Dear Neil: I’m having a great deal of trouble ending a relationship with my boyfriend of several years. I know it would be in my best interest to end things—the relationship will never go anywhere, partially because I don’t want a long-term relationship with him. Anyway, I’m aware that time is marching on and I’m not taking the necessary steps to put this relationship behind me so I can move on with my life. Why am I so paralyzed about ending this relationship?
Unable to End It in Boulder
Dear Unable to End It: If you’re having trouble leaving a relationship, your first task is to get in touch with what you’re afraid of. Do you fear being lonely and alone? Being viewed (or viewing yourself) as a failure? Not having anything to look forward to? Do you fear that you won’t find someone else? Those fears are likely what’s in your way, and they must be looked at and confronted if you’re going to overcome them.
After you overcome your fears, here are some additional suggestions that may help you move on to the next chapter of your life:
First, always have something out in front of you to look forward to: a vacation, a class, a professional challenge, a new skill, a new goal to shoot for.
Second, make sure you’re clear that you’re not giving up the dream of having a wonderful relationship with someone to call your own. You’re giving up one particular person, not the dream of having the intimate relationship you desire.
Third, the first thing to do after you break off an important relationship is to give yourself time to heal from the loss, not to jump into another relationship with a brand new partner. This means, among other things, paying vigilant attention to the quality of your support system: your connections with family, friends, parents, children and co-workers, and doing everything you can to strengthen and deepen those relationships. It also means honoring your body’s need for adequate sleep, good nutrition, enough exercise and appropriate self-pampering.
Fourth, explore each of the following emotions carefully: anger, passion, loneliness, happiness, grief, joy, guilt, shame, fear, terror, love, hate, resistance, depression, blame.
Fifth, openly and fully acknowledge to yourself what your role was in causing the problems in the relationship or in assisting the relationship to fail. What were your failures in the relationship?
Sixth, look carefully at what did you gained from the relationship. How are you richer, deeper or wiser because of the experience? What did the relationship give you that you are grateful for?
Seventh, concerning the relationship, what are you willing to forgive? What are you wanting to be forgiven for? What are you willing to forgive yourself for?
Eighth, invite new people into your life. This is the time to reach out to others for friendship and support. Join groups or organizations, take classes and workshops, and go to a variety of different social events.
Ninth, create some new goals for yourself and go after achieving them.
Lastly, figure out how to have more fun.
Letting go of the dream we create about a relationship—and about the future—is a whole lot harder than letting go of the person. Be willing to do this unfinished business of the heart.