When a relationship ends, it can feel like the end of the world. Oftentimes, hearts have been broken on both sides. There may be feelings of anger, pain, guilt, resentment, even hatred. There are nights of almost unbearable loneliness, and moments when you wonder if you will ever find someone to love again, someone to share your life with…
I know how it feels. We’ve all been there. And no matter how bad it hurts, we all survive.
In fact, we do more than survive. We learn, and we grow, and in the end we are better, stronger, wiser and tougher for having gone through it. You know what they say: there’s an upside to everything.
And just to prove that point, here are 8 lessons on life and love that you can take away from even the worst break up.
1. You Can’t Change Anyone But Yourself
When we love someone, we often think that our relationship would work if only they changed some habit, behavior or character trait that is hurtful or infuriating. But no matter how bad you want to, or hard you try, no matter what you do or say, you can’t make them change. Period.
All you can do is accept them, or not. You can take them exactly as they are, the good, the bad, all of it; the whole package. Or you can say goodbye and walk away.
Now that doesn’t mean that you have to be a doormat, and put up with all your partner’s BS. It doesn’t mean that you can’t speak your mind, or tell them when they do things you don’t like. What it means is that they’re not going to change unless they really want to.
And you can’t make them want to.
You can set boundaries, and insist on being treated with respect. You can ask your partner to stop behaving in ways that hurt and belittle you. You can love and support someone as they heal and grow, and struggle to change themselves for the better (and it is a struggle – often a long one).
But if you don’t see real desire and genuine effort on their part, forget it. It ain’t gonna happen. And if you stick around, you’re only going to get hurt over and over (and over) again.
2. What You Want (And Don’t Want) In A Partner
Every relationship can teach us more about what we want and appreciate in a partner, as well as what we don’t want – those things that drive us absolutely crazy, that we are unwilling to accept. This is good stuff to know when moving forward.
Knowledge is power.
It’s easy enough to pick out your exes negative qualities, the reasons why it didn’t work out. It’s harder to look past those things and get the good stuff.
What made you fall in love in the first place? What was it about them that brought the most joy into your life? Whatever it was, those are the qualities you should be looking for in a partner.
I know that when a relationship ends, often the last thing you want to think about is “moving on.” But eventually you will. And when you do, you’ll have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t. If you keep your eyes open, you’ll be able to spot signs of trouble early on.
And save yourself a lot of heartache.
3. What You Want (And Don’t Want) Out of Life
Being in a relationship changes your life in surprising and unexpected ways. Not only do you spend a lot of time with this one special person, but often you spend a lot of time doing the things that they like to do: like sports or other hobbies, going to concerts, hanging out with their friends, etc.
In this way, every relationship is an opportunity to learn more about our likes and dislikes, our passions and our values, and what it is we want out of life.
I’ll bet that you can look back and find examples in your life already. Maybe one of your exes introduced you to your favorite band, or author; or helped you discover your love of Thai food, or kayaking, or whatever.
The point is, that your life today is better and richer because of the time you spent together.
On the flip side, maybe you spent 3 years with someone, and the only thing you ever did together was watch TV, and occasionally go out drinking at the corner bar.
Well… at least now you know what you don’t want.
4. Where Your Growth Opportunities Lie
Face it: nobody knows you like your significant other. Especially if you live together for any length of time. They see a side of you that you never show to anyone else – and it ain’t always pretty.
When a relationship falls apart, it’s easy to point the finger at your partner’s mistakes. But there are two sides to every story, and the other person’s side can teach you a lot about yourself. The trouble is, this kind of self-discovery is pretty painful, and most of us would rather just stay in denial.
Of course you can blame your ex for everything that went wrong. You can refuse to listen to anything they say, and walk away without learning a damn thing. Or you can take the road less traveled. You can actually listen to your ex, and give serious consideration to their point of view. Sift through the hurt feelings and angry accusations and seek out the kernel of truth – even though it stings.
Take what you learn, and put it to good use. Commit to working on your issues, and being a better person, a better partner and lover. When you finally do meet “The One,” you’ll be glad you did.
5. The Art of Forgiveness
I wish that every relationship could end on a good note. Wouldn’t that be nice? If whenever a couple called it quits, they could do so with dignity, maturity and mutual respect?
In the heat of the moment, when emotions run strong, we all tend to say and do things that we later regret. In fact, we say and do whatever will hurt the most (know one knows you as well as your significant other, remember?).
And anytime we are hurt by someone else, it gives us the chance to practice one of life’s most important and powerful skills: the art of forgiveness.
Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that you condone what they did, and it doesn’t mean that you forget about it. It means refusing to carry the burden of anger and resentment, and refusing to let those toxic emotions eat away at your health and happiness.
It means refusing to play the victim role. It means taking your power back from the one who wronged you, and refusing to let their actions control your life.
Holding a grudge doesn’t hurt the other person, it only prolongs the pain and suffering you feel. And it sabotages your future relationships, carrying all that old baggage with you.
Don’t do that to yourself. You deserve better. You deserve to be happy.
You don’t forgive someone else because they deserve it. Forgiveness is a gift that you give yourself.
6. How to Let Go
A breakup is also the perfect time to practice another of life’s most important skills: the art of letting go.
Whether it’s getting fired from a job, the death of a loved one, or the end of a romance, all of us are faced with loss in life, time and time again. We don’t like to think about it, but the cold, hard fact is that sooner or later, everything ends.
And whenever we are forced to confront that uncomfortable truth, we have a choice to make. We can cling to what was, and make ourselves miserable by raging against the inevitable. Or we can let go gracefully, and roll with the changes.
Now let’s be clear about one thing: “letting go gracefully” doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t mean that we deny how we feel, or pretend that everything is okay when we’re dying inside. It just means that we accept things as they are – including our own emotions.
Heartbreak, grief, anger and frustration are all a normal, natural part of saying goodbye. Honoring those feelings is a part of letting go. We accept and embrace each stage of the journey, each ebb and flow of emotion, as it comes. And eventually, we move on.
Actually, it’s better and more accurate to say that life goes on, and we are simply carried along with it.
As the past recedes, so does the pain. We continue to embrace each moment, to make the most of each new day, and sooner or later love comes round again.
It always does.
7. It’s Better to Be Alone, Than to Settle For Less Than You Deserve
Do you think that you need someone else in order to be happy? Someone to support or complete you? If so, you’re not alone. Many people out there in the dating world are suffering from this false belief. Many more might not admit they believe it – even to themselves – but act as if they do.
It seems that this “romantic” myth has made it’s way into our collective unconscious, and it causes all sorts of trouble.
If you think you can’t be happy by yourself, it can lead you to sacrifice your priorities, your values and your self-esteem in order to hold on to a relationship – even if it’s toxic, unhealthy, abusive, and ultimately destined to fail.
“Anything is better than being alone,” you think to yourself.
But it isn’t true. Deep down, you know better.
And every break up is an opportunity to look that false belief right in the eye. When your heart is broken open, and you’re at your most vulnerable, don’t run from it. Don’t go crawling back to your ex, or seek shelter in the arms of a stranger. Face that raging storm of loneliness, pain and fear and embrace it. You can take it.
This too shall pass.
And when it does, you’ll rediscover the joys of being single, being with your awesome self, and being free to do whatever the hell you want.
8. You Are Not Defined By Your Relationships
One of the most common mistakes we make in love is that we lose ourselves in it. We identify as “so-and-so’s boyfriend/girlfriend” to the point that we lose our individuality. We forget who we were, and the life we had, before so-and-so came along.
But when a relationship ends, that all comes crashing down. We don’t remember how to be alone, and we can no longer be with the one we left. It’s an identity crisis in the truest sense.
But it’s also an opportunity: to remember who you are, deep down; to get back in touch with your innermost self, your soul; to find your joie de vivre, your reason for living.
We all play many different roles in life – but none of them define us. You get to define yourself by the choices that you make; by how you respond to change, and what you make of your life.
The end of a relationship is not the end of the story, it’s the end of one chapter – and the beginning of the next. You get to decide what to write in it. It’s an opportunity for you to discover (or rediscover) your passion and your purpose; to decide your direction in life.
Then the next time love comes knocking on your door, you’ll be ready.
You won’t lose yourself in it, and give up everything that makes you who you are. You’ll keep your sense of self, your sense of purpose, even as you open up to new discoveries, new possibilities. You’ll keep living your own life, even as you join your life with another’s.
That’s the recipe for the kind of real and lasting love that we all want and deserve.