back into our lives or to gain forgiveness, have we really changed at all? What if they do not return or we do not receive the forgiveness we were seeking? What happens when we feel like all of our labor was in vain? What happens when the reason for our efforts no longer matters, no longer applies? Are we going to continue to practice being our greater self?

The fact of the matter is that we must want it. We must change for ourselves. Others cannot be the reason—they can only be the catalyst. We can use our experiences as justification for our behavior or we can use them to continue to become the best possible version of ourselves.

It takes courage and strength and humility to tackle that beast. It is not easy; it takes conscious effort and energy, so much energy, to change. It is a process of shaping and molding and sculpting, determining what works and what does not, who we are and who we are not, what we are willing to compromise and what we are not.

It is through these relationships that we learn the hardest lessons, but sometimes it takes those hard realities to give us the push we need to grow, to be a better person for ourselves and for the future of our relationships.


Relephant reads:

Puzzle Pieces – Letting Relationships End.

How to End a Relationship with Dignity.


Author: Erika Stafford

Apprentice Editor: Roseann Pascale; Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

Image: Holly Lay/ Flickr


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