October 7, 2016

How to Recover the Sweetness in Relationships after a Bitter End.


“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
~ Mary Oliver


There are moments that sit in solitude inside our heads. Moments we hold dear, untouched by anything that came before or after.

These are moments where everything was balanced on the cusp of a change, but we were blissfully unaware of it.

We’ll find those moments wrapped inside others, bringing themselves back to us in unexpected ways. I know that one day soon I’ll be sitting in front of a fire, my cold hands wrapped around a cup of coffee, and I’ll find myself transported—for a moment—to another time and place. Another hot cup of coffee on a cold day.

As I hold the cup with both hands and lean forward to cool it with my breath, I’ll see a vision of another moment like this in the steam rising up. A love story rewound to the start then slowly unraveled while I sip the warm bitterness and taste another day.

It’s only in the aftermath of relationships that we realize what moments defined them. In the process of finding peace inside of endings, we come to a place where we can set aside the memories untouched by the discord that splintered those relationships. We can put them into their own special place, allow them to be what they were: perfect moments before everything changed. But perfect in themselves.

I feel like I’ve been cataloguing my past relationships lately. It’s important, I think, to take time to assess ourselves after a relationship ends. Not just to check in on our emotional health and wellbeing but to see what we can learn from our relationships. To go deeper and look at our patterns and choices.

But I think a step further in the healing process is to find a way to reconcile ourselves with our past relationships when they don’t end well. Sure, it’s satisfying to vent to our friends and to paint a picture of the other person as the villain of the piece. And maybe sometimes they are exactly that. But the truth is that in nearly every relationship, there are good moments. Pure moments.

It’s important to be able to take those moments and set them aside from the ones that do leave a bitter taste in our mouths—to find the sweetness that was there and to honor their purity by making peace with them.

I’ve finally gotten to a place where I can do this with most of my relationships. I’ve struggled more with this with my marriage that ended. I’ve found that it’s the most difficult relationship I have to put into perspective. This is simply because I put a certain amount of love and trust and effort into it, and the way it played out betrayed that love and trust and effort to such a degree that it’s hard to take out the good memories and put them in a separate place from the bad.

There are two reasons that I’m making the effort at all. The most important is that we share children. I want to be able to tell them something good about their parents, regardless of how the relationship worked out in the end. I want them to understand a little of who we were before we weren’t that anymore. I think it’s important to have that, for them. Because it’s not just about me. And it’s not just about him.

I’m also making the effort because we cannot be complete in ourselves and learn what we need to learn when we refuse to look too closely at our lives. It’s easy to put on the blinders and move ahead. It hurts less, and it’s familiar. But we don’t grow from it. So I’ve been digging deep to take those moments out. To look at them—really look at them for the first time in a long time—and then sit them outside of the box of that marriage ending. To save them for a time when I can tell my children: this is what we were and who we were together. This is what you came from, and it’s okay that it’s over now because it still happened.

There’s peace inside of being able to understand that nothing is all good or all bad.

There’s this great moment in the Doctor Who episode, “Vincent and the Doctor,” where the Doctor says,

“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”

It’s beautiful, and it’s true.

When we realize that our relationships are rarely all good or all bad, we can gain perspective on ourselves and others. We can find the beauty inside of even the most difficult stories in our lives and learn to let that beauty be unspoiled, although the rest of the story might be quite terrible.

We can accept that and put it away. We can allow ourselves those moments where we remember the past and yet don’t experience the pain. We can let the memories come and go without bitterness. Because we are made by those memories. We have been created through all of those experiences.

Do they seem like gifts? Hardly. And it’s hard to welcome them. But there’s a richness in living our lives in a way that accepts even our struggles as learning experiences.

So sip the coffee and let the memories unravel. Put them in a special place. Let them be untouched, unspoiled, by all that came after or all the things we didn’t know inside of those moments.

Open the gift.

Find the peace.


Author: Crystal Jackson

Image: Lucy Maude Ellis/ Flickr

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren


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