Ending a relationship is so painful and makes us feel so awful — bad, hopeless, inadequate, desperate, lost, lonely, and worthless — that most of us are afraid we won't live through it. We feel bad about what our families will think, we're afraid of what the neighbors will think, we feel terrible for our children, we worry about leaving our houses, and we're anxious about our financial futures. But worst of all, we feel badly about ourselves.
At precisely the moment when we most need some perspective, we are most inclined to take the blame entirely upon ourselves. It is exactly because it is such a natural inclination to define the ending of a relationship as a personal failure — and, consequently, to go through what is often a devastating crisis in selfesteem — that it is terribly important to see that there are always some other factors operating when a relationship ends.
Reasons Why Relationships End
Rather than viewing the end of a relationship as a statement of personal failure, I believe there are always good, legitimate, and understandable reasons why relationships end. These reasons have to do with the chemistry and process of relationships themselves.
In our individual lives, relationships are one of the most important vehicles by which we create our identities and through which we define ourselves. Since this is the case, a relationship is a process and not a destination. It is not necessarily the final emotional resting place of the persons who enter into it, but a vital and growing entity that has a life — and a lifetime — of its own.
Myth: Love is Forever, Relationships are Permanent
While we don't give it much thought, our most strongly internalized myth about love is that "love is forever." Our popular music and literature continually assert this, and we tend to see relationships as permanent, to assume that once they have begun, they will go on, immutably, forever.
And yet, with increasing frequency, relationships do end. One out of every two marriages ends, and uncounted numbers of short and long-term unions not legalized by marriage also end. These stunning statistics certainly prove that love is not forever, yet when our relationships end, we judge ourselves harshly, according to the values implied by the myth of forever.
The truth is that our relationships have gone through innumerable transformations, while our thinking about them has not. As a result, an incredible number of people are suffering through the trauma of ending their relationships with guilt, rage, self-flagellation, and a profound loss of self-esteem as the only emotional hallmarks of parting.
Knowing How to End a Relationship
We all seem to be experts at falling in love. But we don't know much about what goes on inside of a relationship, and we know even less about how to end one. Survivors of ended relationships haven't left us much of a trail as to how they made it through this painful rite of passage. Indeed, among the "survivors," we know many examples of transformed men and women, people who are happier after their break-ups and divorces. But we don't know how they made it through the terrible experience.
That's one of the reasons endings are so difficult. We don't know how to do them. We don't know how to get through the endings of relationships. We've all seen people around us going through their endings (or we've even done it once or twice ourselves), and what we see are people in pain, bouncing off the walls emotionally and having to go through radical upheavals in their lives and circumstances.
In general, our observations teach us that the endings of relationships are frightening indeed, and this makes us very afraid of going through an ending of our own. Sometimes we are even afraid to acknowledge that the dissolution of the relationship might actually be an improvement because we are so afraid of going through whatever we'll have to go through in order to accomplish it.
Why We Fear Ending a Relationship
One of our greatest fears about ending a relationship is that in the process of parting we will have to experience feelings that will overwhelm us and from which we will never be able to recover. We are already feeling vaguely out of control as we contemplate the possibility of the ending, and we sense that the ending itself will take us in over our heads emotionally and leave us feeling totally out of control.
Another great fear is that, once having ended our present relationship, we will never love or be loved again. While this feeling is very frightening, it has been my experience that, for the most part, this is not the case; in fact, an overwhelming majority of my clients who ended relationships went on to establish new and much more satisfying unions. These happier relationships resulted when people were willing to learn the lessons their previous relationships had to teach.
I have helped hundreds of people through the process of ending their relationships: people who precipitated the ending, people who resented the ending, and couples who mutually agreed upon the ending. My experience is that whether you leave or were left, if you are willing to go through the process of ending in a directed and thoughtful way, without avoiding any part of the emotional process, you can go on to establish a new and more satisfying relationship.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Conari Press,
an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC. www.redwheelweiser.com.
©2000, 2012 by Daphne Rose Kingma. All rights reserved.
This article was adapted with permission from the book:
Coming Apart: Why Relationships End and How to Live Through the Ending of Yours by Daphne Rose Kingma.
Coming Apart is a first-aid kit for getting through the ending of a relationship. It is a tool that will enable you to live that experience with your self-esteem intact. For anyone going through the ending of a relationship Daphne Rose Kingma is a caring, sensitive guide.
About the Author
Daphne Rose Kingma is a psychotherapist, lecturer, and workshop leader. She is an author, speaker, teacher and healer of the human heart. The bestselling author of Coming Apart and many other books on love and relationships, Daphne has been a frequent guest on Oprah. Dubbed "The Love Doctor” by the San Francisco Chronicle, her extraordinary gift for sifting out the core emotional issues in any life situation has also earned her the affectionate title “The Einstein of Emotions.” Her books have sold more than a million copies and been translated into 15 languages. Visit her website at www.daphnekingma.com