Breakups are arguably one of the worst parts of life as a physical human. We associate them with incredible pain and loss. They threaten our sense of connection, which is the number one need we have. But a big part of this is that we have an idea about how ‘breakups’ should look and to be honest, that expectation we have is based on watching unconscious people separate and destroy each other specifically in order to avoid their own shame. But there is another way. There is a way to end one type of relationship with someone that feels bad and maintain another type of relationship with him or her that feels good.
Before we get any deeper into HOW to go about doing this, I must tell you that I have had many breakups over the course of my life with friends and colleagues and family members and employees and also romantic partners. Some of those breakups went terribly. They went exactly how you would expect the worst kind of break up to go. And others went incredibly. I have many people who no longer work with me or for me that I am very close to. My former fiancé’ has now lived with me in the same intentional community for sixteen years and through many ups and downs, we are closer than we have ever been. My former husband and the father of my son is also still an intentional community member of mine. We spend time together every single week and are strong advocates for each other’s wellbeing as well as our son’s. And believe it or not, the two of them are super close to each other as well. Because of all of this experience, I have worked out the variables regarding how and why it works and how and why it doesn’t. And I’m going to tell you in this episode how to make it work. Though all the following points apply to whatever kind of relationship you have, I am going to tailor them towards break ups of a romantic relationship.
Make sure that you actually want to be friends and that this is a genuine commitment. Genuine friendship is based on love. It is a love where you take the other person as a part of yourself and you genuinely are committed to their wellbeing and love for who they really are. So many people say they want to be friends, when what they really want is to buffer themselves against the consequences of ending a relationship. When this is the case, it’s totally self-serving. It is done for self-preservation sake alone. This is the opposite of true friendship as it is a guarantee that the minute you find another way to feel good and safe, you will simply abandon your commitment to relating to this person as if they were a part of you and you will start to play zero sum games.
Get it out of your head that success in relationships means longevity. Even if most people would wish that their relationships would last happily ever after, some relationships are not meant to. So we need to keep this as a desire, not a fixed expectation. So much of the pain of breakups is about how we thought it was supposed to go vs. how it did go. There are all kinds of reasons for someone to enter your life or play a role in your life for a time. Longevity is not the definition of a good relationship. Plenty of people are able to maintain perfectly miserable marriages and friendships and business partnerships for years upon years and even until they die. The definition of a successful relationship is a relationship that enhances the wellbeing and growth and happiness and fulfillment of both people involved. It feels like a win-win. A healthy relationship is positively interdependent. All relationships at this current time in human evolution face conflict and challenges and are better at some times than others. But maintaining a relationship that does not enhance your wellbeing because you are holding on to the idea that relationship success is about longevity is not relationship success.
Also it is possible for two people to really love each other and for the relationship and love to be very real and for the relationship to come to a point where it must transition. So we need to also get rid of the idea that if a relationship or love is real, it will last and so if it doesn’t, it isn’t. There is no good reason to devalue a relationship if it ends or to consider it a mistake if it ends. The fact that we base the value of our relationships on how long they last is not reflective of the reality of their value. Instead, it is merely reflective of our desire for them to last. Some of the most valuable relationships we may encounter in our lifetime may just be with someone we sat next to once on a train.
Do not expect a transition to be without pain. People often get interested in conscious break ups or un-coupling because they imagine that doing so will make the break up painless. I have never found this to be the case. Human beings are predisposed to bond and connect. An attachment with another being is akin to an emotional home. It is our greatest source of safety as physical humans. Any transition of a bond will at least initially cause insecurity about it. Consciously transitioning a relationship does prevent relationship rupture and it does significantly reduce pain, but it does not eliminate it. Prepare instead to face whatever pain does come up; most especially painful patterns within yourself, and to consciously face it together. After all, if there were no pain inherent in the situation, breaking up wouldn’t be a consideration in the first place. That being said, a break up is an opportunity to completely re-write your life. It is an opportunity to start new and create a new life that is in alignment with your highest personal truth and desires.
Relationships do not end. They simply change. For example, if you break up with someone and it goes horribly and you decide you want nothing to do with each other, that other person doesn’t cease to exist. They may have simply shifted from a partner to an enemy. That’s still a relationship. This is why people who choose to do this tend to not call it a break up and instead call it a transition or a passage or a shift or an un-coupling. It’s important to get that any time you break up with someone, a relationship isn’t ending. It is changing. The question is into what? Your goal should be to get very clear about specifically what you want it to turn into instead. And if possible to get on the same page with the other person about that vision so you can work towards it together.
It is not always possible to do this process of consciously breaking up so as to stay close and aligned in a different way with all people. There are ways that you can behave that will increase your odds exponentially, but a relationship still takes two. This means that for example, if someone unconsciously decides that it serves their sense of self to make you the enemy, they have stronger motive to create a typical ‘lovers to enemies’ break up than to transition the relationship lovingly.
A relationships can look however two people decide they want it to look. We live in a world where there are very fixed and rigid rules about how things need to look. This of course changes from culture to culture. For example, we have an idea that a sexual relationship should be between two people (maybe even a man and a woman) and that’s it. We have the idea that we need to live in single-family households with only immediate blood family members and anything else is dysfunctional. We have an idea that if two people break up, they need to get away from each other and stop talking. The time has come to really question and potentially break these fixed and rigid rules about how things should look. Our wellbeing as a species depends on it. In order to decide what is right for you specifically when you are re-structuring any relationship, you need to get out of these boxes and realize that the way you are going to restructure a relationship and what you are going to transition it to should be unique to both of you. It should be whatever enhances your wellbeing. For example, my ex husband and I decided that we would stay living together. Another couple may decide that both of their wellbeing would be better served by moving into separate houses. One couple may decide to maintain a sexual relationship and simply open the relationship to other people. Another may decide to both not be sexual with anyone, including each other, for a defined period of time. One couple may decide to take a break from each other where they don’t have contact with the intention of coming back into contact in the future; another may decide to call or text each other every day at least in the beginning. There is no ‘one way’ it should or must look in order to have the un-coupling process go well.
Transition slowly and carefully. Nothing is worse for conscious transitioning than sudden, immediate and non-mutually consented to change. For example, if the break up is happening because one person wants to be free to explore the world without having to answer to anyone and the other one wants a committed, available partner, that first person cannot get on a plane to climb Everest the next day and expect it to be ok. Sudden loss and sudden change creates a ‘severing’. It is this severing that creates shock and makes it so we can’t cope with the adjustment. Do what is necessary for both of you to feel ready and take each step that needs to be taken.
That being said, you also can’t use this as an excuse to stall and avoid the parts of you that are resisting that change. In other words, transitioning slowly and in steps is not a way of keeping the other person locked into the relationship the way it was. It is a way to ensure that there will not be rupture in the relationship, only change. The process of a butterfly coming out of a cocoon must be careful and deliberate. If you just rip it off, it will damage the butterfly. The same goes for transitioning relationships.
Breaking up or transitioning the relationship is usually scary for people, therefore it is a process that is likely to call up all of your vulnerabilities and therefore defenses. These defenses are what makes maintaining a positive relationship with the person hard or impossible. Usually, a break up causes us to feel like something is bad or wrong about us. It causes us to feel shame. We reason that if we were not bad or wrong, a person wouldn’t be breaking up with us. So, to save our own self-concept, we deflect that shame and begin a kind of ping pong match over whose fault the break up is and who the bad guy is. To understand more about this, I want you to watch my video titled: Deflection (The Coping Mechanism From Hell). We have to avoid doing this if we want to stay close while transitioning the relationship.
Take a look at your defenses. What are they? Some of us may shut down and withdraw. Some of us may get angry. Some of us might bypass. If we want to transition well, the key is to stay in the vulnerability instead of in the defense of that vulnerability and share that vulnerability with each other. You would benefit greatly by having additional support from someone who is going to be an advocate for what you are trying to do and who can help you with your process relative to the transition. But I actually disagree with most experts who say that this should be a time to take care of your own feelings, not each other’s. The couples that I see do this process the very best are polite, thoughtful, generous and respectful of each other and take care of their own feelings, but they do this with the other person as well. In other words, they share and support each other’s vulnerabilities through the transition. For example, if you hit a wave of grief and you defensively say “you lied to me about having an affair” the person will probably say something defensive back like “you were always gone.” This isn’t vulnerability. Vulnerability is, “when you had an affair, I felt like I am never going to be good enough for anyone. That’s what I’m scared of right now… that every person I get with will think there is something greener on the other side.” This opens a window for the other person to support the vulnerability and even offer their own vulnerability so you can reassure them, instead of defend themselves and cause a rupture in the relationship.
The bottom line is, you need to support each other’s vulnerabilities through the break up instead of fight for your own sense of rightness or goodness vs. their wrongness or badness. A big part of these vulnerabilities is the meaning we are assigning to the breakup. We need to bring this meaning we are assigning to what is happening to the other person instead of simply making those assumptions. To understand more about this, watch my video titled: Meaning, The Self Destruct Button.
We must take loving care of our feelings of rage, resentment and hatred so that they do not unconsciously orient towards the other person. These emotional states arise from feeling hurt. Any time we feel pain, we feel hurt by something. When we feel hurt, we tend to fall into hatred and resentment as a kind of coping mechanism. We use hate to stay connected to a person, it simply becomes a negative bond instead of a positive one. We also use it to attempt to justify disconnecting and maintain our positive self-concept. But doing so actually causes heartache to root itself deeper instead of resolve. For this reason, I strongly encourage you to watch my videos titled: Hatred (The Secret Cause of Hate), Why Love Turns To Hate, Resentment (How To Let Go Of Resentment) and Forgiveness (Radical New Approach To Forgiveness).
Also, in a break up we may find ourselves slipping into self-hate. If this is the case, you would benefit by watching my video titled: Self Hate (The Most Dangerous Coping Mechanism). Rage, whish is also a common emotion in breakups is an emotion that can be changed into personal transformation energy. If you want to consciously transition a relationship and you feel rage, instead of directing that rage towards the other person, channel it towards creating change in your life. It can be like fuel for determination. Another way of putting this is, put it toward, “I’m not going to put up with this pattern in my life, this is never going to happen again” and use that energy to transform your beliefs, thought patterns and behaviors that contributed to the pain in the relationship that led to the breakup in the first place.
In most breakups, each partner feels that the breakup is the other person’s fault. I have to say that it does actually only take one person to ruin a relationship. The idea that it takes two to ruin a relationship is false. It takes two to make it work because each party has free will. But because each party has free will, it only takes one to decide to disconnect or compromise the ‘link’ that is relationship. But this ‘fault finding’ process will lead you nowhere because even if a single person does compromise the relationship, it is usually because incompatibility is at the root of it all. What would make you enter into a relationship like this in the first place? A good way to stay away from finding fault in a breakup is to recognize this incompatibility that is at the root of the conflict. For this reason, it would greatly benefit you to watch my video titled: Incompatibility, A Harsh Reality In Relationships. Incompatibility is not about someone being right or wrong. It is about the differences in who we are and what we want. As long as you can avoid making the other person (or yourself for that matter) wrong for being who they are and wanting what they want, you can consciously face your incompatibilities with each other and decide what to do with them and it doesn’t have to be someone’s fault. This is what the irreconcilable differences clause is all about.
Speaking of all this, taking responsibility for our part in the pain of the relationship is a critical part of the transition process. If we take responsibility, it will trigger the other person to do the same. It also empowers us because as much as it may suck to see, we can see the ways that we have been the source of our own suffering and therefore, how we can change that so as to not repeat the same pattern again. No matter how badly the other person behaved, focusing on what you do have control over, which is the ways you are responsible for any of the situation you find yourself in, is empowering as long as you don’t confuse doing this with sliding into fault or blame or shame. Even if the other person is 98 percent to blame, find and own that other two percent. Put your attention on that so that you can change, empower yourself and feel able to move forward in a different way. Become infinitely more committed to developing yourself than to defending yourself.
Stay as far away from zero sum games as possible. A zero sum game will kill any relationship dead in its tracks and make the relationship completely and totally unsafe. Because it is so critical to never play a zero sum game if you want to maintain a positive relationship with someone post break up, I strongly encourage you to watch my video titled: The Zero Sum Game (What is a Zero Sum Game and How to End One). You must take the other person’s best interests as a part of your own best interests. What makes a relationship safe post break up is deciding together what to do given the incompatibility inherent in the current arrangement so that you can find what is the highest and best option for both of you. Communication is absolutely critical for this to actually work out. Most people are not psychic. They can’t just intuitively know what your best interests and needs and desires are. This means, you must communicate them and the other person must also communicate them so that even if it doesn’t feel like a win to break up, you can arrive at the next best win-win scenario for the both of you. Any agreements you make during this process such as promises and expectations and changes that are made must be focused around the best interests of both of you. A new relationship implies a new set of agreements.
Surround yourselves with people who can be and will be on board with what you are trying to do. Try to get your social circle on board a well. Relationships are part of a larger network of relationships. When a relationship needs to transition, it impacts everyone in that social network. This means, do not begin to triangulate against the person. While it is tempting to cushion the impact of a breakup with other people’s validation for how bad the other person is, it makes it almost impossible to transition the relationship to something different and to keep your intertwined social groups intact. People do not need to turn against the other person to demonstrate their loyalty to you. Ask them to join you in your intention to transition the relationship instead of become enemies. Tell them they don’t need to take sides.
There are plenty of people who will put more pressure on your relationship and help turn you against the other person and who, because of their own expectations about how a break up should look, will not be advocates for a new and different kind of arrangement. Though their intention may be good, fanning the flames of hatred and blame is not an effective way of helping someone to transition a relationship. Often, it can provide temporary relief and validation for separating, only to create long-term scars and pain. Really limit your exposure to these people until you feel strong enough to not be effected by them or their opinions. Choose to be around people who will be advocates for holding that space where both of you are still close, just in a different way. Choose people who will help you to choose the right arrangement for you both, no matter how un-orthodox that arrangement may be. Yes, this means surround yourself with conscious people who really care about maintaining connection and creating genuine peace.
Make amends and generous, loving gestures that will clear the bad blood and mend the damage done however possible.
Have the clear intention of resolving what is unresolved so that you can move forward into a different kind of relationship. The feeling you are going for with this one is to try to establish a feeling of “completion” with regards to what is still in turmoil and what tensions are still churning between you. What would actually help to repair the damage they did to you or you did to them? You can’t un-do the past, but you can learn from and correct mistakes, take steps to clean up what has happened and establish a totally different way of doing things moving forward.
Figure out where you DO align and make that the foundation of your new relationship. To make this process work, it has to be about the future, not about going back to what was before. It must form around a mutual intention. Craft this intention. When we break up with someone, we are totally focused on where we don’t align. Knowing that, to build a new relationship, we need to build it around where the alignment does exist. For example, alignment may be wanting to be family members still. Or it may be the shared goal of being lovingly united co-parents. Or it may be a specific hobby. Or it may be a common world vision. Then you focus on and build your relationship and make decisions and agreements with this area of alignment as your focus. Your new relationship will begin to mutate around that. To give you one example, a couple I know both love sailing more than anything and they have a daughter. When they decided to transition, they decided their areas of alignment were their mutual goal of raising their daughter as well as sailing. They moved into their own apartments, but they kept their island house and boat together and they decided to take their daughter out sailing all together every month at least once and to spend holidays together still at the island house, which they alternate staying at on the weekends.
Create a conscious transition or un-coupling ceremony with the person. You may choose to involve other people in this as well if you want to. These ceremonies can be beautiful. Rituals are important, especially for transitions. We have them for weddings and funerals and coming of age and promotions and significant holidays. This should be no exception. This paves the way for healthy closure and a new beginning. Let it be emotional. Do this ceremony when you both feel ready and make this ceremony personalized to you both.
Our long held assumptions about breakups and divorce are false. Even though it is difficult for us to hold space for the good and the bad at the same time, we need to learn to hold the complexity of valuing the beauty and gains in a relationship along side recognizing the pain and need for the relationship to change. If we can do this and we are committed to the pursuit of a more evolved, more conscious, peaceful and safe human society, conscious transitioning of relationships is the wave of the future. I, personally commend you for your commitment to this culturally creative change. It is possible to face heartbreak in a way where your heart is broken open to more love, greater authenticity and a life you are really meant to live. And I can personally tell you that if you manage to transition your relationships consciously, they will be stronger and bring you both more security and pleasure than you could ever currently imagine. If your relationship has broken, think of the broken pieces as a soon to be mosaic. You can put those pieces back together into a new relationship, which may just be more beautiful than the original work of art it was to begin with.