Relationships being over and ending are not the same thing. As I posted yesterday, most relationships are over long before they end. We seem to habitually put off the ending, because it is so fraught with strife, turmoil, hurt feelings, and loss. I believe we grieve even our worst relations. Just because it was a shitshow doesn’t mean that there are not parts of that union we don’t miss.
It is hard to explain. I think of domestic violence survivors. People who are unfamiliar with the dynamic cannot see why the abused stays. And like everyone else, there are a combination of reasons. I think one of them is that it isn’t all bad. And it is those good moments, however brief, that cause us all to put off or delay that which we know needs to happen or should happen. The end is so final and complete. And as much as we might wish to get out of the relationship, there are reasons we stayed and often those reasons are just as important as the ones now causing us to leave.
There are many methods of ending. All of them suck. Paul Simon even wrote a song about it:
You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don't need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don't need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free
The point is that you in fact leave. Clean breaks are best but usually hardest. Breaking apart a family is never easy and is often done in steps and stages. I have observed and experienced the more unclear you are about your decision the more shattered glass you drag everyone else over. The kids will always want you to get back together and will see every dinner, holiday spent together as evidence in their minds that your reunion is in fact a viable option.
But how does one get the resolve, the firm commitment to end that which no longer works? How does one stand up to the heartbreak of others and remain steadfast to the decision made, to the selection of your own personal happiness in the face of the devastating effects on others?
It is painful, hard and gut wrenching. And it takes a lot of fucking mental fortitude.
While there may be 50 ways to leave your lover or spouse, none of them are as easy as the song makes it seem. And the one way that the song intimates but doesn’t directly call out, is to involve another romantic partner into the mix. This is the most painful way to leave by the way. Cheating destroys not only the relationship you are in but it alters all relationships for all parties going forward. Kids either believe that cheating is unforgivable and despise the one who stepped out or they more secretly decide the behavior is ok so that they may not experience the great psychic divide that threatens to separate the love they feel for the their parent, and the absolute betrayal and the attendant fallout their parent’s indiscretion leveled to everyone’s life.
The cheater is never trusted again. The work it takes to repair the union destroyed by the lies and decimation of vows, rarely overcome. Sometimes the relevation is enough to bring about a swift ending, more often, promises to change and termination of the affair ensure at least another go round in the marital fidelity boxing ring. Once a cheater, always a cheater became a thing because it is more often than not, true.
The person betrayed is forever altered. They are never able to completely trust again. All future partners are suspect. And without a lot of therapeutic intervention and some deep soul searching of their own, the people most injured tend to be the ones that carry forward the most damage into their next relationships.
So while there may be 50 ways to end things, cheating is the worst one.
From my experience, getting honest with yourself first is but essential. For me, I had to dive deep and get really honest with myself about myself. Then I had to get honest about who I was married to and why that union was so unsatisfactory for me. And then I had to do the very hard work of understanding that I was not this victim that I so wanted to be, but instead an active participant in the charade that had become our marriage.
It was not easy. I had the help of a very good therapist who had known me for years. And even then it took me two solid years of weekly work to arrive at the inevitable but very hard conclusion...I did not love him and I did not want to be married to him anymore.
And even though I arrived on solid ground in this realization, it was still hard to stay committed to my exit. There were many times I questioned myself. When my children were in tears seeing the betrayal in their eyes was devastating. When I had to tell my parents and seeing their concern and doubt. I wish I could say that telling my spouse was the hardest thing I did...it wasn’t. Walking through the fear and the shame I felt was way harder. Feeling like I failed at something so big and foundational was a very hard road to walk. I said things, I made vows and now I was wholesale walking the fuck away from those things.
I was afraid. I felt alone. And there were many times that I thought about going back. But every time I did, I felt this overwhelming panic and that feeling was worse than the fear and self loathing I was walking through. So I stayed the course and didn’t alter, at least not in anyway other way than internally. My therapist certainly got an earful but to the outside world, my decision was clear, decisive and final.
I do not regret it. And as hard as it was to walk through, with the flood of feelings, an emerging sense of freedom and independence, I walked on and straight out of that marriage.
And it was one of the best decisions of my life, for all of us. I freed us all from the prison we were trapped in. It was a nice place really...but it was a prison nonetheless.
There are likely as many ways to leave your marriage or lover as there are individuals leaving, but I can say that in my experience the best way to leave your lover is to do the inner work on you so that you arrive at a clear and crystalline place within yourself and then once you know what you didn’t know, you begin to plan your exit taking into consideration the upcoming holidays, birthday timing, vacation plans, collateral damage and then you decide and after taking a good long breath, you begin.
I cannot stress how important talking to an attorney is before you take action. Find out what you don’t know. I did. Even though I am an attorney, I still paid for a consultation so that I was sure. And while I didn’t like what he told me, it was exactly as I suspected which caused me to have to be patient and wait. That was very hard. But in the end, my patience saved us all a great deal of misery and money.
Getting a coach is also extremely helpful. I know, sounds self serving, and it is since this is what I do for a living. But having someone who knows the landscape of the trail upon which you are about to embark can make the difference of whether you are scarred for life or whether you are able to use the events of your dissolution to your benefit. I have seen the wreckage and I can tell you that while no one can save you from the pain, the suffering is really optional.
Endings are hard won and long fought...but the battle, in my experience, is always and forever with yourself. And quite ironically, it is the leaving of oneself, the myriad of ways that we leave ourselves that ultimately gives rise to the reason you need to leave your lover.