Warning: a naughty word or two in here.
We’ve all been through variations of a bad breakup, and we know how it goes—how someone who once loved us becomes a monstrous, uncaring person, seemingly overnight.
The effects of our romantic relationships can leave crater-sized holes on our, well, everything—self-esteem, family, financial well-being, our health.
During the course of my more serious relationships, my life has gone through tremendous change.
I grew a lot, I sacrificed more, and I screwed up more than anything. One of the biggest sacrifices-slash-regrets was giving up being a proper mother to my son—a decision I made when, due to circumstances beyond my control, I was forced to choose between my relationship and my child, and moved away from him, leaving him with his dad.
I thought I was making the right choice given the circumstances, despite how wrong it felt.
I remember the day we left vividly.
My younger son sobbed when I dropped him off at his dad’s with all of his stuff, even though he said he was glad he wasn’t moving with us. I cried just as hard as we drove out of town with the U-Haul.
I felt stuck in the relationship, having made many (what felt like at the time) irreversible decisions. It wasn’t so much that I doubted my ability to start over, but that I didn’t want to admit to myself the terrible mistakes I had made. And the embarrassment of it all was probably what forced my hand the most. I had gushed to everyone about how great it all was. I had given up my child.
The truth is, I was abandoning my son and I couldn’t justify it. I was a coward and hated myself for having made that decision. It was easier to just bury all of those emotions and focus instead on looking forward.
Now, here I am: living far away from home, a once-again single mother with one less child living under my roof.
Looking back on it all, there are some points during many of my relationships where I knew better, where my instincts screamed, “Stop!” But I didn’t stop. It seems that I am so stubborn, I must push a situation to the furthest bitter end I can find—every damn time.
If there’s anything I don’t do half-assed, it’s heartbreak.
Many times in life, I’ve wished I could send myself a message from the future and this is definitely one of them. Since time-travel is still impossible, maybe someone who’s still on their journey would appreciate a little insight from a person who’s a bit further down the road.
My hardest lessons:
That moment where your mind and gut and heart say, “Wait…”—don’t stifle that. Pick whatever the situation is apart until you are satisfied with the answers. Do it kindly and gently, but still do it.
Sometimes, in our relationships, things might not add up. But, because we don’t want to appear as anything other than pleasant and lovely, we brush them off. Looking back, I’ve realized these little “wait” voices are usually spot-on. We can save ourselves a whole lot of hurt, if we only listen to our instincts.
Don’t wait until the relationship has been torn apart and set on fire to say goodbye. We often know when it’s over, when it’s beyond recovering, but instead we push forward anyway, trying to “fix” things.
I’m not saying all rocky relationships are doomed, but if we’re honest and look back at our past, we’ll see those moments where we just knew. End it there. If you feel you can’t, dig deeper into why and address those issues.
This is the hardest lesson for me because I’ve learned this lesson a few times and still struggle (and fail) to utilize it. It’s much easier to go through an ending when both people recognize it soon enough to treat each other with kindness and respect (if they’re the type to be kind and respectful in the first place).
Spend some time on self-development.
A few years ago, nearly four, I discovered elephant journal and devoured it. Now, years later, here I am employed as an editor—a dream job for me. One of the most valuable perks is being able to read words of wisdom from our talented authors who have a wealth of experience and insight to offer. From Buddhism and mindfulness, to relationship advice, to health and wellness guidance—all of it has been the cool, soothing hand on my fevered forehead and will continue to be as I navigate these painful parts of life. I only wish I had read and learned from it all sooner.
Finally, I’d tell myself that I deserve to be loved. That I’m still a valuable, worthwhile human being. I read an article not long ago that explained how we forget our self-worth in certain situations, and it was some of the most helpful advice I had read.
I realized that I had been blaming myself for everything. Sure, it’s healthy and necessary to take responsibility for our part in any situation, but when we find ourselves in the depths of self-hate, we’ve crossed the line from healthy to damaging. I blamed myself for not being able to trust, for having anger, for someone else’s unhappiness. I had spent too much time ruminating on all the ways I had failed as a partner, as a mother, and as a person.
And the more time I spent wallowing, the uglier I felt.
But, after reading those words, I realized that I had been discounting who I was outside of my terrible relationships—someone who was considerate, kind, loving, and generous. We can’t forget about the good that lives in us, and we’ve got to offer up a little forgiveness for the things we regret.
It’s time I start figuring out where to go from here and who I want to be. While it feels typical and expected to say that I’m grateful (cue: roll of the eyes), it’s true. Our romantic break-ups are not life-or-death situations, no, but they’re also not something to be trivialized—relationships are ultra-important to us social creatures. And now I get to use these lessons to have better ones in the future. I’m excited to see how that plays out.
We should never let our hard-won lessons go to waste.
Author: Catherine Monkman