A few years ago, without warning, my partner of seven years ended our relationship.
For months, I grappled with what felt like unbearable pain and my seemingly insatiable need to know why. I wanted to communicate, to understand, and, most importantly, I wanted to be at peace with the situation and with the man I loved.
But from his side, there was only silence.
I knew in my heart this was because he was not ready to face parts of himself that the relationship had brought from the shadows into the glaring light of day. He also wasn’t ready to face me. But I was determined to work toward peace. So I set out to find my way—alone.
I spent hundreds of hours in meditation and contemplation, devouring and testing out the methods of countless spiritual teachers and thinkers. Then one day, something shifted. I saw my own part in it with full clarity. I saw how I could forgive him, and myself.
And I saw that love was still fully present—that I had only to claim it. I’d stumbled upon a kind of peace I’d never experienced before—something richer and hard won.
A few weeks ago, a friend who was navigating a bitter divorce shared with me his same heartbreaking lack of closure. I wanted to support him and to share the ideas that led me from despair to liberation, so I sat down and put pen to paper.
What came through clearly were three essential keys to free the heart:
1. Practice forgiveness.
This is key. We must forgive ourselves and the other person. This doesn’t mean we have to decide that what they did didn’t hurt us or that we have to forget what happened. It simply means that we choose forgiveness as an active and conscious pursuit.
If it doesn’t feel authentic at first, just fake it ’til you make it. Write every day in a journal. Write down all the things you were holding in contempt, and envision them now as things you are willing to forgive. Say it in the morning when you wake up. I forgive her for X. I forgive myself for Y. Do it until you begin to make an authentic connection to it. Eventually it will stick—and the anger and resentment will begin to melt.
It also might help to think of forgiveness as a purely selfish act. Any moment we spend holding onto anger, blame, or bitterness—toward another or ourselves—is destructive to our own health and peace of mind. In a way, forgiveness can feel like a radical practice. But it was Jesus’ whole teaching—I would even go as far as to say it’s why we are here. Every human is capable of great harm, but if we cannot forgive one another, what hope is there for this world? For peace?
So often, we decide to look upon the other and see their essential innocence, their essential nature, as good and their unconscious actions as ignorance. When we regard their mistakes with compassion, we can see ourselves in the wrongdoings of others. In this way, we honor that we are all divine beings and that what we do to another we do to ourselves.
2. Sweep your side of the street.
This is the fastest route I know to empowerment after a breakup or conflict of any kind. We lose our power when we focus on what the other person did. We can’t change that. We can’t make amends for them. We can’t even prove we’re right about their having done wrong. In short, we have no control over the other person and 100 percent control over ourselves.
By focusing on our own actions, we can know if we’ve truly done all that we can to take our power back.
Imagine that any situation is a composite totaling 100 percent. Maybe we caused 10 percent of the problems in our relationship and our partner caused 90 percent. Even if that’s the case, our focus should then be to clean up the 10 percent that was our fault. The issues caused by our partner would be their job to clean, and would not even be our business.
Do a full, ruthless account of your part in what went wrong. Be humble. Be honest. Write it down. Look in the mirror. Take responsibility. Be thorough. And then, clean it up. Apologize. Acknowledge. Ideally, write your partner a letter or tell them in person. At the very least, bring it to light. Be willing to look at it with fearless honesty and humility. Then forgive yourself, and let it go.
This can be the most empowering and game-changing step you take. And what will surprise you is that this action can shift energy on both sides, often moving your partner into a state of radical self-awareness and an attempt to make amends. It may come right away or it may come in a year. But it will come.
3. Choose love over fear.
As we move forward, we will all be tempted to look back and feel threatened—or look forward and feel threatened. If possible, try to assume the best. When you think about your partner, try and see them in the highest light possible. Do the same when thinking about yourself. You did your best and so did they—even if it was pretty poor in both cases. Forgive yourself anyway and move on.
To this end, don’t take anything that happens personally. Be compassionate. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt; it will help shape what happens. And by doing so, we can co-create our future. As Buddhist philosophy teaches us: we are what we think, and with our thoughts we make the world.
My former partner turned up on my doorstep about a year after I had followed these steps and found peace. He wanted to apologize and to ask for my forgiveness. It was a beautiful moment of homecoming, and we are dear friends today.
My hope is that these keys can provide some guidance for others. When we free our hearts and let love win, we find the peace we’ve been searching for.
Author: Summer Forest
Image: “The Notebook”
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina