When I was 21 years old, I made a vow. I promised to give my life to the man I loved.
I meant the words we spoke that day—to have and hold, in sickness and health, until death. My young, naïve heart made that promise, hoping with all her might that she could keep it.
By today’s standards, I made good on that promise for nearly an eternity. The words we spoke on the first day of our 13-year marriage were important to me. I wanted nothing more than to follow through with them, right up until the moment I realized they had choked the life out of me.
Unfortunately, I learned the hard way in that relationship, and in others to follow, that we really can’t promise forever. It’s not possible to see around the corners of our life, or predict how we will grow, change, learn, and evolve over time.
I was talking with a friend about her relationship recently and came up with the following analogy:
In the South, people love to plant Bradford pear trees. They’re beautiful trees—they flower every spring with hundreds of little, white flowers. They grow quickly, so they are a nice choice when building a new house or filling a space that you need to make beautiful in a short time.
Because they grow so quickly, their roots are shallow. Sometimes the trunk of the tree will separate and grow in opposite directions. Though it may grow tall, produce many beautiful flowers, and weather many storms—it only takes one really good wind to uproot it or break it at the place where the trunk grew apart.
If you’re driving by, observing these trees from a distance, they’re quite lovely. If you roll down the window, you realize quickly that those pretty little blossoms smell awful—people lament for weeks about the odor from those little white flowers and the allergic reactions they suffer because of them.
When the Bradford pear in my back yard fell in a storm one night, it fell on top of the Japanese maple tree next to it—double the tragedy, double the fallout, and double the mess for me to clean up when the storm had passed.
And so it is in our relationships.
If we rush in too fast, our roots grow superficially and are too shallow to support us when the storm comes.
If we don’t hold space to grow in the relationship, if the commitment we make to one another becomes contingent upon us staying stagnant and stuck where we are, eventually our natural need to change and evolve will cause a divide in our foundation. That divide will become the place where our relationship is weak—the place we return to each time we fight, feel insecure, or unsure. And eventually, it might just be the reason we fall apart.
If we don’t work on the issues in our relationships, creating a nice façade instead—a rug to sweep all that nasty dirt under, if you will—well, it’s just going to stink for everyone.
And, unfortunately, when things eventually do fall apart, we’re left with a mess. Apologies to make, forgiveness to extend, lessons to digest, patterns to break, and emotions to reconcile. Sometimes that mess extends out around us, damaging other relationships—or worse, hurting our children.
I’m speaking specifically about marriage here, but this applies to all relationships.
I believe that some people come into our lives to stay forever. Others come to walk on our path only for a little while. They are teachers, encouragers, mirrors—they help us grow. They show us parts of ourselves that we couldn’t see without their reflection. They push us to become better versions of who we are and many times, we do the same for them.
When those temporary companions have been with us long enough, our hearts know that it is time for our paths to part. We begin to feel the uncomfortable twinge in our belly that tells us: it’s time to go our separate ways. It is important to honor that message from our intuition.
Sometimes, we outgrow the other person, or our growth takes us in different directions. It doesn’t make one right and the other wrong, or one good and the other bad, it just creates a divide. It signals to us that an era is ending, and something new and wonderful is waiting for us.
My only regret in my marriage, and every relationship or friendship I’ve needed to walk away from since, is staying longer than I should have.
I never want to hurt someone’s feelings, or walk away when they need a friend, or accept defeat. I am fiercely loyal and patient, I trust too much, and I give my whole heart to the people I care about. This makes me exceedingly vulnerable and prone to getting hurt.
I’m learning to honor the end of the path. I’m learning to listen to my intuition and let go when she says the time has come. I have learned that letting go is necessary, and that holding on can only hurt me, the one I’m clinging to, and others who love us.
When the lessons are learned, the knowledge is shared, the challenge resolved, it’s necessary and healthy to let go of that person, so we can both make space for what’s to come.
When we honor the end of the path, we listen to the whispers of our heart. She is preparing us for the next chapter of our lives, and asking us to create space and time to foster something new and equally important for our personal evolution. She is showing us the fork in our roads and guiding us down the path to our greatest good.
In knowing this, we can say goodbye with love. We can trust that what is in our best interest is also best for the other person—because we know that it’s not possible to hurt someone by making choices that are loving to ourselves.
Author: Renee Dubeau
Editor: Catherine Monkman