“There comes a point where you no longer care if there’s a light at the end of the tunnel or not. You’re just sick of the tunnel.” ~ Ranata Suzuki
There are rumblings that during this time of COVID-19 and lockdowns, relationships are either thriving and finding a renewed sense of love, or they are crumbling and facing the daunting and real possibility of divorce.
If you find yourself in the first group, celebrate and be grateful that COVID-19 has been the catalyst for finding each other again. The unwelcome ornery guest at the table that reminds you of your affection and love for one another.
If you, unfortunately, find yourself in the latter group, and COVID-19 has opened your eyes to the emptiness, joylessness, and sheer lack of connection that has been hiding in the everyday distractions now ripped from our repertoire of emotional escape hatches, then my heart truly does bleed for you.
Leaving during this time may not always be feasible logistically, financially, or for any other COVID-19-induced roadblocks.
So, what can you do?
The obvious choice may be to work on the relationship and try to mend the disconnect—this is a great choice especially if you haven’t tried any sincere attempts at saving or enhancing the relationship before.
The not-so-obvious choice is to grieve the loss—while you are still in the relationship. When you are at the point of considering separation or divorce, there has already been a tremendous amount of loss within the relationship. The physical separation is just the outward manifestation of all the intangible losses being felt in the heart, for possibly years.
I have found six ways of grieving that can be helpful while still in the relationship—finding some amount of peace amongst the rubble.
1. Surrender and Accept
As human beings, we are so well-versed and headstrong when it comes to arguing with reality. This keeps us stuck in self-righteous indignation. Yelling from the treetops to anyone who cares to listen that this or that should not have happened. Telling our story repeatedly to ourselves or our partner of all these things that brought us to this place—all the wrongs, the missteps, the betrayals, or hurts.
No amount of arguing with it is going to change the past or create a better future. Only by surrendering to and accepting the past as part of our journey to grow from, to learn from, and heal from can we ever hope to find peace. If we can allow ourselves to grieve the past through accepting it—not recreating it—then, and only then, can we hope for a better future within our relationship or within a new one.
2. Let Go of Unrealistic Hopes, Dreams, or Expectations
Being human, it is hard not to enter any relationship without some hopes, dreams, and expectations. The problem is when we have set ourselves up with unrealistic ones. Hoping that with enough love that someone will change. Dreaming of a fairytale romance that is free of conflict or upset, and that those initial feelings of infatuation should last forever. Expecting that our partner should behave in a certain way, think like us, want like us, understand as we do, or be and do just like us.
When you can let go—allowing your partner to be their unique self—you will be able to see them for who they truly are, and not who you think they should be. Letting go in this way is letting go of control. As scary as this may sound to some, it is revealing. You may find a renewed sense of admiration, love, and connection. Or, you may find that you are just not meant for each other anymore. You have reached your proverbial expiry date.
No one is wrong or to blame—surrender and accept the truth of who each other is and is not.
If you have worked on the first two, then it is most likely time to start working on forgiveness, finding compassion and understanding for yourself and your partner. No one enters relationships with the intention to fail, even though we all know the alarming stats. We all do our best with the level of awareness, knowledge, and understanding of self and others that we have at the time.
We all come with some amount of baggage from our childhood and past wounds. Wearing buttons so big that it would be hard for our partner to not hit them. While at the same time, we are also pushing their buttons.
Button-pushing often creates conflicts amounting to hurts and possibly betrayals. This is when we must find compassion for the wounds our partner unknowingly inflicted on us. Understanding that wounded people hurt themselves and others—and finding the courage to forgive them. Not to be mistaken for condoning bad behaviors, but instead, not allowing those behaviors to rob us of our energy and sense of self-worth.
Healing is the gift that forgiveness brings. Holding onto resentments is not grieving; it is smoldering. When the dark cloud of resentment has lifted through the breath of forgiveness, you may just find a love worth fighting for, or at least leave with a clean heart ready for a new love to enter.
No relationship struggles are 100 percent one-sided. We each play a part in the relationship story—the good parts and the bad parts. You may argue that your part was only a small part—fair, but a part none the less.
Apologizing is tricky business, and not too many people know how to do it well. I have learned that a true, sincere apology only happens when we can appreciate how the other person felt because of our actions, words, or deeds. Without the perspective of putting ourselves in their shoes and trying to understand the hurt and pain inflicted by us could we ever deliver a true, heartfelt apology.
Recognize where you may have hurt your partner without judgement, justification, or blame—take the time to feel into their hurt. Feel it in the depths of your emotions, and apologize from that place—appreciating their perspective. If you feel some guilt, use that feeling to correct the behaviors, ignite growth, and change—essentially becoming a kinder, more loving version of yourself.
You will feel better, they will feel better, and you will open the doors to healing yourself and the relationship, or creating a kinder, more loving heart for a new partner.
5. Take Responsibility
For any of this to work—grieving through surrender and acceptance, letting go of control, forgiving, and apologizing, we must take responsibility for ourselves. How we react, act, show up, do not show up, behave—past, present, and future. We were not perfect, are currently not perfect, and are never going to be perfect.
We are human beings, as are our partners. Even with good intentions, we are going to make mistakes, our buttons are going to be pushed, and in a moment of weakness, we are going to react badly. So are our partners.
In taking responsibility, you can finally let go of blaming, shaming, and condemning. Instead, you can work on grieving, healing, and creating something new from a place of freedom, and being able to love authentically and genuinely.
If you can get to this place, your relationship may still stand a chance, or you may see that it truly is time to move on, and you can do so with far less baggage to carry with you.
6. Practice Maitri
Maitri is a Buddhist practice of loving-kindness toward oneself. We can expand this by also offering it toward others.
Although I put this last—it is not least. In fact, I recommend that you work on practicing this while working on the other five. You are going to go through a gambit of emotions as you tackle the other five, and will need a friend by your side.
This friend is you—allowing space for all the emotions you will surely feel without getting hooked by them, without feeding into the story line, and without your efforts being highjacked and taken off course with distractions and escape hatches.
So often in relationships, we forget to be friends with our partner and ourselves. The practice of maitri can help us find that friendship again. Without basic friendship and kindness toward our partner, how can we ever cultivate and grow the kind of love we are surely longing for?
Start here and stay here as you work through the other five.
You may just find that by grieving the losses within your relationship, you will find the love in it again, and potentially save it.