Relationships have everything to do with what they mean to us.
So much of how we relate to people has symbolic origins. We see someone in a certain way because of something we experienced early on in life, and then attach meaning to them in alignment with this part of ourselves.
This is why intimate relationships are so powerful. They strike us at the core of our being—at our center of gravity. The kind of people we fall in love with is directly related to how we feel about the meaning of our lives. They represent something to us that transcends the terms of the relationship.
If relationships were merely about what was practical, then they wouldn’t hurt so damn badly when they ended. This is a clear sign that so much of our relationships have to do with the symbolic meaning we give them.
The question I have been asking myself over and over again is whether or not we can consciously change the meaning of a relationship to help get over a breakup.
I believe we can.
I recently had an experience in which someone I cared for very much chose to leave my life. It hurt more than I thought it would. It was like losing a part of myself—like losing a home.
What surprised me was the level of disdain I began to feel toward her. That has probably been one of the most difficult things to console. I feel guilty about this. It truly harms me to think that I could feel such hatred for someone I once loved so greatly.
I want to put an end to this feeling. I don’t want to carry this burden anymore.
If we are to have any hope of moving on, we must get to the root of loss. I have been inquiring about this lately, trying to understand why this loss had such a profound impact on me.
I liked her. A lot. But that’s not why it hurt me so deeply.
The pain I experienced was a result of the meaning I attached to her.
This is what ultimately needs to change to be free of this feeling.
Here’s what I realized: Because I have been dealing with a severe chronic illness for several years now, the debilitation this illness has induced made me feel like I’m missing out on a life I could have lived.
I ended up projecting this feeling onto the relationship. This girl represented everything I was incapable of having—health, friendships, an education, traveling, adventures, and so on. I craved the abundance of experience she had, and this made losing her feel much more devastating.
I suppose, in some way, I have recognized this all along. But I have been avoiding it because I haven’t had a suitable answer to the problem. I haven’t known how to get rid of this feeling, or maybe on some level don’t want to get rid of this feeling because I identify with it in some way.
Nonetheless, the meaning I’ve subscribed to her has to change.
The first step in changing the meaning of a relationship is to understand the present meaning we already have unconsciously given it.
The next step is to inquire into the origins of that pain and forgive the other person for bringing it out in us. Forgiveness is key to moving forward and should not be neglected.
The final step is to choose a different meaning—one more aligned with our deeper, heartfelt longings.
I’m now looking at my experience in a different light. The loss of this person gave me the opportunity to look more deeply at my own issues, and for that I am grateful. I want to understand who I am and why I am here. The pain I have been experiencing has been completely integral to achieving this.
This realization has shifted the meaning of my loss.
I feel more accepting than ever about losing her. It doesn’t even feel like a loss anymore, really, just a natural metamorphosis.
Changing the meaning of a relationship is like restoring our sense of purpose in life, and I certainly feel restored.
Understanding the ways in which we have attached meaning to a relationship, and shifting that meaning in a way that allows us to go on loving, is so absolutely essential to living a deeply fulfilled life. I can’t even begin to say how important this is.
This is perhaps the most valuable skill we could possibly learn. This is the art of being human.
Author: Samuel Kronen
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy Editor: Leah Sugerman
Social Editor: Catherine Monkman