I figure I’ve married about a thousand people in my life. Well I have presided over the weddings of at least 500 couples in the last 20 years. I’ve had some fun moments, with dogs in the bridal party and once on the 18thfairway of a golf course. The most bizarre wedding experience was with the bride who wanted to meet daily before the wedding. I didn’t think much about the way she was looking at me while she held her fiancé’s hand at the altar. I thought she was looking for reassurance. But when she made an appointment to come and see me 4 days after the wedding, it all became clear. She declared her undying love for me. I know the pastor is supposed to love the flock, but this was going too far. She wanted to know what I suggested. I suggested  a good therapist.

With brides like that it’s not surprising that over half of all marriages in America end in divorce, and half of the other half of couples who stay together might be better off getting divorced. It might also be true that half of the marriages that separate, don’t need to.

How can we build a stronger platform for relationships that last, whether in marriage or not. Relationships are not just a good and beautiful thing to be nurtured but a gateway to personal wisdom, where you learn about yourself and the shape of love.

How do you mend a broken relationship? How do you know when a relationship is done and needs to be ended? How do you end a relationship in the healthiest way possible? How do you heal when someone leaves you without warning, and you didn’t even see it coming?

Breaking Up Mindfully

1. We are all connected.

Pieces of us remain with each other, whether we are together or separate, married or divorced.  You might be able to remove your ex from your home and from the photographs around your house, but you can never remove them from your heart. This is where the notion of closure can be so impractical. We’re ALL connected, and you chose to make a special connection to your ex. He will always be with you to some extent. She will always stay with you in part.

No matter how much you wish you could erase parts of your life, they stay with you. Their lessons and karma continue to cycle through your life. You may even feel that you have been greatly wronged, but even a pancake has two sides. You brought at least some of the energy to the broken relationship. You don’t have to wear the other person’s baggage, and you can’t make them clean up their mess. But you can ALWAYS honestly reflect on your own part in the relationship and take responsibility for your responses NOW.  Our previous relationships and nemeses, our hurts and betrayals, continue to turn up and demand a great deal of honest self reflection. The question is “do you recognize the past when it turns up in your life?”

2. Make Peace with the Past.

That sounds like bad news to many people. It’s a harsh reality. The good news is that you can make peace with the past as you learn to recognize it when it turns up in your present. Do you remember the agonizing scene in the movie Titanic? Jack and Rose are floating in the icy ocean after the ship has gone down. Rose finally realizes that Jack is dead and she pries her trembling hand from his dead, lifeless grip. She lets go and his body floats away. As hard as it was, she came to realize that she couldn’t carry his corpse or else she would risk her own life.

We spend far too much energy carrying corpses through life, the skeleton of past choices or previous relationships. Sometimes you need to question what you’re clinging to, whether you’re clinging to an idea about the past, blame for the break up, settlement details, custody arrangements or seething hostility, and sometimes you do that by touching the wounds of the past with the healing touch of acceptance. Make peace with who you are and who you’ve become. Your former loves, even though they may have broken your heart wide open, taught you how to know yourself and to know what open-heart living feels like. All that the past meant for you is still with you; the good, the bad and the ugly. Your choice now is how you respond.

3. Love Your Enemies

The measure of truecharacter is not how well you love those who are easy to love, but how well you love those who are hardest to love. Growth takes place when you can wish ALL people well, even those who have harmed you and left you with many pieces to put back together. I know how hard it is. Even though I have been with the one saint of a woman who has put up with me for over 20 years, I know how hard it is to forgive enemies and how much easier it is to curse them. I have my “exes”, the corpses I carry around with me, the hurts I cling to. Letting go of the corpses and wishing my “exes” well may be the most challenging thing I ever do. But the rewards are phenomenal.

If you are still making an enemy of your ex you are harming yourself. If you are speaking ill of your ex, then you are harming yourself. If you are gathering people around you who confirm your basest instincts and encourage bitterness, then you are hurting yourself. You can be so much more by living from your highest values and loving even those who have hurt you. Note that I’m not suggesting that you trust them. They may be exes for good reason. But love them. Love them despite themselves and their destructive patterns. I’m not even talking about expressing it to them. You might have good reason not to communicate. But in your own heart, love them and recognize that they brought something good, true and beautiful to your life at some time. Love and let the past be what it was, clearing the way to move forward with integrity.

Every situation is different and I’m certainly not telling anyone what to do in specific circumstances. There are very few rights and wrongs when it comes to healing and ending relationships. Whatever your situation, whether you are considering a break up, trying to mend a relationship or trying to mend your life after a break up, make sure that this is an opportunity to be all that you are destined to be in the world. Choose to stay together or break up, but either way do it with mindful self reflection and honesty.

Other people can make you lose your balance for a time and wobble on the edge of bitterness, but ultimately you have a spirit that no one and nothing can break. As you honestly face your own attachments and take responsibility for your own sense of inner peace, you will remember that you are strong and capable. This self awareness will prepare you for relationships that are healthy and life affirming. The unbreakable spirit of strength in me honors the same in you. Namaste.

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  1. Thank you for the reminder. I needed that today.

  2. A sabedoria das palavras, as questões e o elo entre as pessoas. O homem sempre constrói os seus próprios obstáculos. E muitas vezes ele não consegue transpô-los. Amor, desamor, caminho, descaminho. Todos esses motivos oferecem estradas, estradas que a vida percorre. Tudo é possibilidade, tudo é dúvida. Nós dividimos as nossas vidas com outras pessoas, e com outras pessoas dividimos os nossos espaços. Tudo há de ser suportado, tudo há de ser melhorado e compreendido. Creio que todos buscamos um modo correto para para resolver a charada por nós mesmos. Pois cada vida é um enigma, e cada enigma é uma justa posição daquilo que realmente somos.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Taking accountability for our part in everything and being completely honest with ourselves without self-judgement always serves us. Hard but in the long run, it’s liberating. Thanks for sharing another great article, Ian! Namaste.

  4. jack harris says:

    Ian   Brilliant piece.  Was it a sermon at C3 ?  Jack

  5. ian says:

    A long time ago Jack

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