April 6, 2023

This is How Relationships Die.


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One of the many, many paradoxes of the transformational path is that we must be willing to lose something in order to gain it.

I am a transformational coach who often works with couples near the end of their rope. They come to me as a last ditch effort to “save” the relationship.

Most of them tell me a different version of the same story: that their relationship has been going down hill for a while now, and they’re not sure if there is any way to stop that momentum.

Eventually, a moment comes in the conversation where I ask a question that stops them in their tracks: “Have you been willing to lose this relationship?”

They are often caught off guard and begin trying to convince me how important the relationship is to them and how hard they’ve been working for it.

Or they’ll say some version of, “Well it looks like we’re about to lose the relationship whether I like it or not so I’m not sure if my ‘willingness’ is relevant.”

I let them know that working hard is not the same thing as being willing to let the relationship go. And that the relationship ending will probably be the result if they are unwilling to do so.

I then coach them to identify the kind of relationship that they want to create and at what point in their relationship they stopped standing for the possibility of that kind of relationship.

I tell them that I am quite sure that they haven’t been willing to lose the relationship because if they had, one of two things would have already happened: 1) the relationship would be evolving to meet the possibility they are standing for or 2) the relationship would be over.

When we’re willing to lose a relationship, we are able to look at it objectively and ask ourselves: what possibility am I standing for in this relationship, and what is currently getting in the way of that possibility being realized? Then we are able to matter-of-factly work to transform what hasn’t been working. And if either person in the relationship is fundamentally unwilling to do so, we know that it’s time to walk away.

Most people don’t do this because they would rather let the relationship slowly and painfully die on its own than to take a risk and stand for something more. Because if the relationship dies on its own then it’s not “their fault.” 

To stand for something is vulnerable. It means to hold firm in the belief that something more is possible, regardless of the current look of things. It means to take a chance by visualizing, with full faith and confidence, that better results are possible, and to continually advocate for them.

When we are unwilling to lose a relationship, we don’t take the risks that are necessary to keep that relationship growing. We become smaller versions of ourselves, contracted in the hopes that we don’t disturb the status quo and scare the other person off. We stop sharing our hearts, speaking our truth, holding our boundaries, making requests, calling each other forward into expanded versions of ourselves.

In order to call forth a new possibility, we have to be willing to lose what we currently have. It is the only way to create breakthrough results.

This is because in any relationship between two people, there are actually three lives involved. Person 1, Person 2, and the life of the relationship itself. What often happens is that Person 1 and Person 2 keep growing and evolving, as is natural for any living being, but they are too attached to the way the relationship was to let it transform.

They are afraid that if they give the relationship the space that it needs to grow that they might lose it. And they’re right: they will lose the relationship as it was. The death of how things are/were is the necessary prerequisite for allowing things to become what they could be. But when we’re too afraid to let the relationship die so it can be reborn, we end up outgrowing the relationship.

When we’re unwilling to lose someone or something, we don’t really have it. We have an idea of it, we have our attachment to it, but we don’t really have the thing itself. We can either be with the thing itself or our idea of it. Not both at once.

The moment we become attached to something—an idea, a job, a person, a place—we stagnate. We identify with it, fuse with it, and we stop being able to see it for what it is.

It’s a bit like holding your hand up to your eyes and then trying to describe your hands. All you see is blackness. It’s too close for you to really see the hand itself.

When attachment creeps in, we begin to use the object of our attachment as a means of escapism. We begin believing that we need for it to be a certain way, to produce a certain result in us in order for us to be okay. And in that moment, the object of our attachment stops being alive. It stops breathing. It becomes a dead thing—a concept.

The moment you try to grasp the butterfly, you rob it of its freedom, its essence. Everything you loved about the butterfly is squashed.

In order to ever really have the butterfly, even if only for a moment, you must open your palm completely, allowing it to leave whenever it chooses.

When we’re attached to someone or something, we not only lose it, but we lose ourselves. We stagnate because to grow is to risk outgrowing the object of our attachment. We stop honoring our deepest commitment and values because to do so may mean leaving our attachments behind.

It’s a bit like the quote, “If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever. If it doesn’t, then it was never meant to be.”

It is only once we’re completely willing to let something go (if and when it is no longer in integrity with our commitments to keep it) that we can truly gain the thing itself.

Once my clients fully understand this, there is typically a grieving process. Because they realize that no matter how the dice fall, they will have to lose the relationship as it is so that it can evolve into what it is now meant to be. They realize that there is no way out except through the eye of that needle. That they will have to let go of their attachment to the relationship, their attachment to the idea that they need the relationship in order to be okay.

They realize that true love means continually being willing to look at the life of the relationship with fresh, honest eyes, and ask ourselves: is this still in service of both of our highest goods?

And that if the answer to that question is ever “no,” true love means being willing to reinvent the relationship or let that person go so that they can find what is in alignment with their path of evolution.

Sometimes this process ends by me supporting both people in consciously un-coupling and creating a new co-parenting relationship, and/or a friendship. And that can be beautiful.

But more often than not, I find that the result of both people being willing to lose the relationship is that they finally have the ground on which to stand for a new possibility. This creates an environment in which renewed fervor for each other and renewed inspiration for the relationship can thrive. 

They are no longer clinging to the life of a relationship that died years ago. They are no longer clutching onto a past version of their partner. They are finally able to see each other again—not just their attachment to each other.

They both get to come alive again, in the present moment, with a reborn relationship.


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